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article imageOp-Ed: Snowden info gets Australia in spy row with Indonesia

By Paul Wallis     Nov 19, 2013 in World
Sydney - The Snowden security materials have put Australia in the uncomfortable position of being accused without much hope of denial of spying on Indonesia in 2009. Like spying on the Indonesian President and his wife’s private phone calls.
It’s not a great look.
ABC Australia describes the materials:
The top-secret documents are from Australia's electronic intelligence agency, the Defence Signals Directorate (now called the Australian Signals Directorate), and show for the first time how far Australian spying on Indonesia has reached.
The DSD motto stamped on the bottom of each page reads: "Reveal their secrets – protect our own."
The documents show that Australian intelligence actively sought a long-term strategy to continue to monitor the president's mobile phone activity.
Phone taps:  Indonesian President voice events
Phone taps: 'Indonesian President voice events'
ABC Australia
Before we go any further with this article, a note: If you’re trying to find top secret information about another country, the last place you’re likely to find it is on a cell phone. The phones were 3G phones, more or less contemporary at the time.
These revelations come on top of prior revelations that Australia was using its embassy to spy on Indonesia…. Yeah, it’s a real tale of unexpected news. Embassies are traditionally the home of at least a few intelligence operatives, and are natural referral points for regional intelligence operatives.
The phone tapping efforts were meticulously bizarre. There’s a fascinating picture of President Yudhoyono’s phone calls, nicely presented but the intelligence value is highly debatable. It proves the Indonesian President knows how to use a phone, but not much else. The only good news is that this strange little effort could not possibly have done Indonesia any real damage, a fact of which Indonesian intelligence will be well aware.
(It does leave open to interpretation exactly how and why the previous government allowed it to happen at all, or which airhead was responsible.)
The far more important point is that in this region there are far more serious issues to consider than the President’s phone bill or calls menu. This region is the home to Jemaah Islamiyah, a nasty Islamist terrorist group, a “civil war” of sorts in West Irian (Western New Guinea) and of course the endless people smuggling choking Australia’s detention centres. Australia has been trying to get a working partnership with Indonesia to stop the boats, and the new spy scandal has basically stalled that partnership until further notice.
The Indonesian president wasn t the only target  but the same arguments apply regarding the likeliho...
The Indonesian president wasn't the only target, but the same arguments apply regarding the likelihood of getting any actual intelligence information.
ABC Australia
As positively vacuous targets for intelligence gathering go, this effort ranks high. Any other target could at least have been considered of value. This isn’t. Australia’s intelligence agencies aren’t noticeably run by whimsical fascination with gadgetry. Nor is it likely that Indonesian intelligence would be merrily spreading valuable information from of all places the President’s phone.
President Yudhoyono isn’t impressed. A series of annoyed Tweets have made his position clear. He’s furious, and understandably so. His foreign minister expressed the official position as the Indonesian ambassador was recalled to Jakarta for instructions:
Mr Suyanto says all cooperation with Australia is now under review.
Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa says that "absolutely" includes asylum seekers.
"There's a message we have to send, that things like this in the 21st century - we are not talking about the Cold War era - in the 21st century, the wiretapping issue should have been far behind us," he said.
"I want to make it absolutely clear. An unfriendly act, unbecoming of a relationship between strategic partners."
For Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, this is one hell of a mess. Although this incident occurred during the previous government, he’s carrying the load. He’s also refused to apologize, which has added some heat to the issues
In a speech in Parliament he said:
The Prime Minister said Australia should not be expected to apologise for the "steps we take to protect our country".
"Importantly, in Australia's case, we use all our resources, including information to help our friends and allies not to harm them," he said.
Australia should not be expected to apologise for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past.
"Similarly, Madam Speaker, Australia shouldn't be expected to detail what we do to protect our country any more than other governments should be expected to detail what they do to protect theirs.
"Others should ask of us no more than they are prepared to do themselves."
Later Mr Abbott described the surveillance as "reasonable".
Indonesia has also pointed out that President Obama apologized to Chancellor Angela Merkel, but Abbott has ruled out apologizing to President Yudhoyono
The “Snowden factor”
Meanwhile, Australia is fuming that the NSA failed so abjectly to stop the information from joining Snowden’s massive repository of security documents. Australian academics, a former foreign minister, and intelligence experts are calling it “appalling incompetence” in various printable forms.
It’s interesting to note that no commentary has issued, even now, months later, from the United States regarding official responsibility for the security leaks, which are now becoming more or less commonplace.
Just a thought:
If we’re prepared to spend that sort of money to “protect” Australia, presumably from the President of Indonesia’s phone bill, perhaps we could try economizing on the claims of productive use of Australian intelligence time, too?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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