Indonesia halts joint military training with Australia ‘over espionage fears’

Indonesia AustraliaThe Indonesian military has halted all forms of cooperation with the armed forces of Australia, with some media reports suggesting that the decision was prompted by fears of espionage. Indonesia and Australia have held joined military training sessions for many decades. In recent weeks, members of the Kopassus, the elite special forces of the Indonesian military, were training on a base in Perth, Australia, with their counterparts in the Australian Special Air Service. On Wednesday, however, the Indonesian government said that it was suspending all military cooperation with Canberra, effective immediately.

The unexpected announcement was made by a spokesman of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, who said that “all forms of cooperation with the Australian military, including joint training” would be “temporarily withheld”. When asked about the reasons behind the sudden move, the spokesman said it was “due to multiple reasons”, but refused to give specifics. Later on Wednesday, Indonesian officials said some print material had been found at the training center in Perth, which offended the Indonesian people. But Australian media suggested that the Indonesian government had decided to terminate the joint military training program because it feared that its special forces troops would be recruited as spies by the Australians. Some reports brought up some relevant comments made in November of last year by a senior Indonesian military official, General Gatot Nurmantyo. The general said he had ended military cooperation between troops under his command and their Australian colleagues due to fears that his troops may be compromised by the Australians during training.

But Australia’s Minister of Defense, Marise Payne, rejected that Australian espionage activities were behind Jakarta’s surprise decision. Speaking on ABC Radio on Wednesday, Payne said it was “not the case” that Australian intelligence officers had tried to recruit Indonesian soldiers. That “is something which we would not countenance”, she said. In 2013, Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Canberra and terminated all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia, after it emerged that Australian spies had targeted the communications of the Indonesian President and other senior officials. But tensions subsided in August of 2014, when the two countries signed a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other. The last time Australia and Indonesia halted military cooperation was in 1999, when it was revealed that Kopassus troops had taken part in human rights abuses in East Timor. But the joint training was resumed in 2002, after the Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, many of them Australian tourists.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 06 January | Permalink

Australian spy agency reviews gun policy after ‘drunken episode’ in Afghanistan

Australian Special Air Service RegimentThe use of firearms by Australian intelligence and security personnel stationed abroad is being reviewed following an incident in which an intoxicated special forces soldier pulled a gun on a spy in Afghanistan. According to reports in the Australian media, the review was conducted by the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, a government-appointed office that monitors the conduct of Australian intelligence and security agencies.

It is believed that the Inspector General’s office began the investigation in 2014, shortly after it was made aware of the alleged incident in Afghanistan. According to unconfirmed reports, the incident involved two members of a “defence support team” who were stationed in Kabul. Defence support teams are highly secretive outfits that operate abroad and bring together members of Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) with officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) —the country’s primary external intelligence agency. Some reports suggest that a group of SAS soldiers had been drinking heavily at the embassy of Australia in the Afghan capital, and that one of them, who was heavily intoxicated, pointed a loaded handgun at a female ASIS officer, while verbally threatening her.

Cooler heads prevailed and the incident ended quickly. But it allegedly shook everybody who witnessed it, and it was quickly reported to the Inspector General. The watchdog promptly carried out an audit “to make sure guns were only being issued to foreign posts that really needed them”. Its written recommendations were circulated within ASIS earlier this week. However, the agency says it will not reveal the precise content of the Inspector General’s recommendations, because it could “prejudice [Australia’s] security relations with other counties” and place spies at risk.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 21 October 2015 | Permalink

Australian special forces secretly operating in Africa, says newspaper

Special Air Service RegimentBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS| intelNews.org |
One of Australia’s most prominent newspapers suggested in a leading article yesterday that a secret Australian special forces squadron has been illegally conducting espionage operations in several African countries during the past year. According to Melbourne-based The Age, the 4 Squadron of Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) has been deployed in “dozens of secret operations” during the past 12 months, in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Members of 4 Squadron have been operating dressed in civilian clothing, carrying forged identity papers, and with strict instructions to deny any connection with SASR if captured, said The Age. Although the existence of 4 Squadron has never been officially acknowledged, the unit is believed to have been established in 2004 or 2005, and is currently thought to be based at Swan Island in Victoria, north of the town of Queenscliff. Its initial mission was to provide armed protection to officers of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) whenever the latter are deployed in warzones or other exceptionally dangerous overseas environments. But 4 Squadron’s missions in Africa, which The Age says were authorized in 2010 by then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd, do not include ASIS officers, and instead require SASR members to act both in a military and civilian capacity in espionage assignments. According to the paper’s allegations, 4 Squadron missions have involved regular assessment and evaluation of inter-African border control standards, developing scenarios for evacuating Australians, mapping out landing sites for possible military interventions, and gathering first-hand intelligence on local politics and the activities of insurgents. The paper claims that the scope and breadth of 4 Squardon’s African assignments have raised concerns within the SASR, with some senior officials viewing the unit’s actions as “a possibly dangerous expansion of Australia’s foreign military engagement”. Read more of this post