Australian political and military figures had their telephones bugged by Indonesia during the diplomatic crisis over East Timor's independence ballot in 1999, a former Indonesian intelligence chief said yesterday.
Two former Indonesian presidents also expressed reservations about Canberra-Jakarta relations following the revelations.
A.M. Hendropriyono, who resigned last month as director of the State Intelligence Agency which he ran since 2001, said the embassies of Australia and other countries in Jakarta had also had their telephones tapped. He would not reveal which other diplomatic missions were bugged.
"We found ... evidence that our embassies abroad are tapped ... and we also do the same thing," Hendropriyono told Nine Network television. "This is quite common in the intelligence activity."
Hendropriyono, who was a military general before becoming Indonesia's intelligence chief, said he was angry when Australia led UN troops to restore order in East Timor after the Indonesian province voted for independence and triggered a violent backlash from army-sponsored militias.
"The Australian intelligence tapped all conversations with Indonesian armed forces officers, but also civilians," Hendropriyono said. "Then we made some counter-tap, counter-bugging."
Asked if Australian politicians were also targets, Hendropriyono said: "Politicians, yes." He declined to identify them.
But he said Indonesia no longer spied on Australia since the two countries became allies against global terrorism following the al-Qaeda attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001.
Prime Minister John Howard refused to confirm or deny the claim that Australian politicians had been the targets of Indonesian telephone bugging.
"I neither confirm nor deny stories about those sorts of security things," Howard told Nine Network television. "Our relations with Indonesia remain very strong and good."
But former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer Warren Reid said Indonesian spies had penetrated Australia's overseas spy network.
Asked if he was certain about the issue, Reid told Nine, "I wouldn't say it otherwise and it's known in Canberra too and it's not been addressed."
Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid told the television station there was growing resentment at Australia's expanded security presence in Indonesia and he felt that Canberra "meddles in our affairs."
Wahid suggested the Sept. 9 bomb attack outside Australia's embassy in Jakarta that killed nine people was the direct result of perceived interference by Canberra in Indonesian affairs.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, recently ousted as president in national elections, said there had never been an easy relationship between the countries.
"It was my experience as president that there was a lack of harmony in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia," she told Channel Nine.
Howard, however, said when he became prime minister eight years ago Australia's foreign policy was too heavily skewed towards engaging with Asia and he believed it was now more balanced.
"Now I haven't reduced the Asian emphasis, if anything I've increased it further," he said.
"But at the same time I've increased very much the importance of our links with both the United States and Europe, and I think that's rightly so because we're not a country that should put all our eggs in one regional basket -- that would be a huge mistake."