News and Comment
Breaking News: U.S. Intelligence Personnel Tap Indonesian Phones.
British Also Involved. Detachment 88, Kopassus Get Covert US Aid
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 9:21 AM (US Eastern time)
By Allan Nairn
US intelligence officers in Jakarta are secretly tapping the
cell phones and reading the SMS text messages of Indonesian
Some of the Americans work out of the Jakarta headquarters of
Detachment 88, a US-trained and funded para-military unit whose
mission is described as antiterrorism, but that was recently
involved in the arrest of a West Papuan human rights lawyer.
The Papuan lawyer, Iwangin Sabar Olif
was seized by police and Detachment 88 on the street and later
charged with "incitement and insulting the head of state" after he
forwarded SMS text messages that criticized the Indonesian armed
forces (TNI), as well as the President of Indonesia, Gen. Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono. (West Papua is a restricted-access region where
Indonesian forces have been implicated in rapes, tortures,
kidnappings, assassinations, mass surveillance and intimidation.)
The information on the US surveillance program is provided by
three sources, including an individual who has worked frequently
with the Indonesian security forces and who says he has met and
formally discussed their work with some of the American phone
tappers, as well as by two Indonesian officials who work inside
The first source says that the he was told that the Americans are
employees of the US CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), but it could
not be confirmed whether they work for the CIA or other US agencies.
He says that through his work he has observed that these US
intelligence specialists help run a sophisticated wiretapping
network that uses much new US equipment.
He says the US operation includes the real-time monitoring of
text messages, as well as mapping contact "networks," ie. tracing
who is calling or texting whom.
This individual deals frequently with Detachment 88, but says
that he has not inquired about the seizure of the Papuan human
rights lawyer, Iwangin .
He said that Detachment 88 units are also present in other
outlying zones including Solo, Ambon, and Poso, the later two of
which have been the scene of TNI - POLRI (the Indonesian National
Police, who formally oversee Detachment 88) "provokasi" operations
that have helped to spur deadly fighting between poor Muslim and
This source also says that US intelligence is providing covert
intelligence aid to Kopassus, the Indonesian army's red beret
special forces famed for abduction, torture, and assassination.
Classified Kopassus manuals discuss the "tactic and technique" of
"terror" and "kidnapping" (see "Buku Petunjuk tentang Sandi Yudha
TNI AD, Nomor: 43-B-01").
Kopassus has, in the past, been heavily trained by US Green
Berets and other forces, in topics that included "Demolitions," "Air
Assault," "Close Quarters Combat," "Special Reconnaissance," and
"Advanced Sniper Techniques" (all of these during the Clinton
administration, under a program called
-- Joint Combined Exchange Training).
But after this training was exposed and after the TNI - POLRI
Timor massacres of 1999 (which followed a UN - supervised
independence vote, and in which Kopassus was implicated), many in
Congress were under the impression that they had succeeded in
stopping US aid to Kopassus.
(Congress is due to decide within days on a new lethal aid bill
The American presence inside Detachment 88 was confirmed by an
Indonesian Detachment 88 official who said that a team of Americans
did telecommunications work in the "Intel Section," along with an
individual whom they believed to be a British national.
A second Detachment 88 official also confirmed the US presence,
but said he did not know the name of the American team leader. Like
the first Detachment 88 official, he gave the name of the operative
whom he said was British, but that named individual could not be
reached for comment.
Asked for comment on December 12, during the late afternoon,
local time, Stafford A. Ward, a spokesman for the US Embassy in
Jakarta at first said he was not familiar with such a US program and
did not know what Kopassus was.
An hour later Ward read out a statement that said that "there are
no Americans in either Detachment 88 or Kopassus." When asked if
there was any kind of US assistance to those units he said: "The US
is not involved with either of those organizations. I can confirm to
you that the US has no involvement with either Detachment 88 or
In fact, though, that US Embassy statement appeared to contradict
the public record. US officials have frequently spoken on the record
about their involvement with Detachment 88, including to the press
and in meetings with and testimony to the US Congress.
Twenty minutes after issuing that denial, Embassy spokesman Ward
sent the following email: "I misspoke earlier when you called me a
second time today. The U.S. government works with Indonesia to
bolster its counterterrorism capabilities. For example, the
Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of
Antiterrorism Assistance has trained Indonesian Antiterrorist
This revised Embassy statement did not repeat the denials of the
earlier statement, nor did it deny the presence of US personnel
inside Detachment 88, nor did it deny the existence of covert US
intelligence aid to Kopassus.
US officials have never acknowledged on the record the presence
of US intelligence wiretappers inside Jakarta's security forces, nor
have they acknowledged on the record the provision of intelligence
assistance to Kopassus.
The initial Embassy denial, phrased in the present tense, came
less than 24 hours after the US Congress, in Washington, made
private inquiries to the US Executive Branch about whether the US
was aiding or planning to aid Kopassus.
These Congressional inquiries came after this blog reported on
December 7 that "the State Department this week was putting out
urgent queries around Washington that make it sound as if they are
planning to openly aid Kopassus," and after people in a position to
know privately declined to deny that report.
It is not known whether the Congressional inquiries included the
question of Detachment 88.
But in a call to the Detachment 88 office hours before today's
initial carefully-phrased Embassy denial, the Indonesian officer who
answered the phone said that the Americans had not come in to work
today and that, as far as he knew, the British staffer there was on
Detachment 88 has been mentored by veteran CIA and State
Department official Cofer Black, who was one of the architects of
the US invasion of Afghanistan.
Detachment 88 is publicized as being aimed at violent jihadists,
like the groups implicated in the bombings in Bali and Jakarta that
killed more than 200 civilians.
But the US wiretapping program provides a capacity to target any
kind of phone user in Indonesia, an issue of concern in a country
where the security forces -- often US-assisted -- have killed many
hundreds of thousands of civilian dissidents.
@2007 by Allan Nairn, News and Comment,
Rights groups urge UN to deliver justice to population