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. Scholars have disputed this claim, citing documentary evidence that the US covertly undermined the Sukarno regime and fomented the killings of communists and those branded as communists.[1][2][3][4]

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.[5]

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.[5]

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. According to H. W. Brands, American officials were so unprepared for the crisis that at first they misidentified the anti-communist leader, General Suharto.[6]

Anti-communist purge[edit]

Bradley Simpson, Director of the Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archive[7] contends that declassified documents[8] indicate that the United States "provided economic, technical and military aid to the army soon after the killings started. It continued to do so long after it was clear a 'widespread slaughter' was taking place in Northern Sumatra and other places, and in the expectation that US assistance would contribute to this end."[9][1][10][11]

In May 1990, the States News Service published a study by journalist Kathy Kadane which highlighted significant U.S. involvement in the killings.[12][13] Kadane quoted Robert J. Martens (who worked for the U.S. embassy) as saying that senior U.S. diplomats and CIA officials provided a list of approximately 5,000 names of Communist operatives to the Indonesian Army while it was hunting down and killing members the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and alleged sympathisers.[12] Martens told Kadane that "It really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."[12][14] 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.[12] The accuracy of Kadane's report was challenged by those officials in a July 1990 article in The New York Times.[15] 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 admitted to providing the list of "a few thousand" names of PKI leaders and senior cadre (but not the party rank and file) to Indonesian "non-Communist forces" during the "six months of chaos," but denied any CIA or embassy involvement.[15][16]

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".[15] Lydman, Masters, and two other CIA officers quoted by Kadane also denied that her account had any validity.[15] 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.[15]

The States News Service issued a memo in July 1990 defending the accuracy of Kadane's work, and in a rebuttal to their statements to The New York Times, published excerpts from the interviews that Kadane had made with Green, Lydman and Masters.[17][18][19] In 2001, the National Security Archive reported that Ambassador Marshall Green admitted in an August 1966 airgram to Washington, which was drafted by Martens and approved by Masters, that the lists were "apparently being used by Indonesian security authorities who seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership."[16][20] In an October 1965 telegram, Green endorsed the Indonesian military "destroying PKI" through executions.[4][21] In February 1966, he further expressed approval that "the Communists . . . have been decimated by wholesale massacre."[4][22]

Scholars, including documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, have since then corroborated Kadane's account of U.S. involvement in the killings.[4][3][2][23][24] In a January 2014 interview with The Diplomat, Oppenheimer stated:

The details of what individual Western governments did are somewhat obscure, but for example the United States provided cash for the death squad and the army, weapons, radios so the army could coordinate the killing campaigns across the 17,000-island archipelago, and death lists. I interviewed two retired CIA agents and a retired state department official whose job was to compile lists generally of public figures known publicly to the army, compiled lists of thousands of names of people the U.S. wanted killed, and hand these names over to the army and then check off which ones had been killed. They would get the list back with the names ticked off [designating] who had been captured and killed.[25]

Regarding the 5,000 individuals named on the lists, Oppenheimer contends "my understanding is that 100% were killed."[24]

On 10 December 2014, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a "Sense of the Senate Resolution" which condemned the killings and called for the declassification of all documents pertaining to U.S. involvement in the events, noting that "the U.S. provided financial and military assistance during this time and later, according to documents released by the State Department."[23][26][27]

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.[28]

In 2001, the CIA attempted to prevent the publication of the State Department volume Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, which documents U.S. involvement in the Indonesian mass killings of leftists in the 1960s.[29][30]


  1. ^ a b Cf., Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development of U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Stanford University Press, 2010), ISBN 9780804771825, Chap. 7 "The September 30th Movement and the destruction of the PKI" at 171-206, massacres at 184-192.
  2. ^ a b Mark Aarons (2007). "Justice Betrayed: Post-1945 Responses to Genocide." In David A. Blumenthal and Timothy L. H. McCormack (eds). The Legacy of Nuremberg: Civilising Influence or Institutionalised Vengeance? (International Humanitarian Law). Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 9004156917 pp. 80–81.
  3. ^ a b Bellamy, J. (2012). Massacres and Morality: Mass Atrocities in an Age of Civilian Immunity. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199288429. p. 210.
  4. ^ a b c d Kai Thaler (December 2, 2015). 50 years ago today, American diplomats endorsed mass killings in Indonesia. Here’s what that means for today. The Washington Post. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ H. W. Brands, "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn’t Topple Sukarno," Journal of American History, December 1989, p801.
  7. ^ The Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project. National Security Archive. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  8. ^ FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1964–1968, VOLUME XXVI, INDONESIA; MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE; PHILIPPINES: Coup and Counter Reaction: October 1965–March 1966. Office of the Historian. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  9. ^ Brad Simpson (28 February 2014). It’s Our Act of Killing, Too. The Nation. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  10. ^ Brad Simpson (2009). Accomplices in atrocity. Inside Indonesia. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
  11. ^ Accomplices in Atrocity. The Indonesian killings of 1965 (transcript). Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 7 September 2008
  12. ^ a b c d Ex-agents say CIA compiled death lists for Indonesians San Francisco Examiner, 20 May 1990
  13. ^ Noam Chomsky (1993). Year 501: The Conquest Continues. South End Press. pp. 131-133. ISBN 0896084442
  14. ^ Klein, Naomi (2008). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Picador. ISBN 0312427999 p. 78.
  15. ^ a b c d e Wines, Michael (12 July 1990). "C.I.A. Tie Asserted in Indonesia Purge". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ a b 185. Editorial Note. Office of the Historian. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  17. ^ Kathy Kadane's research. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  18. ^ December 6, 1995: introductory note from David Johnson
  19. ^ July 1990 MEMO TO EDITORS: FROM STATES NEWS SERVICE. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  20. ^ Thomas Blanton (ed). CIA STALLING STATE DEPARTMENT HISTORIES: STATE HISTORIANS CONCLUDE U.S. PASSED NAMES OF COMMUNISTS TO INDONESIAN ARMY, WHICH KILLED AT LEAST 105,000 IN 1965-66. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 52., July 27, 2001. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  21. ^ 158. Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Department of State. Office of the Historian. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  22. ^ 191. Memorandum of Conversation. Office of the Historian. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  23. ^ a b "The Look of Silence": Will New Film Force U.S. to Acknowledge Role in 1965 Indonesian Genocide? Democracy Now! 3 August 2015.
  24. ^ a b US ‘enthusiastically participated’ in genocide. Bangkok Post. April 27, 2014.
  25. ^ Justin McDonnell (January 23, 2014). Interviews: Joshua Oppenheimer. The Diplomat. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  26. ^ Tom Introduces Resolution on Reconciliation in Indonesia. GovNews, 10 December 2014.
  27. ^ Tom Introduces Resolution on Reconciliation in Indonesia.
  28. ^ Weiner, Tim (July 15, 1998), "C.I.A., Breaking Promises, Puts Off Release of Cold War Files", New York Times 
  29. ^ U.S. Seeks to Keep Lid on Far East Purge Role. The Associated Press via The Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2001. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  30. ^ Margaret Scott (November 2, 2015) The Indonesian Massacre: What Did the US Know? The New York Review of Books. Retrieved November 6, 2015.