Indonesia halts intelligence exchange with Australia

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Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, speaks to journalists during a press conference at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Nov. 20, 2013. Photographer: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Indonesia called a halt to cooperation with Australia on asylum seekers and intelligence sharing as the biggest dispute between the two countries in 14 years deepened over claims the phones of leaders in Jakarta were tapped.

Coordinated military operations between the neighbors and key trading partners will also stop, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said. As the diplomatic spat escalated, a person claiming to be from the Anonymous Indonesia hacker group today said it carried out a cyber attack on Australia's central bank, while police warned of protests outside the nation's embassy in Jakarta.

"It's impossible for us to continue all that if we are not sure there is no tapping on the Indonesian military," Yudhoyono told reporters in Jakarta yesterday as he announced a halt to cooperation on several fronts with Australia.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled out an apology over the tapping claims, which potentially complicate his bid for a free-trade agreement with Indonesia, with whom two-way trade reached A$14.6 billion ($13.6 billion) last year. Abbott, who told voters before the Sept. 7 election he'd focus diplomatic efforts on "Jakarta, not Geneva," is seeking Yudhoyono's help to prevent asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat.

"Abbott is facing a crisis during his honeymoon period," said Norman Abjorensen, a political analyst at the Australian National University. "He's gone to great lengths to portray his nation's relationship with Indonesia as the most important, and now by refusing to apologize he seems to be creating long-lasting damage to it. That's sending mixed messages to both Jakarta and the electorate."

"˜Sincere regret'

In remarks yesterday to parliament in Canberra, Abbott reiterated his "deep and sincere regret about the embarrassment to the president and to Indonesia that's been caused by recent media reporting." He said he was encouraged by Yudhoyono praising the strength of ties between the two countries.

Jakarta police advised Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of protests planned outside the Australian Embassy today. Australians should monitor local media, avoid protests and remain vigilant, the department said on its international travel advice website.

The Reserve Bank of Australia said its website has been the subject of a denial of service attack since late on Nov. 19. The Australian Federal Police also said its website has been hacked.

"There's been no outage to the bank's website," the central bank said. "Some users may have been experiencing some delays."

Not enemies

Anonymous Indonesia said earlier this month on its Twitter page that the hacker group infiltrated more than 100 Australian sites in response to reports of spying by Australia. A person claiming to be a member of the group today posted links to the affected RBA and AFP websites and added: "I'm Ready For This War!"

Yudhoyono on Nov. 18 recalled his envoy to Jakarta for talks, and said yesterday any tapping was a breach of Indonesian law and hard to understand. "Now is not the Cold War era," he said. "Australia and Indonesia are not against each other, let alone in animosity. Why must there be tapping on a partner, a friend, and not an enemy?"

Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, expects to remain in Jakarta if there's no response from Australia, he told reporters yesterday.

Tapping to cease

Australia has pledged to not hack the phones of senior officials, Marciano Norman, head of Indonesia's National Intelligence Agency, told reporters in Jakarta yesterday. "I was told by the Australian intelligence side that now, as well as in the future, there won't be any" tapping, he said.

Ties between the two nations soured during President Sukarno's rule in the 1960s, and when Australian journalists were killed in the 1970s in what is now East Timor. Indonesia reacted angrily in 1999 when Australia led international military support to restore order in East Timor after it voted to become independent from Indonesia. Relations improved under Yudhoyono, who can't stand again in elections due next year.

Abbott sought during the election campaign to woo voters concerned that asylum seekers were living off welfare payments and taking employment opportunities. While he made a visit to Jakarta in his first international engagement as leader, his meetings with Yudhoyono failed to secure detailed agreements on how to curb the smuggling of people from war-torn nations such as Afghanistan.

Tracking Yudhoyono

Tapping occurred in 2007 and 2009 based on information Indonesia had received, Norman said. "There were indeed data showing violation during that time period," he said.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. said Nov. 18 that the mobile phone activity of Yudhoyono was tracked for 15 days in August 2009, citing documents leaked by U.S. whistle blower Edward Snowden. The phones of his wife and senior advisers were also monitored, the ABC said.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Oct. 31 that Australian embassies are helping intercept phone calls and data across Asia as part of a U.S.-led global spying network, citing information from Snowden and a former Australian intelligence officer.

"Indonesia was a crucial partner in his bid to turn back the boats, and that looks in trouble now," the Australian National University's Abjorensen said of Abbott. "To be caught spying on the president himself and his wife seems to go beyond what in diplomatic circles may be considered the norm."

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