CIA activities in Indonesia
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Since the late 1950s, the CIA has been interested in attempts to thwart Communist political influence in Indonesia. In 1958 elements of the Indonesian military rebelled against the rule of President Sukarno, who was allied with the PKI. Although supported by CIA, this 1958 rebellion was completely defeated.
During the mid-1960s, the U. S. Government sought to frustrate the PKI's ambitions and influence, as reflected in the CIA's 1965 goals and objectives, and its contemporary Intelligence analyses of the political situation. Agents of the USG, including its embassy and CIA, have positted no direct involvement in the 1965 Indonesian purge of Communists, which is challenged by allegations of some assistance.
Covert action taken 1958
During an unguarded conversation in Washington prior to 1958, the Indonesian military attaché mentioned to Americans that there were many prominent and strong people in Indonesia who would be ready to rise against President Sukarno if they were given a little support and encouragement from the United States. One of those U.S friends was a CIA staffer who reported the words to Frank Wisner, then the Deputy Director of Plans at CIA.
The Indonesian government of Sukarno was faced with a major threat to its legitimacy beginning in 1956, when several regional commanders began to demand autonomy from Jakarta. After mediation failed, Sukarno took action to remove the dissident commanders. In February 1958, dissident military commanders in Central Sumatera (Colonel Ahmad Hussein) and North Sulawesi (Colonel Ventje Sumual) declared the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia-Permesta Movement aimed at overthrowing the Sukarno regime. They were joined by many civilian politicians from the Masyumi Party, such as Sjafruddin Prawiranegara, who were opposed to the growing influence of the communist party, the Partai Komunis Indonesia or PKI.
The above Indonesian attaché returned to Indonesia with CIA personnel under military cover. What they learned about the potential strength of the above opposition to Sukarno encouraged the CIA to set in motion its biggest operation up to that date. It was called Operation HAIK — "HA" being the CIA's two-letter code for Indonesia.
CIA personnel contacted Filipino military men, especially a Colonel Valeriano, with whom the CIA had worked in Ramon Magsaysay's counter-insurgency against the Hukbalahap leftist rebels. CIA and Filipino insurgents had, by early 1958, set up special operations training bases, apparently with United States Army Special Forces trainers, and made clandestine air bases on Palawan and Mindanao available to Indonesian rebels.
On Feb. 9, 1958, rebel Colonel Maluddin Simbolon issued an ultimatum in the name of a provincial government, the Dewan Banteng or Central Sumatran Revolutionary Council, calling for the formation of a new central government. On Feb. 15 Dewan Banteng became part of a wider Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia (PRRI or "Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia") that included rebels led by other dissident colonels in East and South Sumatra and in North Sulawesi.
Sukarno aggressively opposed the rebels; he called upon his loyal army commander, General Abdul Haris Nasution, to destroy the rebel forces. By Feb. 21 forces loyal to Sukarno had been airlifted to Sumatra and began the attack. The rebel headquarters was in the southern coastal city of Padang. Rebel strongholds stretched all the way to Medan, near the northern end of the island and not far from Malaysia.
Due to their anti-communist rhetoric, the rebels received from the CIA arms, funding, and other covert aid. CIA supported the Indonesian rebellion from the main Far East base in Naha, Okinawa, under Ted Shannon. Another support facility was on Taiwan, where B-26 bombers were prepared to ferry them to the Philippine bases that would support the Indonesian rebels. CIA, drawing on US Marine and Army stocks, provided 42,000 rifles. Armed Indonesians returned to Sumatra by airdrop from the Philippines, and by landings from US submarines. In April and May 1958 CIA proprietary Civil Air Transport (CAT) operated B-26 aircraft from Manado, North Sulawesi to support Permesta rebels. On May 18, 1958 a B-26 was shot down during a bombing and strafing mission on government-held Ambon, and its CAT American pilot Allen Pope was captured. The CIA aborted the mission.
Military loyal to the central government launched airborne and seaborne invasions of the rebel strongholds Padang and Manado. By the end of 1958, the rebels were militarily defeated. The last remaining rebel guerilla bands surrendered by August 1961.
Intelligence analysis 1964
An Office of Current Intelligence (i.e., not intelligence community wide, but a status report) memorandum observed early "stirrings of an anti-Communist movement in Indonesia". The opponents cite an ideology called "Sukarnoism." "The movement is ostensibly dedicated to the defense of the President's almost mystical Five Principles (Pantjasila), but its main purpose appears to be that of combating PKI (i.e., Indonesian Communist Party) influence in the government and throughout the country. Sukarno appears to have given it "indirect approval…but it could collapse overnight" if he moves to suppress it.
The US became aware of the movement during Sukarno's absence on a foreign tour from 17 September to 5 November, when articles berating the PKI appeared in the Djakarta press. The PKI responded. Just before and after Sukarno's return, the anti-PKI rhetoric subsided, almost as if the Sukarnoists feared retribution from the President. The only government move against the group, however, was the banning of a single Sukarnoist newspaper soon after the President's return. In the absence of further repressive action, the group seems to have taken on new courage, and its leaders are trying to organize and expand the forces involved.
The Sukarnoists are led by Minister of Trade Adam Malik, but Chaerul Saleh, third deputy prime minister and concurrently minister of development, is also deeply involved. Malik, who is a former Indonesian ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Saleh are ideologically attuned to the "right wing" of the Murba (Proletarian) Party, usually described as the national Communist Party of Indonesia. With Indonesia having moved a considerable distance to the left under Sukarno, Malik and Saleh represent a "moderate" position, and their activities are arousing the hopeful interest of individuals who stand further to the right.
Part of their platform is treating Malaysia as a bitter enemy. They also attacked PKI Chairman Dipa Nusantara Aidit for a statement he allegedly made disavowing the need for Pantjasila, to which all recognized political parties are obliged to subscribe--"once the revolution is won." Although this particular line of attack has been abandoned, the Sukarnoists continue to warn against those who are not true "Pantjasilaists."
Malik told US Ambassador Jones on 19 November that his movement has the support of the Muslim party, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU); the right wing of the National Party; and lower levels of the bureaucracy and political parties. Youth groups have organized a "Sukarnoist Student Movement"; several non-Communist labor federations reportedly have banded together in an "undercover body" to support Sukarnoism, but the labor groups feel they must keep their organization secret to avoid attack by the PKI. Malik feels that for the time being the movement must remain a loose coalition. Whether the Sukarnoists have the extensive support they claim cannot be verified. For the most part only the statements of Djakarta politicians are available. There is a large but disparate body of non-Communist opinion in Indonesia, however, which would rally if given a safe opportunity.
Army leaders aligned the Sukarnoists. Minister of Information Achmadi, who earlier had opposed it, reportedly told Sukarnoist supporters in North Sumatra to ignore attacks and to spread the doctrine but to preserve national unity. Even First Deputy Prime Minister Subandrio, who has tried to curry favor with the PKI for the past year and a half, reportedly received a Sukarnoist delegation, was "very friendly," and gave "valuable advice." Parliament, scheduled to open on 3 December, has postponed its next session until the second quarter of 1965. The change may have been arranged to avoid an early showdown between the PKI and the Sukarnoists.
The PKI, with its allies in the left wing of the National Party, was defensive. It labeled Sukarnoism a disguise for "Communist phobia"—a favorite term of Sukarno's--and stressed that the anti-PKI campaign developed behind Sukarno's back while he was out of the country. It charges that Sukarnoism is an attempt to displace NASAKOM, Sukarno's term for the cooperation of nationalist, religious, and Communist elements.
Prospects of the Sukarnoists seem to depend largely on Sukarno, who is known for his political balancing. The successful development of Sukarnoism may be of interest to him. He could be willing to overlook for a time the fact that there are elements within Sukarnoist ranks whom he distrusts and whom he has considered expelling from the recognized political scene. A major factor in Sukarno's permissive attitude toward the new anti-PKI group may be his hope that he can use it in maneuvering to schedule new talks on the Malaysia issue, and he may even believe he can use it to get economic assistance from the West.
Sukarnoist spokesmen urged the US Embassy to take steps to encourage UK-Indonesian or Indonesian-Malaysian talks, to avoid aggression against Malaysia, possibly to hide Indonesian economic problems. Sukarnoists seemed to be trying to change the Malaysian confrontation from a politico-military to a politico-economic one, as a means of pressing national economic development. Although the Sukarnoists are not necessarily being directed by Sukarno to approach the Americans, their needs and strategy for the moment coincide with his.
USG stance in 1965
Covert action goals
In the March action proposal, covert action personnel, since summer 1964, worked with the Department of State in planning political action in Indonesia aimed to support the Indonesian opponents of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), as well as the PRC. It emphasizes traditional Indonesian mistrust of China. This program has been coordinated in the Department of State with the Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs and with the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia.
It will involve liaison to, and financial support, of anti-Communist groups. It will also involve black propaganda and political action. One goal is to encourage coordination and common ground for the existing anti-Communist elements in Indonesia. The program is consistent with U.S. policy which seeks a stable, non-Communist Indonesia.
- Portray the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as an increasingly ambitious, dangerous opponent of Sukarno and legitimate nationalism and instrument of Chinese neo-imperialism.
- Provide covert assistance to individuals and organizations capable of and prepared to take obstructive action against the PKI.
- Encourage the growth of an ideological common denominator, within the framework of Sukarno's enunciated concepts, which will serve to unite non-Communist elements and create cleavage between the PKI and the balance of the Indonesian society.
- Develop black and grey propaganda themes and mechanisms for use within Indonesia and via appropriate media assets outside of Indonesia in support of the objectives of this program.
- Identify and cultivate potential leaders within Indonesia for the purpose of ensuring an orderly non-Communist succession upon Sukarno's death or removal from office.
- Identify, assess and monitor the activities of anti-regime elements for the purpose of influencing them to support a non-Communist successor regime.
Risks involved Sukarno learning of the program and suspect that it is intended to weaken his control, causing deterioration of US-Indonesian relations. If the anti-PKI activity is too strong, it could invite repression of the Indonesian anticommunist groups by Sukarno.
Recommendation and approval
The 303 Committee approved this paper on March 4. [text not declassified] of the CIA took the opportunity to urge "a larger political design or master plan to arrest the Indonesian march into the Chinese camp" based on the Maphilindo concept. He argued a major effort was required to prevent the United States from being excluded from Indonesia, suggesting that the loss of a nation of 105 million to the "Communist camp" would make a victory in Vietnam of little meaning. McGeorge Bundy stated that as a major political problem, Indonesia was receiving attention, but it "could not be settled in the 303 forum." 
In the July 1965 CIA estimate, the most important point was the sharply accelerated growth of the Communist Party (PKI) role in government, which is expected to continue while Sukarno is in control. He has a vocal campaign to destroy Malaysia, although little chance of success, which he recognizes. Frustration has led him to denounce and harass the entire Western presence in Southeast Asia, and indeed in the Afro-Asian world. No break of diplomatic relations with the US is expected, but certainly continued hostility, as well as warmer relations with Peking. Since his military wants Soviet arms, he will maintain reasonably friendly relations with Moscow. Should Sukarno die or become incapacitated, he would be likely to be replaced by a non-Communist coalition. The military would exercise greater control, but it is not estimated they would risk a civil war to reduce Communist influence. The PKI is probably too entrenched to be denied a role in a coalition. Friction with Malaysia will intensify, but is unlikely to break up the Malayan federation. Malaysia is both totally dependent on the UK and the Commonwealth, has a foreign policy allied with them, but also is adequately defended by forces committed by the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Malaysia will still seek US defense commitment.
In the September estimate, problem was posed: "estimate the chances and implications of a Communist takeover in Indonesia within the next 2-3 years".
In the discussion, the fundamental point is that Sukarno "is the unchallenged leader of Indonesia and will almost certainly remain so until death or infirmity removes him from the scene." He is developing in Indonesia an authoritarian government of the "national-front" type on which the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) exerts the strongest influence, though under his own continued domination. He plays one group against another, but the current reality is that the PKI, with 3 million members, is the strongest political entity in Indonesia. Sukarno's personal policies and those of the PKI are in harmony with the Communist states of Asia.
He will be cautious about giving the PKI more official power, but, if he lives, the IC sees Indonesia becoming a de facto Communist state, although Sukarno may not proclaim it as such. Should he die or become incapacitated, the PKI might be slowed although it would still have an important role. The longer he lives, the stronger the PKI position.
Indonesia is now presenting some of the problems, to the US, that an avowed Communist state would cause: confronting Malaysia and subverting the Philippines. This NIE does not suggest any probable successor government will change radically from this position.
While Indonesia's limited military capability and its strategic vulnerability would make it only a potential threat to sea and air lanes, it still would strengthen Peking, while undermining Laos, Thailand and South Vietnam, and presenting a more immediate threat to Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as to Singapore. The Australians would be concerned about east New Guinea and their lines of communications.
A Communist Indonesia, still with an independent party, would become a point of rivalry in the Sino-Soviet conflict. The longer-term impact would depend on the continuing independence of the PKI, and how focused it is on consolidating its control and fixing the Indonesian economy. During such a time, it might actually be a liability to China and the Soviet Union.
An action proposal was approved in March, with an intermediate intelligence memorandum in July, and a SNIE (Special National Intelligence Estimate), on the situation regarding Indonesia and Malaysia, in September. American officials were so unprepared for the crisis that at first they misidentified the anti-communist leader, General Suharto.(Indonesians often use only a single name)
The 1965-1966 purge of Communists in Indonesia involved mass executions of one-half million people or more, which events occurred across the country. Afterwards, reports indicated Indonesian military officers General Abdul Haris Nasution and Maj. Gen. Suharto led their forces against the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Eventually President Sukarno was ousted. Suharto's pivotal role led to his assumption of the Indonesian presidency in 1967.
In a 1990 article for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, journalist Kathy Kadane quoted Robert J. Martens (who worked for the US embassy) as saying that senior U.S. diplomats and CIA officials provided a list of approximately 5,000 names to the Indonesian Army while it was fighting the Indonesian communist party and its sympathisers. Kadane wrote that approval for the release of names put on the lists came from top U.S. embassy officials; Ambassador Marshall Green, deputy chief of mission Jack Lydman and political section chief Edward Masters. The accuracy of Kadane's report has been widely challenged. Martens asserted that he alone compiled the list from the Indonesian communist press, that the names were "available to everyone," and that "no one, absolutely no one, helped me compile the lists in question." He also denied any CIA or embassy involvement.
Green called Kadane's account "garbage," adding that "there are instances in the history of our country....where our hands are not as clean, and where we have been involved....But in this case we certainly were not". Lydman, Masters, and two other CIA officers quoted by Kadane also denied that her account had any validity. John Hughes, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Indonesian coup, ridiculed Kadane's article as "pretty far out" and stated that it "boggles the mind." Masters stated:
"I certainly would not disagree with the fact that we had these lists, that we were using them to check off, O.K., what was happening to the party. But the thing that is giving me trouble, and that is absolutely not correct, is that we gave these lists to the Indonesians and that they went out and picked up and killed them. I don't believe it. And I was in a position to know."
Embassy staff reported Indonesia’s request for "communications equipment and small arms to arm Moslem and nationalist youths in Central Java for use against the PKI" and sought "more explicit guidance as to how this matter is to be handled here." The State Department replied: "There was to be no implication of providing anything more than medical supplies already authorized." Bradley Simpson, Director of the Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archive claims that "the United States was directly involved to the extent that they provided the Indonesian Armed Forces with assistance that they introduced to help facilitate the mass killings. However, H.W. Brands wrote that the Johnson administration expressly refused to supply weapons for the mass killing of Indonesian communists. There is no evidence that the United States significantly increased the scale of the killings.
Secrets as of 1998
DCI George Tenet, in declining the declassification of nine operations, said it would constitute a secret history of American power as used against foreign governments by three Presidents. Such CIA operations regarding Indonesia included political propaganda and bombing missions by aircraft during the 1950s.
- Roadnight, Andrew (2002). United States Policy towards Indonesia in the Truman and Eisenhower Years. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-79315-3.
- Prouty, L. Fletcher (August 1976), "Indonesia 1958: Nixon, the CIA, and the Secret War", Gallery
- "Chapter 1: January 1961–Winter 1962: Out from Inheritance". Aga.nvg.org. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
- Office of Current Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (2 December 1964), Rallying of Anti-Communist Forces in Indonesia, Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume XXVI, 1964-1968, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, United States Department of State, OCI No. 2057/64, FRUS XXVI:89
- National Security Council, 303 Committee (February 23, 1965), Progress Report on [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Covert Action in Indonesia, Foreign Relations of the United States, VolumeXXVI, 1964-1968, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, FRUS XXVI:110.
- Central Intelligence Agency (July 1, 1965), National Intelligence Memorandum 54/55-65, Prospects for Indonesia and Malaya, Foreign Relations of the United States 1964-1968, Volume XXVI, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, United States Department of State, NIM 54/55-65, FRUS XXVI:126
- Central Intelligence Agency (September 1, 1965), Special National Intelligence Estimate 55-65, Prospects for and Strategic Implications of a Communist Takeover in Indonesia, Foreign Relations of the United States, SNIE 55-65, xxvi:137. intended as a supplement to NIM54/55-65
- H. W. Brands, "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn’t Topple Sukarno," Journal of American History, December 1989, p801.
- Wines, Michael (12 July 1990). "C.I.A. Tie Asserted in Indonesia Purge". The New York Times.
- San Francisco Examiner, 20 May 1990; The Washington Post, 21 May 1990.
- Telegram From Embassy in Thailand to Department of State, November 5, 1965; reply, November 6, 1965; available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/johnsonlb/xxvi/4446.htm
- Historian Claims West Backed Post-Coup Mass Killings in '65. The Jakarta Globe. Retrieved on 25 December 2010, confirmed 21 January 2013.
- Cf., Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development of U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Stanford University 2010), Chap. 7 "The September 30th Movement and the destruction of the PKI" at 171-206, massacres at 184-192.
- H. W. Brands, "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn’t Topple Sukarno," Journal of American History, December 1989, p. 803.
- Cribb, Robert, 2002, "Unresolved Problems in the Indonesian Killings of 1965–1966" Asian Survey, 42 (4), p. 550–563.
- Weiner, Tim (July 15, 1998), "C.I.A., Breaking Promises, Puts Off Release of Cold War Files", New York Times