Australia and the US mounted a joint surveillance operation on Indonesia during the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, a report said yesterday, revelations that are likely to exacerbate Canberra’s strained ties with Jakarta.
The Guardian newspaper’s Australian edition cited a document from US whistleblower Edward Snowden showing that Australian spy agency the Defence Signals Directorate worked alongside the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect the telephone numbers of Indonesian security officials.
Australia’s relationship with neighbor Indonesia is already under pressure following reports last week that Canberra’s overseas diplomatic posts were involved in a vast US-led surveillance network.
Missions in Indonesia and embassies or consulates in China were reportedly used to monitor phone calls and collect data, sparking demands for an explanation from Jakarta and Beijing. The Guardian said the 2007 operation at the UN conference was not particularly successful, with the only tangible outcome being the mobile phone number of Bali’s chief of police.
“The goal of the development effort was to gain a solid understanding of the network structure should collection be required in the event of an emergency,” according to an account of the mission included in a 2008 weekly report from an NSA base at Pine Gap in Australia, one of the agency’s biggest overseas bases.
Summing up at the end of the operation, the NSA said: “Highlights include the compromise of the mobile phone number for Bali’s chief of police. Site efforts revealed previously unknown Indonesian communications networks and postured us to increase collection in the event of a crisis,” the Guardian reported.
While largely unsuccessful, the operation is hugely embarrassing for Canberra.
At the time, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd had just been elected and the summit was his first high-profile international foray, to which he was personally invited by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Ties are already being tested by new Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s hardline policies on stopping asylum-seekers arriving in Australia on boats from Indonesia.
Two weeks ago, Abbott said of the spy network reports: “Every Australian governmental agency, every Australian official, at home and abroad, operates in accordance with the law and that’s the assurance that I can give people at home and abroad.”