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

Australian spies use paid informants abroad to stop human smuggling

ASISAustralian law enforcement and intelligence agencies routinely use paid informants in Indonesia and Pakistan as part of a decade-old covert war against human traffickers in the Indian Ocean. This information has been revealed by The Australian newspaper in response to reports 1 last week that Australian authorities paid traffickers to turn around a boat transporting asylum-seekers to the country. After the reports came out, many members of the opposition Australian Labor Party blasted the government for bribing human traffickers, and calling the practice “disgraceful” and “unsustainable”. But new information published on Monday shows that, when the Labor Party was in government, it instructed the country’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies to recruit and pay informants from within the human-trafficking networks abroad.

According 2 to The Australian, the use of paid informants is part of a wider secret war between the Australian intelligence and security agencies and the trafficking networks, which began in 2001. This “covert war”, said the paper, is meant to identify the structure and operations of human-trafficking syndicates and stop the constant flow of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to Australia. According to the paper, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) was the first Australian government agency to begin the practice. It was followed in 2005 by the Australian Federal Police, which also began stationing officers abroad and tasking them with running networks of informants. In 2009, ASIS received $21 million (US$16.5 million) from the Australian government to develop networks of agents in several countries where large human-smuggling cartels are known to operate. The agency used the funds to station officers in several Indonesian cities, as well as in Pakistani capital Islamabad, where it operates in coordination with the Federal Investigations Agency of Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior.

The Australian quoted an unnamed Australian intelligence official who had access to the intelligence reports from the ASIS anti-smuggling operations. He told the paper that the use of informants who are members of smuggling gangs was the only effective way of eventually “collapsing these networks”. Meanwhile, the government of Australia has refused comment on the allegations of bribing human smugglers.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 June 2015 | Permalink:

  1. B. LAGAN “Australia accused of bribing smugglers to take refugees away” The Times [13jun2015] 
  2. C. STEWART “Spies, police have paid Indonesian informers for years” The Australian [16jun2015] 

News you may have missed #883

Oleg KaluginBy IAN ALLEN |
►►Indonesia, Australia renew intelligence ties. Australia and Indonesia have signed a pledge not to use intelligence to harm each other, signaling a resumption in cooperation, which had been suspended after last year’s spy scandal. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, signed the “joint understanding of a code of conduct” in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Thursday.
►►Ex-KGB general says Russia has already won in Ukraine. Russia has already won “the real victory”​ in Ukraine, according to former KGB general Oleg Kalugin, who is now living in the United States. The “southeast of Ukraine, that’s part of the general battle between the Russians and Ukrainians, but it’s not as crucial as the real victory and pride of Russia —the Crimea, I mean”, he said on Thursday. Kalugin reiterated that he does not believe Russian president Vladimir Putin wants annex another region of the country. “It’s not in the interest of Putin”, Kalugin said. “His position as of today is fairly strong in the country, in his own country, so why put it at risk by moving further?”
►►China says Canadian couple were spies disguised as ordinary citizens. Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defense research secrets. They were detained on August 4, 2014, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked with Christian groups to bring humanitarian aid into North Korea, and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China. Their detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of US fighter jet secrets.

Australia, Indonesia to end rift by signing joint spy agreement

 Abbott and YudhoyonoBy IAN ALLEN |
Australia and Indonesia are to end months of diplomatic friction by signing a joint agreement aimed at curbing their intelligence activities against each other. IntelNews readers will recall that Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Canberra and terminated all military and intelligence cooperation with Australia late last year, after it emerged that Australian spies had targeted the communications of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other senior Indonesian officials, while they were attending the 2009 G20 conference in London. Relations between the two countries worsened considerably in February of this year, when documents leaked by American defector Edward Snowden revealed that Australian intelligence spied on American law firm representing the government of Indonesia in a trade dispute with Washington. The documents, from February 2003, showed that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) purposely targeted the law firm because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state. To make things worse, the leaked information showed that the ASD, which is responsible for signals intelligence and information security, offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency. Following the revelation, the Australian and Indonesian governments were reportedly not on talking terms. But it has now emerged that Australia and Indonesia are to sign a mutually binding agreement titled “Joint Understanding of a Code of Conduct”, which, among other things, will prohibit Australia from using its intelligence agencies to harm Indonesian national interests. Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Australia’s ABC network that the agreement would “make it quite clear” that “Australia would not use its […] intelligence resources to the detriment of […] Indonesia”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #879

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN |
►►Israeli spy budget close to $2 billion. According to reports in the Israeli media, the 2014 budget for Israel’s secret services is 6.88 billion shekels, which amounts to US$1.97 billion). This figure represents an approximate increase of 4 percent compared to last year. The funds cover the operations of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, and the Mossad, which is the country’s external covert-action agency.
►►Australia and France sign intelligence accord. Australia has struck a second intelligence-sharing agreement in less than a week, this time with France, as fears rise about the Syrian civil war becoming a hub for home-grown terrorism. The two countries have agreed, among other things, to share intelligence on their respective citizens who have gone to Syria to fight in that country’s civil war. A week earlier, Canberra had signed a similar intelligence-sharing agreement with the government of Indonesia.
►►Nazi spy could have changed course of D-Day. Days before the Normandy landings, the Lisbon-based Nazi spy Paul Fidrmuc got wind of the final details of Operation Overlord and sent an urgent message to Berlin. The Allies were not planning to land in Calais, as the Nazis thought and where they had massed 200,000 soldiers. Instead, he wrote, “the preferred plan is around La Manche”. But his dispatch was ignored by his Berlin handlers.

Australia spied on US law firm representing Indonesia in trade talks

Australian Signals DirectorateBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS |
Australian intelligence spied on an American law firm representing the government of Indonesia in a trade dispute with the United States, according to leaked documents. The documents, from February 2003, show that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) specifically targeted the law firm because it represented the commercial interests of the Indonesian state. The ASD is Australia’s intelligence organization responsible for signals intelligence and information security. The leaked documents also show that that the Australian spy agency offered to share the intelligence collected from the operation with its American counterpart, the National Security Agency (NSA). The New York Times, which published the leaked information, said the operation appeared to have been aimed strictly at subverting the Indonesian government’s international commercial interests and had nothing to do with national security. The paper said it acquired the documents from Edward Snowden, an American intelligence defector currently living in Russia, who used to work for the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency. The leaked papers do not specify the precise trade negotiations between Washington and Jakarta, which appear to have been targeted by the ASD. Nor do they identify the American law firm spied on by the Australians. But the paper suggested that Mayer Brown, one of the world’s largest law firms, with offices in over 22 cities around the globe, was acting as the Indonesian government’s legal consultant at the time the leaked documents were drafted. A memorandum included in the leaked documents notes that the ASD had “been able to continue to cover the [trade] talks [between the US and Indonesia], providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #857 (hacking edition)

Mossad sealBy IAN ALLEN |
►►UK spies hacked Belgian phone company using fake LinkedIn page. British spies hacked into the routers and networks of a Belgian telecommunications company Belgacom by tricking its telecom engineers into clicking on malicious LinkedIn and Slashdot pages, according to documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The primary aim, reports the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which obtained the documents, was to compromise the GRX router system that BICS controlled, in order to intercept mobile phone traffic that got transmitted by the router.
►►Indonesian hackers behind attack on Australian spy service website. Indonesian hackers are believed to have brought down the website of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia’s leading spy agency. The page was not working on Monday afternoon after hackers launched a “denial of service” attack. A “404 not found” message typically appears when a website crashes under a “denial of service” attack. The cyber attack is reportedly a response to revelations that Australia had been spying on its closest neighbor through its Jakarta embassy.
►►Hamas blasts alleged Mossad website. Hamas officials released a warning about a website called Holol (“solutions”), claiming it is a ruse set up by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency to recruit Gazans as informants. The website’s “Employment” page states, “due to our connections with the Israeli Civil Administration, we can help you bypass the bureaucratic tape and procedural processes which prevent you from leaving Gaza”. The site also offers Israeli medical assistance, “due to connections with the Ministry of Health and the Israeli Civil Administration”. Palestinians interested in contacting the website’s officials are asked to provide their full name, telephone number, email, topic of inquiry, and an explanation of why they are asking for help. Last month, Lebanese group Hezbollah accused the Mossad of being behind a website seeking information on Hezbollah’s intelligence wing.