CIA activities in Indonesia

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Since the late 1950s, the CIA had 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.

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 stated that there was no direct involvement in the 1965 Indonesian purge of Communists; others have disputed this claim.

Covert action taken 1958[edit]

Military rebellion[edit]

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.[1]

Covert activities[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[1]

USG stance in 1965[edit]

Unanticipated event[edit]

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.[2]

Anti-communist purge[edit]

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.[3][4] However, H.W. Brands wrote that the Johnson administration expressly refused to supply weapons for the mass killing of Indonesian communists.[5]

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.[6][7] 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.[7] 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.[6]

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".[6] Lydman, Masters, and two other CIA officers quoted by Kadane also denied that her account had any validity.[6] 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."[6]

Secrets as of 1998[edit]

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.[8]


  1. ^ a b Roadnight, Andrew (2002). United States Policy towards Indonesia in the Truman and Eisenhower Years. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-79315-3. 
  2. ^ H. W. Brands, "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn’t Topple Sukarno," Journal of American History, December 1989, p801.
  3. ^ Historian Claims West Backed Post-Coup Mass Killings in '65. The Jakarta Globe. Retrieved on 25 December 2010, confirmed 21 January 2013.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ H. W. Brands, "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn’t Topple Sukarno," Journal of American History, December 1989, p. 803.
  6. ^ a b c d e Wines, Michael (12 July 1990). "C.I.A. Tie Asserted in Indonesia Purge". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b San Francisco Examiner, 20 May 1990; The Washington Post, 21 May 1990.
  8. ^ Weiner, Tim (July 15, 1998), "C.I.A., Breaking Promises, Puts Off Release of Cold War Files", New York Times