Newly disclosed documents from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have revealed that Australian intelligence efforts against Indonesia do not just target suspected terrorists or key political figures but involve massive penetration of Indonesia’s phone networks and data collection on a huge scale.
Top secret documents reported by The New York Times have disclosed new details of cooperation between the US National Security Agency and the Australian Signals Directorate, and for the first time reveal the Australian electronic espionage agency’s comprehensive access to Indonesian’s national communications systems.
According to a 2012 National Security Agency document, the Australian Signals Directorate has accessed bulk call data from Indosat, Indonesia’s domestic satellite telecommunications provider including data on Indonesian officials in various government ministries.
Another 2013 document states that the Australian Signals Directorate obtained nearly 1.8 million encrypted master keys, which are used to protect private communications, from the Telkomsel mobile telephone network in Indonesia, and developed a way to decrypt almost all of them.
Australia’s relations with Indonesia have already been strained by revelations last November that the Australian and US embassies in Jakarta house covert electronic surveillance facilities, code-named “Stateroom”, and that the Australian Signals Directorate intercepted the mobile phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and many of his closest political associates.
It was also reported that the National Security Agency and its Australian counterpart had worked together on a surveillance operation targeting a 2007 United Nations climate change conference in Bali.
The latest disclosures from documents leaked by Mr Snowden confirm that Australia and the United States share very broad access to Indonesia’s telecommunications systems.
The New York Times further reports that the Australia Signals Directorate specifically monitored communications between the Indonesian Government and a US law firm that was representing Jakarta in trade disputes with the United States.
According to a monthly bulletin from the National Security Agency’s liaison office in Canberra, dated February 2013, Australia offered to share the intercepted communications that included “information covered by attorney-client privilege”.
US liaison officials asked for guidance from the National Security Agency’s in-house lawyers because of US legal restrictions on targeting American citizens or businesses for surveillance without a warrant.
With agreement from the National Security Agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, the Australian Signals Directorate was “able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers”.
The documents also refer the operation of the US-Australian Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, and joint efforts to decrypt foreign diplomatic and military communications.
One 2003 memo describes how National Security Agency personnel sought to “mentor” their Australian partners while they tried to break the encryption used by Papua New Guinea defence force.
Much of Australia’s interception of Indonesian satellite-based telecommunications is carried out through the Shoal Bay Naval Receiving Station, a satellite communications intercept facility located near Darwin in the Northern Territory.
The United States and Australia also access phone calls and Internet traffic carried by undersea telecommunications cables that run through Singapore.
The Australian Government has repeatedly refused to comment on disclosures of intelligence capabilities and operations through documents leaked by Mr Snowden.