Indonesia Recalls Ambassador: Australia Tracked President’s Mobile Phone

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JAKARTA, November 18:  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has recalled his ambassador from Australia on Monday and has ordered a review of bilateral relations after leaked secret documents revealed that Australia has tracked Indonesian President ‘s activity on his mobile phone. Documents leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian newspaper, have named the president and nine of his inner circle associates as targets of the Australian surveillance. The report claims that the Defence Signals Directorate tracked Yudhoyono’s activity on his mobile phone for 15 days in August 2009

British daily The Telegraph reports that the Australian spy agencies attempted to listen to the phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and also targeted his wife and some of his senior ministers. The embarrassing details emerged with bilateral ties between the strategic allies already strained over previous spying allegations and how to deal with asylum seekers heading for Australia via Indonesia.

The documents show that Australia’s electronic intelligence agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, tracked Yudhoyono’s activity on his mobile phone when Labor’s Kevin Rudd was prime minister. It reportedly intercepted at least one call. A list of targets also included his wife Ani, Vice President Boediono who was in Australia last week, former vice president Yussuf Kalla, the foreign affairs spokesman, the security minister and the information minister, the reports claims. Office of President Yudhoyono has demanded an explanation from Canberra. “The Australian government urgently needs to clarify on this news to avoid further damage,” spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told AFP in a text message. “The damage has been done,” he added.

The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) said, one of the documents was titled “3G impact and update” and appeared to chart attempts by Australian intelligence to keep pace with the rollout of 3G technology in Indonesia and across Southeast Asia. A number of intercept options were listed and a recommendation was made to choose one of them and to apply it to a target – in this case the Indonesian leadership, the broadcaster said.

One page in the document lists names and the 3G handsets the surveillance targets were using at the time.
One page in the document lists names and the 3G handsets the surveillance targets were using at the time.

The latest release of Snowden documents comes just weeks after reports claimed Canberra’s overseas diplomatic posts, including in Jakarta, were involved in a vast US-led surveillance network, which sparked an angry reaction from Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

This was followed by The Guardian reporting earlier this month that Australia and the United States mounted a joint surveillance operation on close neighbour Indonesia during 2007 UN climate talks in Bali.

In an interview with the ABC on Sunday, before the latest revelations, Vice President Boediono played down suggestions of a rift with Australia, shrugging off the disputes as normal neighbourly problems. “It’s normal for next-door neighbours to have problems,” he said. “I think Australians and Indonesians are quite committed to the long-term interests of both countries.” Alexander Downer, the foreign minister under John Howard’s conservative government, said the revelations were damaging to Australia.

Australian Prime Minister and the Indonesian President are holding  a joint press conference
Australian Prime Minister and the Indonesian President are holding a joint press conference

Former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Snowden was given asylum in Russia in August, to the fury of the United States where he is wanted on espionage charges following disclosures that have provoked international uproar and strained ties with allies. He is also behind revelations of American spying in Germany, including the tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.

AP adds, earlier this month, the Indonesian government called in the Australian ambassador for an explanation following reports that the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was a hub for Washington’s secret electronic data collection program. A document from Snowden published last month by the German magazine Der Spiegel describes a signals intelligence program called “Stateroom” in which U.S., British, Australian and Canadian embassies house surveillance equipment to collect electronic communications. Those countries, along with New Zealand, have an intelligence-sharing agreement known as “Five Eyes.”

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