The State Palace on Monday lashed out at foreign governments that allegedly spied on Indonesian leaders, saying the practice was unethical.
“Wiretapping is not good for bilateral relations,” presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said at the State Palace on Monday.
The comments come days after allegations resurfaced that at a Group of 20 conference in London in 2009 attended by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, intelligence agencies including Britain’s General Communication Headquarters and the US National Security Agency tapped into delegates’ personal e-mails and text messages.
The allegations published by Australian media outlets on Friday, which suggested that the Indonesian delegation was among those spied upon, were believed to have flowed from leaks on intelligence-gathering techniques by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Faizasyah said the Indonesian government would investigate the extent of damage caused by the alleged security breach.
“The way we see it, issues related to information management have become more and more crucial and based on this incident there are several parties interested in obtaining this information. We will continue to update our information security measures,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa also voiced his concerns, saying such an act was a serious violation of the code of ethics in international relations.
Last Friday, Marty told the Jakarta Globe the action was concerning and the government was still awaiting a formal explanation from the relevant authorities in Britain.
“I have heard about it. Obviously security breaches of this type are considered to be a very serious offense, therefore we wish to be informed about the truth of this news,” he said.
Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla described the spying, which included accessing delegates’ BlackBerry smartphones to monitor e-mails and phone calls and setting up Internet cafes where an e-mail interception program and key-logging software spied on delegates’ computer use, as “unethical.”
“It’s very unethical if it really happened especially when the countries that committed it are our friends,” Kalla was quoted as saying from Kuala Lumpur by detik.com on Monday.
Kalla, vice president at the time the alleged spying took place, said he was unaware of the intelligence breach but said there was little Indonesia could do now.
“There’s nothing that can be done about it because this was an intelligence activity and by their covert nature intelligence activities are hard to prove,” he said.
Faizasyah said Yudhoyono learned of the breach in June. The spokesman shared Kalla’s view that it was difficult to prove the allegations unless the countries that allegedly committed the act admitted it.
“[We received] the information in June that the host had been intercepting messages, not just from delegates of one or two countries but most of those who attended the conference,” Faizasyah said.
The Guardian newspaper in June suggested the Turkish finance minister had been deliberately targeted while the NSA were reportedly trying to listen in on Russian leader Dimitry Medvedev’s phone calls to Moscow.
It is alleged that Australia benefited from the intelligence activity at the summit by winning a seat on the United Nations Security Council, according to The Age newspaper.
“Without intelligence support, overwhelmingly provided by US capabilities, we would not have won the seat,’’ an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officer told the Australian media on the basis of confidentiality.
A document seen by The Guardian refers to GCHQ, MI6 (British Intelligence) and others setting up Internet cafes that “were able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished.” This appears to be a reference to acquiring delegates’ online login details.
“The extent of the leak needs to be reviewed. We have a transparent process about which country we choose and support [to win the UNSC seat]. Communications could have been conducted through the normal way without the interception,” Faizasyah said.
Yudhoyono has not given any instructions regarding the alleged spying activity. “We don’t know what the president’s reaction is [on the issue],” Faizasyah said.
Indonesia has not said whether it will renounce the techniques when it hosts Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation delegates at a summit in Bali in October.
Meanwhile, House of Representatives Commission I is planning to summon the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), the foreign affairs minister, and State Code Agency (Lemsaneg) regarding the communications interception.
“If this really happened, then it is negligence. We will ask about this at the next meeting with BIN, Lemsaneg and the foreign affairs minister,” Hayono Isman, a member of House Commission I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, said on Monday.
The Democratic Party politician suspected the G-20 London venue was not secure.
“This must be investigated so that it doesn’t happen again. There are crucial lessons to be learned from this,” Hayono said, as quoted by Okezone.com.
Analysts in Jakarta have raised concerns that Friday’s report in The Age could fuel distrust and suspicion between Australia and Indonesia at a time when the bilateral relationship is already fragile.
Quoting Australian intelligence and foreign affairs sources, the Melbourne-based newspaper reported on Friday that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, then in his first spell as Australia’s leader, was the beneficiary of British spying on Yudhoyono at the G-20 summit.
According to officials familiar with Australia’s participation in the April 2009 leaders’ meeting, the Australian delegation received “excellent intelligence support’’ including “much information’’ shared by Britain and the United States agencies.
Intelligence and foreign affairs sources told Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age, of the important intelligence received from US and British agencies to support Australia’s diplomatic objectives, including the campaign to win a seat on the UN Security Council.
“Rudd had a keen appetite for intelligence, especially on the Asia-Pacific leaders — Yudhoyono, [Indian Prime Minister] Manmoham Singh, and [former Chinese president] Hu Jintao,’’ one intelligence source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.