Indonesian intelligence agencies face major revamp


Changes in top ranks expected; tougher laws may be passed.

There will be a major shake-up of the state intelligence apparatus (BIN) in the new Bambang administration as it gets ready to battle the most pressing security issue that Indonesia faces: terrorism.

High-level sources connected to Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the former general who is likely to become president of Indonesia next month, said that changes in personnel – even at the very top – are to be expected.

Civilians are being recruited from different government agencies – the police, the Attorney-General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry – to fill key leadership positions in BIN.

A Bambang confidante involved in drawing up the Cabinet list and structure of the new government told The Straits Times: ‘There have been three terrorist attacks in Indonesia in the last two years. If the country’s main intelligence agency had been alert to such threats, there would not have been such bombings.

‘So there will be new blood, mostly professionals whom we have begun identifying, to take over a stagnant organisation to make it the main focal point in fighting terrorism in Indonesia.’

Indeed, Mr Bambang made it clear in his live TV election debate days before the presidential run-off vote that one of his key priorities would be to boost the capability of security agencies like BIN.

‘They need to work 24 hours a day to protect the public,’ he noted then. ‘We can stop more attacks if their operational effectiveness is increased.’

On the cards now is a fundamental restructuring of how Jakarta will confront the terrorist scourge.

The senior aide, who advises Mr Bambang on security matters, revealed that BIN would be the key agency for battling militancy in the country. It would take over the role from the police, who have been taking the lead under the Megawati government.

The police, thrust to the fore after the Bali bombings in October 2002, have been criticised widely for doing little to pre-empt last year’s Marriott hotel attack and the recent blast outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

A two-star army general summed up the police performance like this: ‘There is a lot of hot air but little action. They have caught the small fry but the big ones are still running around.’

Intelligence officials estimate that there are 300 members of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network still operating in the country. But the amorphous nature of the Al-Qaeda-linked outfit has made it difficult to track down the members, given the limited network of the police across the vast archipelago.

But the police, even if their role looks likely to be reduced, would continue to be part of a wide BIN-led counter-terrorism structure. This would also include the military intelligence wing, Bais.

With its extensive territorial command structure and intelligence capabilities across the archipelago, the military can easily uncover and smash terrorist cells.

Mr Bambang’s aide noted: ‘The aim is to get BIN, the police and military to sit down together and plan a course of action, not to fight among themselves for the limelight.

‘Indonesia has so far been the weak link in fighting terrorism because of rivalry between security agencies and poor organisation.’

A reorganisation of the security structure will go some way towards fighting terrorism. But will it be enough in the face of weak laws?

Hardliners in the Bambang camp are calling for amendments to existing regulations – or even for new ones to be passed.

Detention without trial is an option seriously being considered by his team of legal and military experts.

Mr Syamsir Siregar, an ex-military intelligence chief and one of several retired generals in his election team, told The Straits Times in a recent interview: ‘What is the point of catching terrorists after an attack? We should catch them way before. That is why we need tougher laws.’

Mr Bambang will tread carefully, given a feared domestic backlash from the Muslim ground and concerns from human rights groups, which could accuse the ex-general of resorting to Suharto-style repression.

But as Mr Syamsir noted, this could turn out to be ‘not a major political impediment’. ‘Indonesians have been the victims of these terrorist attacks,’ he said.

‘They want justice. For Abu Bakar Bashir and his proteges from Jemaah Islamiah, they will be executed by a firing squad if found guilty.’

Such views reflect the more hawkish elements in his camp. How effective Mr Bambang will be in combating militancy in Indonesia will depend on him convincing the ground of the need for tough new measures.

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