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Intel services - security assets or abusers?

Jakarta Post - March 15, 2011

Rendi A. Witular A few months into the first term of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in late 2004, his predecessor, Megawati Soekarnoputri, complained to several top officials in the Yudhoyono Cabinet that her telephone conversations were being tapped, and that she was being followed by a group of unknown men.

Former law and human rights minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who served a term in Megawati's administration and half a term in Yudhoyono's, also recently shared a similar experience.

Yusril was responding to Friday's article by Australian media outlet The Age over the allegation that Yudhoyono had instructed the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) to spy on him during his trip to meet Chinese businessmen in Singapore. The Age's sources were based on a leak in US diplomatic cables distributed by WikiLeaks.

"I'm not surprised to hear the report as I felt I was followed," said Yusril, the founder of the now-defunct Crescent Star Party (PBB). "I called [then BIN chief] Syamsir Siregar straight after reading the article for confirmation. He laughed, but refused to confirm or deny the allegation," he said in a press statement.

Critics have said the reform era of 1998 has failed to transform intelligence agencies, coordinated by BIN, into politically neutral institutions that work primarily for the sake of the country's security and stability.

Aside from allegation of political maneuvering, BIN is also plagued with protracted problems ranging from an absence of legal basis to operate, weak leadership and poor human resource capability. But the most contentious issues of all is suspicion that BIN remains a tool used by the ruling regime to corner political rivals to maintain power.

"Every time we hold a hearing with BIN officials, there's an indication they're spending most of their resources on political issues," said legislator Effendi Choirie of the House of Representatives' Commission I for defense, intelligence and information. "They always talk about detecting threats toward any efforts to topple the President."

Effendi, who has been serving with the commission since 2000, believes BIN's emphasis on politics has contributed to a string of failures in providing an early warning system to detect riots, sectarian conflicts and terrorism.

A glimpse into BIN's budget can reveal the focus of the agency. Based on an audit by the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) of BIN's 2009 expenditures, made available to the public in September 2010, the agency spent around Rp 800 billion (US$91 million) on intelligence operations.

However, the agency only spent 3 percent, or Rp 29.75 billion, on security intelligence, while the largest chunk, more than half, could not be verified by the BPK.

An obvious consequence to the low resources for security is six separate bloody terrorist attacks, killing more than 210 people during both the Megawati and the Yudhoyono administrations. Four of the attacks occurred at the same spot; the Bali bombings I and II, the JW Marriott Hotel bombing I and II plus the Ritz-Carlton bombing.

"Since BIN has no law of its own, there are no barriers prohibiting it from being used by the ruling regime for political purposes," said University of Indonesia intelligence observer Andi Widjajanto. "A draft bill on intelligence also contains no stipulation requiring the intelligence apparatus to be politically neutral," he added.

Another contentious problem plaguing the agency is poor human resources and technology capacity. The common knowledge that intelligence personnel regularly reveal their identity to their targeted sources while on undercover tasks cannot be overlooked. "Don't tell anyone, I'm with intelligence," is a common statement made by undercover agents to journalists.

More than often, agents are known to help journalists pinpoint coordinators of a street rally or leaders of terrorist supporters, as well as provide their home addresses. A BIN source said these agents were usually from the police or military, but not limited to the agency itself.

A visit by Commission I to several BIN provincial offices late last year revealed a striking story on their quality. Commission member T.B. Hasanuddin said BIN representatives in East Nusa Tenggara could not provide analyses of their intelligence operation area, dubbed technically as "DOI reports".

"They don't know how to make a DOI report. This is actually a basic skill intelligence should have. They then cannot map places, which can be prone to conflicts. In another case, they told us that the Tan Malaka theatrical performance should be banned because it contained communism teachings that might disrupt stability," he said.

A BIN provincial office is headed by an officer either from the police force or the military (TNI) with a rank of brigadier general. Each office consists of four to 10 agents. The poor quality of the provincial offices is primarily because the assigned personnel are those who are about to retire, and have no time to roll out a basic intelligence program.

"BIN always requests officers from the police and the TNI to be stationed in provinces. However, more often than not they assign unqualified officers who we have no choice but to accept," said a source at BIN.

However, BIN agents that joined the agency from the lowest level have a better quality than those "borrowed" from other institutions. Since 2009, the agency received the best breed of manpower from its wholly managed State Intelligence Institute (STIN). BIN receives around 30 graduates annually to be employed as agents and analysts.

"BIN agents are best known for their capability to infiltrate and build up strong networks. However, they're lacking in technology," said Andi. "This contrasts with the CIA, whose agents have superior technology but limited capability to infiltrate and build local networks."

BIN only spent Rp 100 billion in capital annually from 2008 until 2010, mostly for state-of-the-art technology, including telecommunication and intercept devices, according to the BPK.

Aside from technology handicaps, BIN has also been plagued with leadership problems since late 2009 under its chief, Gen. (ret) Sutanto, a former National Police chief and regular Yudhoyono golfing buddy. A source at the agency said most of the senior agents looked down at Sutanto as, unlike his predecessors, he had no prior background in intelligence services.

The situation worsened mid last year when BIN deputy chief As'ad Said Ali retired. As'ad was considered the most senior and influential spy at the agency, and he is a civilian. At around the same time, Sutanto was preoccupied with personal matters as his wife, Henny, suffered from health complications, but is now recovering.

His new deputy chief, Maj. Gen. Hariyanto Rachman, suffered a stroke and is slowly recovering. "Last year, the agency was lost. But things are getting better now as long as Sutanto does not rock the boat," said the source.

Strategic posts at the agency, including the deputy for internal affairs, deputy for counterintelligence and deputy for economic affairs, are former officials of the counterintelligence division headed by Maj. Gen. (ret) Muchdi Purwopranjono between 2001 and 2005. Muchdi was once implicated in the murder of human rights activist Munir. However, all charges against him were rejected by the court in 2008.

Sutanto refused to comment over the issues. "Sutanto seems to have less control of the agency. He's a new guy and he's from the police. But I know he's trying hard to gain respect and trust from the senior agents," said Effendi.

"If he manages to pass the much-needed intelligence bill so that BIN operations are legitimate, I think he will earn that respect, and eventually take full control to pass his programs."

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