The Indonesian Intelligence State Revisited

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Richard Tanter, "The Indonesian Intelligence State Revisited", NAPSNet Special Reports, September 14, 1999,

September 14, 1999

This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles on the crisis in East 
Timor.  This article is by Richard Tanter of Kyoto Seika University in 

A guide to all NAPSNet East Timor Special Reports is available online at:


The Indonesian Intelligence State Revisited

Richard Tanter

1. The East Timor Operation

Most likely, until the world unexpectedly reacted to the great killings 
in East Timor, the Indonesian military had no intention of allowing any 
transfer of sovereignty, whatever the result of the UN ballot.  The plan 
would have been to stall, bluff, badmouth the United Nations' conduct of 
the ballot, and hope that the world's attention would go away.  Given the 
record of the great powers and most of the world's media since 1975, and 
the experience of Indonesian intelligence in black operations and terror, 
these were not entirely unreasonable assumptions.

Operasi Sapu Jagad [Operation Clean Sweep], headed by Major-General Zacky 
Anwar Makirim, began immediately after Habibie's shock announcement of a 
referendum.  The plan's primary objective, to destroy CNRT by killing 
local leaders and prominent supporters, followed the experience of US 
black operations in South Vietnam (the Phoenix Programme) and Nicaragua.  
Anwar, who was at the time head of Badan Intelijen ABRI [BIA: Armed 
Forces Intelligence Agency] had been commander of Army Intelligence at 
the time of the Santa Cruz massacre in 199X, and a close associate of 
former Lieutenant-General Prabowo, Suharto's son-in-law and main rival to 
Wiranto for control of the armed forces.2 

Zacky Anwar's appointment by Habibie as liaison to UNAMET shocked many UN 
officials, who were already well aware of the weaknesses of the May 5th 
Agreement, but they were effectively powerless to deal with either 
threat.  Although Anwar stepped down as head of BIA to take up the 
position, his role as the principal coordinator of the unfolding 
programme of terror was unchanged.

Details of the different strands of the militia and their alignments with 
each other and with different Indonesian military and civil factions are 
still emerging.  It is clear that the intelligence plan, especially after 
the vote, had two dimensions within East Timor.  The first was the 
organized killing of those capable of providing political and moral 
leadership suspected of favouring independence, including of course, key 
CNRT activists and Catholic religious and intellectuals.  The naming of 
priests and nuns by their killers leaves little doubt of the level of 
organization involved.  Of course there was a further element of 
relatively indiscriminate slaughter, flowing both from a desire to use 
terror to control the remainder of the population, and most likely a 
degree of loss of temporary tactical control by army officers over some 
of their militia clients.  This, of course, was not viewed as a problem 
by Indonesian intelligence: far from it.  In certain circumstances, after 
key people have been liquidated, the apparently random character of 
terror is helpful. 

The second dimension of the post-vote operation has been the looting and 
plundering of anything moveable by the militias.  Apart from personal 
enrichment of the looters themselves and their TNI and militia 
commanders, the motive seems to have been a will to destroy.  If East 
Timor was to be left, it would be left with nothing.  While no doubt 
operating with general TNI approval, it is possible that different 
militia gangs carrying out the pillage were under varying degrees of 
immediate TNI control.

The Indonesian military intelligence plan to destroy CNRT and the 
possibility of East Timorese has succeeded - and failed.  While the 
killing in East Timor will continue until the UN peace keepers arrive, 
most of TNI's local objectives have been realized.  Anwar's officers seem 
to have done their work with appalling effectiveness.  Amongst the more 
than 200,000 East Timorese reportedly now in West Timor, killing and 
intimidation will continue for some time.  The loss of so many people, in 
a small population that had already lost almost a quarter of its 
population to earlier waves of Indonesian aggression, will be very hard 
to overcome. 

Yet, after enormous suffering and loss of life, and with devastating loss 
of precious human resources, East Timor will now become independent.  
There will be foot-dragging and wild talk in the Indonesian parliament 
and media, but it is now impossible for the military who govern now or 
whoever takes power in November to not fulfill the provisions of the May 
5th Agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the UN, according to which 
a majority vote for independence will lead to the required constitutional 
changes from the Indonesian president and legislature.  This will not 
happen without sustained and concerted external pressure, but it will 

2. The long history of Indonesian military terror 

Ten days of extreme terror in East Timor have destroyed the hopes of 
President Habibie of becoming an elected president.  More importantly, 
they have almost certainly finished any hopes that General Wiranto had of 
becoming Vice-President to Megawati Sukarnoputri. 

Megawati herself will be having very ambivalent responses.  Her often-
noted nationalism blinded her to any sympathy for the Timorese, and she 
has the support of many important serving and retired military officers.  
Undoubtedly, long before now, the lesson she drew from Habibie's failure 
to control the military is that an Indonesian president governs with the 
support of the military, or not at all. 

Yet Megawati lived through an attempt by generals to assassinate her 
father, former President Sukarno, in her schoolyard.  As a young woman 
she watched her father's allies on the left slaughtered in their hundreds 
of thousands by the Army and Islamic groups it manipulated and directed 
in the year after the coup and counter-coup in October 1965. 

Megawati, like millions of other Indonesian citizens, has never spoken 
openly about her experiences or feelings about that holocaust.  The CIA 
estimated that at least 800,000 people, mainly unarmed members of the 
then-legal Communist Party of Indonesia, plus a large of Indonesians of 
Chinese-descent, were killed.  Until Suharto's fall, the topic of the 
great killings of 1965-66 was literally unspeakable.  It was as if the 
Nazi holocaust could not have been discussed in Germany until the 1970s.  
The trauma has been repressed - and the terror rendered all the more 
powerful accordingly.

Many foreign observers have made the point that a third objective of the 
militia killings in East Timor has been to warn Aceh of its fate if it 
continues to rebel.  True enough, Aceh is one target of the terror.  Yet 
the larger target is Indonesia as a whole.  The sheer brazenness of the 
East Timor killing brings the great trauma of 1965-66 back to 

The terror in East Timor this time is not out of the ordinary in 
Indonesia.  Three types of terror have in fact been crucial to 
establishing and maintaining military control of Indonesia since 1965. 

* Firstly, the constitutive terror of 1965-66 was the foundation of the 
New Order.  Sukarno and the left was destroyed; Suharto and three 
generations of generals came to power; and they, together with their 
domestic and foreign commercial partners, became incredibly rich.  
Periodically reminding the population of the "events of 1965", or 
lamenting the "possibility of a repeat of 1965" has been an extremely 
effective military tactic, particularly in combination with the 
repression of the trauma.

* Secondly, after the worst of the constitutive terror edged back from 
daily consciousness by the late 1960s, intermittent targeted terror 
operations in the centre were important and effective tool of control by 
the military.  After the complete liquidation of the left by 1968 the 
targets of terror shifted: at different times Islamic groups disenchanted 
with the earthly paradise produced by Islamic cooperation in 1965-66; 
radical students; criminal gang leaders out of favour with Army bosses; 
and, as industrialization progressed, labour activists organizing outside 
the stultifying framework of government controlled unions.  While the 
destruction of particular immediate targets was always the primary goal, 
an important secondary function was the revivifying of the underlying 
sense of generalized terror.  For example, when military intelligence 
decided, with President Suharto's explicit support, to break the growing 
power of uncooperative gang bosses in the cities of Java by simply using 
military special forces and police to assassinate several thousand 
alleged criminals in 197X, the bodies the bullet-ridden dead were laid 
out in public places, or near the homes and work-places of prominent 
opponents of the regime.

* Thirdly, the standard response to discontent with Jakarta's rule on the 
edges of the archipelago has been terror: peripheral terror.  The terror 
this time in East Timor differs only in its intensity in a very short 
period, and in the attention given by the rest of the world from the 
terror of the preceding 24 years.  In Aceh and Irian Jaya, militarized 
responses to local grievances for comparable periods have by and large 
gone unnoticed by the rest of the world.  The fact that the Indonesia 
media was controlled by the military meant that these matters were 
unreportable in the Indonesian media.  And yet the very vagueness of 
people's awareness of "troubles" in the peripheries contributed to the 
genera sense of low-level terror that characterized the population as a 
whole through most of the Suharto period.

The great killings in East Timor are planned to serve as an attempt to 
once again remind Indonesians of the utter ruthlessness and brazen 
cruelty of which certain strands of the Indonesian military are capable, 
on the expectation that as before, these actions will be either ignored 
or even applauded by the foreign supporters. 

The key institutional apparatus in all of this is the very large and 
well-funded network of military and nominally civilian intelligence 
organizations that make up the Indonesian intelligence state, which has 
been very little affected by the mild and limited democratizing moves of 
the past year.  Major-General Zacky Anwar, as head of the Armed Forces 
Intelligence Agency [BIA], controlled a network of surveillance that 
reaches down from the TNI headquarters in Jakarta, through every layer of 
military administration to every village and city neighbourhood in the 
country.  Normally senescent in the face of ordinary life in non-crisis 
times, and, like any bureuacracy, probably never as efficient as it 
believes itself to be, the surveillance apparatus is geared to provide a 
fine-grained observation of the nation as a whole according to need. 

Coupled to the surveillance capacities of BIA, every regional military 
command, and every layer beneath, has an intelligence section which not 
only coordinates surveillance requirements according to need, but has a 
capacity and a mandate to intervene by whatever means are deemed 
necessary.  Special forces such as the Kopassus red berets have their own 
teams and networks, and can co-opt regional resourses.  There are few 
effective legal restrants on domestic intelligence operations.  The 
intelligence task forces that have terrorized East Timorese, whether from 
special forces or regular troops under the direction of the Bali 
headquarters of the Udayana IX regional command, have their parallels in 
every other area of Indonesia of concern to the military. 

Beyond the military intelligence hierarchy under BIA control, nominally 
civilian organizations such as BAKIN [the State Intelligence Coordinating 
Agency] or the Intelligence Division of the Attorney-Generals department, 
or the intelligence division of the highy militarized National Police, 
all play a key part in the maintenance of the system of surveillance and 
repression.  A legal system under military direction for three decades 
and a cowed and co-opted legislature provide the last elements of the 

The intelligence state under an elected president

The key questions now are firstly whether this domestic intelligence 
apparatus will survive a change of presidency; and secondly, if it does, 
are its capacities in any way diminished?

Should Megawati become president in November, it is extremely unlikely 
that she will move to dismantle the key institutions of the intelligence 
state.  Legal reform is probable, and would be welcome.  As in the past 
year, media freedom will allow a degree of scrutiny the operations of the 
military, and NGOs and religious groups will continually challenge 
arbitrary and extra-legal power with great courage.  Some senior officers 
will be sacrificed for the East Timor killings, quite possibly Anwar and 
close colleagues.  But the core military intelligence structure and its 
civilian counterparts will not be touched, unless Megawati can find some 
way of attenuating her dependence on the military. 

That said, and acknowledging the enormous damage that TNI intelligence 
has done to East Timor, does that mean that nothing has changed, that the 
power of the Indonesian intelligence state is undiminished?  The answer 
to that is no. 

Firstly, despite the considerable privatized and extra-budgetary 
financial resources available to the Indonesian military in general 
(including those controlled by Prabowo through his wife's corporate 
empire), the combination of economic regularization and the economic 
crisis of the last year have cut into the money needed for unaudited and 
unsupervised black operations.  How much, and to what precise extent is 
unknowable, but without doubt the military is somewhat curbed.  The 
amounts of money being mentioned as provided for black operations in East 
Timor this year are still relatively small.  As the social effects of the 
economic crisis deepen, the demands will be greater and the resources 
even smaller.

Secondly, a key resource for terror is belief in the omnipresence and 
omniscience of the intelligence organizations.  Powerful as they may be, 
this is not the case in Indonesia, and the scrutiny of the military in 
general that has come with the surge in press and civil freedoms in the 
past year somewhat diminish this sense.  Indonesia is far from a 
democratic society, but it has moved well beyond the sense of 
repressiveness of the height of the New Order. 

Thirdly, the military, and intelligence organizations in particular never 
acted alone in their political interventions.  The allied or manipulated 
groups varied over time and according to need.  For example, in the early 
New Order period anti-Sukarno student groups, and Chinese and Catholic 
groups, played a key role in breaking the power of Sukarno and the left, 
in addition to the huge Islamic organizations.  These groups provided 
considerable resources - material, moral and political - to sustain and 
cloak black operations.  None of these groupings is willing or able to 
provide such resources now.  Indonesian society today, after more than 
thirty years of rapid capitalist transformation, is of course very 
different from 1965, but the slow decline of the New Order was 
characterized by a decline in the political resources available to 
President Suharto, and in a comparable though lesser fashion, for the 
intelligence organizations. 

Finally, the military itself is not a monolithic organization with an 
unchanging organizational mission and political character.  Most analyses 
of the last years of the Suharto period concentrated on perceived 
"nationalist" or pro-Suharto factions as against those of a more 
seriously Islamic persuasion, and the hardy perennial of Indonesian 
military analysis on vague assertions of differences amongst the 
generations of military academy classes. 

We in fact know very little.  Typical of the lack of reliable information 
about the Indonesian military in the public domain is the unanswered 
question of whether or not Wiranto in fact commands the military, or 
whether on East Timor he was ambushed by Zacky Anwar Makarim and others 
close to Prabowo and more clearly part of the combination of intelligence 
and specialist forces streams that have dominated the army and the armed 
forces as a whole since Benny Moerdani's time. 

Yet two issues derivng from the military's stated mission may influence 
the issue, though in opposite ways. 

Firstly, the Indonesian military, for all its five decades of domestic 
preoccupations, is also an outward looking military organization charged 
with the defence of the republic against external as well as internal 
threats.  The strategic environment of East and Southeast Asia is 
becoming considerably more unstable than for many years.  In particular, 
the continuing low-level/high stakes conflict over the Spratlys is of 
concern to the Indonesian military.  This is especially the case given 
the regional escalation in sophisticated (and expensive) weapons 
platforms and C3I capacities over the past decade.  The demand to meet 
potential external threats creates a degree of professional pressure for 
regularization of military organizational procedures.  This is hardly a 
democratizing pressure in itself, and the professionalization of 
intelligence organizations under Moerdani did nothing to diminish their 
capacity for brutality. 

Secondly, the political effects of the economic crisis in Indonesia have 
been remarkably muted.  Despite a rapid rise in unemployment, a domestic 
financial and banking crisis, and a collapse in the patronage power of 
the state, there has been surprisingly little mobilization around 
economic issues.  This may be a matter of waiting for Megawati, waiting 
for the other shoe to drop.  In fact Megawati's economic policy 
commitments are at this stage unclear, and a great deal will depend on 
the bargaining within the legislature that accompanies the presidential 
and vice-presidential election.  Yet the primary object of the 
intelligence apparatus's attention in recent years, East Timor and Aceh 
apart, has been what is seen as the destablizing effects of labour 
organization.  Sooner or later, despite the ameliorating effects of more 
then $40 billion of foreign aid, the social effects of the economic and 
fiscal crisis will confront the new government of Indonesia.  A Megawati 
presidency, hostage to the military, and labouring under the restraints 
of enormous debt and IMF-approved budgets, will almost certainly face 
growing social unrest.  A civilian leadership does not by itself diminish 
the likelihood of militarized responses to domestic social and political 
crisis - and that has been the specialty of the Indonesian intelligence 

1 For a brief background to the Indonesian intelligence state see Richard 
Tanter, "After Kopkamtib: Indonesia's intelligence and security 
apparatus", Inside Indonesia, April 1989, pp.4-6.  For a more extended 
treatment see Richard Tanter, "The totalitarian ambition: the Indonesian 
intelligence and security apparatus", in Arief Budiman (ed.), State and 
Soviet in Contemporary Indonesia, (Clayton: Victoria: Centre of Southeast 
Asian Studies, Monash University, 1991), pp.215-288.

2 Operasi Sapu Jagad is documented in "Indonesia's Dirty war in East 
Timor, Tapol Bulletin, 7 June 1999,

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