Australian spying violates Indonesia's sovereignty

November 22, 2013
Tony Abbott with Indonesia president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The Socialist Alliance condemns the violation of Indonesia's national sovereignty through the actions of the Australian government in tapping the mobile phone of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and nine of his closest advisors, including his wife.

These actions are a reflection of how Western nations such as Australia treat poor nations with neo-colonial contempt.

These revelations, leaked by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, come after similar evidence that Australian spy agencies target not just foreign politicians, but also carry out mass surveillance on Australians.

Snowden’s leaks showed that Australian agencies are collecting more than 250 million email address books each year and passing them on to the NSA.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to apologise to Indonesia and said: “Australia should not be expected to apologise for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past.

“We use all our resources — including information — to help our friends and allies.”

But Australian intelligence agencies do not spy on other countries in the region to help maintain peace and security. Intelligence is gathered to extend Australia’s dominant role in the region, not to keep Australian citizens safe.

That people across Indonesia would be outraged by the revelations is unsurprising given the legacy of centuries of colonial oppression, ended by a successful liberation struggle in the 1940s, followed by decades of imperialist exploitation of Indonesia's workforce and natural resources.

Intelligence gathered by Western spies has a long history of being used to suppress liberation movements and trade unions that struggle for democracy and workers’ rights.

In Indonesia in 1965, the Australian government was actively involved when up to a million communists and their allies were massacred in a brutal crackdown on the Indonesian Communist Party. The US embassy in Jakarta passed on lists of names to the Indonesian military of people it knew were associated with communist organisations and trade unions.

Between 1972 and 1973, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agents worked with the CIA in Chile to destabilise the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, which was then overthrown by a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. Thousands of people were executed, disappeared, detained and tortured by the resulting dictatorship.

As Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, the Australian government participated in a cover-up of the deaths of five journalists working for Australian news outlets who were murdered by the Indonesian military at Balibo.

The Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) knew the journalists were in East Timor and were a target of the Indonesian military. The day they were killed, the DSD received a message about the men’s deaths but suppressed the details of how they were killed in order to not damage Australia’s trade relations with Indonesia.

The Australian government is currently helping to suppress the independence movement in West Papua through directly training Indonesian special forces troops, responsible for human rights abuses there.

And under the guise of “disrupting” people smuggling operations, Australia provides intelligence information and surveillance equipment to the Sri Lankan government. In effect helping a regime which carries out ongoing persecution of Tamils with the means to prevent them from seeking asylum in other countries.

Abbott told parliament on November 18: “All governments gather information … and all governments know that every other government gathers information.” But this does not take into account that Australia is more powerful and better equipped to spy much more effectively on its neighbours.

Since the beginning of the “war on terror”, spy agencies such as ASIO, ASIS and the ASD (formally known as the DSD) have been given wide-ranging powers and ever-expanding budgets to carry out their operations in secrecy.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has pointed out these agencies do not have an obligation to report to the Australian parliament, or even reveal how many people they employ.

Snowden should be congratulated for disclosing the extent of the NSA surveillance programs. The ASD, ASIS and ASIO do not serve the interests of Australian people and need to be abolished.

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