Thursday, November 21, 2013


Brendan Nicholson, Defence Editor
  • The AustralianNovember 20, 2013

  • Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station
    An aerial image of Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station at Kojarena. Source: Supplied

    IN Building M at the Australian Defence Force's Russell headquarters in Canberra, massive computers crunch their way through millions of phone conversations scooped up across the region hunting for clues to terrorist plans and other threats to Australia.

    At Russell, the Australian Signals Directorate (formerly the Defence Signals Directorate) uses key words and phrases across half a world of languages to find the scant clues left by plotters buried in the mundane discourse on everything from business deals to the state of baby's nappies.

    Australia constantly gathers vast amounts of information from its neighbours in a giant electronic eavesdropping operation that has long been regarded by its allies as one of its most important strategic assets.

    This silent surveillance of its Asian neighbours' civil and military communications covers a giant slice of the planet stretching from mid-Pacific to the middle of the Indian Ocean.

    As part of the "Five Eyes" alliance with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, linked ground stations at Kojarena, near Geraldton, in Western Australia, Shoal Bay, in the Northern Territory and Waihopai, in New Zealand, can intercept the civil and military communications of many regional nations.

    Key targets are the Palapa satellites that provide Indonesia's mobile phone and some radio communications, and similar telecommunications systems of nations including Thailand, The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Papua New Guinea.

    That information flows on to Russell, where the computers sift out valuable information. That is supplemented by a mass of intelligence gathered by the ADF's submarines, warships and and aircraft.

    During the East Timor crisis, Australian Oberon-Class submarines loitering off Indonesia were gathering valuable information about Jakarta's intentions and the likely reaction to the Australian-led UN intervention in the territory.

    Leaks during the East Timor operation in 1999 also revealed that Australia was comprehensively eavesdropping on Indonesian military communications.

    The fact that both nations were spying on each other at the time was later acknowledged by 
    Indonesia's Intelligence chief, General Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, who cheerfully admitted his men had "bugged" Australia's embassy in Jakarta.

    In 2004, Hendropriyono said he also tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit Australians as spies.

    The retiring intelligence chief claimed his agency tapped Australian civil and military communications and politicians' phone calls. 

    Hendropriyono's revelations were unusual in that, while everyone knew Indonesia and Australia spied on each other, they rarely admitted that they did it.

    The general, who headed the Badan Intelijen Negara (the National Intelligence Agency) under president Megawati Sukarnoputri's government, said it was well known that governments tapped each other's communications and Indonesia had much evidence its embassies abroad were bugged.

    "Here, also, we did the same thing. We want to know what is really discussed about us," he told the Nine Network's Sunday program. 

    "We can say this is a public secret. You know, secret but the whole public knows. This is quite common intelligence activity." 

    Hendropriyono said he presumed Australia did the same thing to Indonesia. 

    "She is silly if she doesn't do that, you know."

    Defence specialist Alan Behm, who was head of the international policy division of the Australian Defence Force during the Timor crisis, said at the time he was not surprised by the claims though there seemed to be "a bit of braggadocio" about them.

    He said Indonesia would certainly have wanted to find out, for example, what forces Australia was sending to East Timor.

    Hendropriyono said the spying had ended because Indonesia and Jakarta now faced a common enemy in global terrorism.

    The reality is that one of the main beneficiaries of Australian spying activity in Indonesia has been Indonesia - along with Australians visiting that country.

    While the role of Australian intelligence facilities in the region is usually a closely guarded secret, details of one classic example of close co-operation occurred in 2007.

    In June that year, Australian Defence Force and police personnel tracked the phone calls of two alleged terrorist leaders in Indonesia and gave Jakarta authorities the information they needed to capture the men. 

    With considerable enthusiasm, a senior Indonesian official quickly confirmed the Australian Federal Police involvement.

    A man known as Zarkasih, said to be the head of the group Jemaah Islamiah, and Abu Dujana, said to be the movement's military commander, were arrested in Indonesia on June 9, 2007, alone with six other JI members.

    Dujana was allegedly involved in the 2004 Australian embassy bombing and the 2003 Marriot hotel blast in Jakarta. 

    Indonesia police also said he had a role in the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people including 88 Australians.

    A top Indonesian counter-terrorism officer, Ansyaad Mbai, said AFP officers based in Jakarta were able to trace the two key terrorist suspects by monitoring their mobile phones and emails. 

    That work was the key to finding Dujana, he said.

    "The AFP are in charge of the hardware and the operational side of things, whereas the overall system, the satellites, are American," Mbai said in an interview with the US news agency, Associated Press.

    "I salute their work, they are very diligent. 

    They sit in front of the computer, tracing numbers. 

    They map them all, and follow the patterns."

    In reality, most nations assume that foreign diplomats in their capitals are likely to include some who are there to gather intelligence. 

    The main Australian intelligence agency operating on the ground overseas is the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

    ASIS answers to the foreign affairs minister. 

    The so-called "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing agreement is better known as UKUSA - the United Kingdom-United States of America Agreement, which also includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand and other nations as third-party members.

    The alliance had its origins during World War II but was expanded in 1947 as the world shivered into the Cold War.

    Australia has been part of that highly sensitive intelligence-gathering alliance since 1947, when the move was approved by the Chifley government. 

    Its very membership was top secret for 40 years until revealed by strategic analysts Des Ball and Jeffrey T. Richelson in their book, The Ties That Bind.

    Ball told The Australian recently that the fact this nation was a member of the alliance made it unlikely that the US was listening to Tony Abbott's telephone. The US was unlikely to risk the flow of valuable information by doing that, he said.

    Most people have no problem with their nation's spy agencies tracking the activities of terrorists. 

    That has undoubtedly saved lives in Australia and abroad.

    But the whole issue has started to unravel with the revelation that Australia was monitoring the phones of Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and many people close to him.

    Leaked documents from US fugitive Edward Snowden show that, under the Labor government, the DSD targeted the mobile phones of 10 prominent Indonesians in 2009.

    They included the President, his wife, the Vice President and the then foreign affairs spokesman.

    The DSD appears to have then distributed its material to key allied agencies in a PowerPoint form that was childishly gleeful over the motto : "Reveal their secrets, protect our own."

    Behm, the former senior defence official, told The Australian yesterday that a big problem was that the PowerPoint deck, a supposedly secret document, was "hubristic and boastful".

    "It's saying, 'Hey look how clever we are', and, 'We've go all this'," Behm said. 

    "That's juvenile cockiness. 

    What was the purpose of writing it down. 

    Was it to impress somebody?"

    "That sort of stuff should certainly not go into a PowerPoint that was distributed widely enough for the US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to get hold of it along with a mass of other material.

    "Why did we convey such information on a PowerPoint, for God's sake. 

    And how did this deluded Lone Ranger get his hands on it?"

    Behm said if an Australian agency had lost material that caused this sort of embarrassment for the US, the Americans would have been extremely upset and would have made no secret of that fact.

    The revelations had thrust a huge spanner into Canberra's relations with Indonesia, he said, adding it was very likely that there would be defence implications for Australia in the episode.

    "The Indonesians could, for instance look at the way the Indonesian navy communicates with the Australian navy in the Timor Sea," he said. "

    They could direct their navy to be much less accommodating. 

    They could also wind back some of the defence co-operation between Australia and Indonesia."

    And the episode would be embarrassing for the Indonesian government, Behm said. "This is a highly complex country. 

    We have an election campaign unfolding in Indonesia, both a parliamentary campaign and a presidential campaign, where nationalism will be a subtext. Australia suddenly becomes a lightning rod for xenophobia.

    "This has shown that the Indonesian president has a public vulnerability in that he can't get on his mobile phone to ring somebody up without Mr Abbott listening to him."
    - See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/five-eyes-saving-lives/story-e6frg6z6-1226763777156#sthash.DgUa6Wuh.dpuf

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