Australia, Indonesia exchange intelligence personnel to combat ISIS

2016 Jakarta attacksAn ambitious new personnel exchange program between intelligence agencies in Australia and Indonesia aims to combat the unprecedented rise of militant Islamism in Southeast Asia, which is fueled by the Islamic State. The program, which is already underway, aims to strengthen intelligence cooperation between two traditionally adversarial regional powers. According to The Australian newspaper, the scheme owes its existence to the growing recognition that the security environment in the region is rapidly deteriorating due to the popularity of the Islamic State. The militant group appears to have replaced al-Qaeda in the minds of many radical Islamists in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere, and is fueling the resurgence of smaller Islamist sects that have laid largely dormant for years.

Relations between militant Islamist sects in Indonesia —the world’s most populous Muslim nation— have traditionally been factional in nature. But some experts fear that the unprecedented growth of the Islamic State is galvanizing and uniting Islamist factions throughout Southeast Asia. Chief among them is the Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group operating across the region, which was behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed over 200 people, 88 of them Australians. In January of this year, Jemaah Islamiyah praised a series of attacks in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, which were perpetrated by militants connected to the Islamic State. The attacks killed four people, far fewer than their perpetrators had hoped to harm. But they lasted for several hours and shocked many due to the ease with which the heavily armed terrorists were able to evade security measures. Similar attacks were recently prevented in their planning stages by security agencies in Malaysia and the Philippines.

These developments prompted the rapprochement that is currently taking place between two traditionally rival intelligence agencies, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency, commonly referred to as BIN. The two agencies have reportedly begun posting officers to each other’s headquarters on multi-month assignments. The purpose of these exchanges is to gain a detailed understanding of each other’s counterterrorist planning and operations, and devise areas of actionable cooperation. The plan can be characterized as ambitious, given that relations between ASIO and BIN were severely disrupted in late 2013 and are still damaged, according to some observers. The break in relations was prompted by revelations, made by the American defector Edward Snowden, that Australian intelligence spied on senior Indonesian politicians and their family members, including the wife of the country’s president. Indonesia responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Canberra and terminating all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia. Nine months later, the two countries signed a joint agreement promising to curb their intelligence activities against each other. Some observers suggest that it will take years for Indonesian and Australian intelligence to fully reestablish intelligence cooperation. However, the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Southeast Asia could be significantly accelerating this process.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 July 2016 | Permalink