Jakarta's intelligence service hires Washington lobbyists

Former Indonesian president's foundation served as conduit for push to overturn ban on military cooperation

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia's national intelligence agency used a former Indonesian president's charitable foundation to hire a Washington lobbying firm in 2005 to press the U.S. government for a full resumption of controversial military training programs to the country, the Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has learned.

The documents were uncovered as part of a year-long ICIJ investigation into changes in America's post-Sept. 11 foreign military aid and assistance programs and the impact of those changes on human rights. The investigation, focusing on 10 key countries, including Indonesia, is scheduled for release in early 2007.The connection between the intelligence agency, Badan Intelijen Negara (BIN), and the charity group, the Gus Dur Foundation, is documented in papers filed by the lobbying firm, Richard L. Collins & Co., in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

After years of lobbying by both the Bush administration and the Indonesian government, Congress and the State Department in late 2005 fully reinstated military cooperation and aid to Indonesia, even though BIN has a long history of involvement in human rights abuses and was recently linked to the assassination of a prominent Indonesian human rights activist.

The Gus Dur Foundation was established by former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, who goes by the nickname "Gus Dur" and is known for his moderate politics and support for human rights. Gus Dur and another foundation official denied knowing about the contract between their Jakarta-based charity group and the lobbying firm.

In May 2005, the Gus Dur Foundation retained Collins & Co. for $30,000 a month to lobby Congress to "remove legislative and policy restrictions on security cooperation with Indonesia," according to a copy of a signed contract.

On Collins & Co.'s FARA forms that accompany the contract, the firm noted that, "For the purposes of this contract, the Gus Dur Foundation's activities are directed and funded by the [BIN]. The nature of the activities carried out under this contract were defined in consultation with representatives from the [BIN] and the [BIN] provides the funding for this contract for the Gus Dur Foundation."

Overcoming 'obstacles'

On July 31, 2005, the contract between Collins & Co. and the Gus Dur Foundation was terminated and, effective Sept. 1, a new contract for the same monthly amount was executed directly between Collins & Co. and BIN, the FARA documents show. Records indicate that the second contract ended in November 2005. Collins & Co. lobbyists did not return repeated calls requesting comment.

The original contract defines Collins & Co.'s mission in the context of Indonesia's "obstacles to a more cooperative relationship with the United States, particularly in the area of military cooperation … the image of Indonesia, especially in the United States Congress, remains highly negative and colored by events in East Timor and other disturbed areas like Papua and Aceh."

Those obstacles were indeed substantial.

In response to Indonesian troops opening fire on and killing more than 100 demonstrators in East Timor on Nov. 12, 1991, Congress banned Indonesia from receiving funding and training under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which is overseen by the State Department and implemented by the Defense Department to provide military education training to foreign military and civilian officials.

Even under the ban, U.S. Special Operations forces continued to carry out training with their Indonesian counterparts through the Department of Defense's Joint Combined Exchange Training Program. But after a violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in May 1998, the joint training program with Indonesia was severed. President Bill Clinton later banned the exports of all defense materials and services to Indonesia after Indonesian troops and militia groups launched attacks in East Timor following the United Nations-administered independence referendum in 1999.

In the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for fiscal 2000, Congress stipulated that neither IMET nor the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program — which provides U.S. taxpayer financing for foreign militaries' purchases of U.S. military goods, services and training — would be permitted for Indonesia unless there was a legitimate reform of the Indonesian army as well as prosecution of the major human rights offenders.

The FARA filings also reflect the fact that part of Collins & Co.'s charge was to assuage congressional concerns over the assassination of Indonesian human rights campaigner Munir Thalib, whose killing has been linked in Indonesian court proceedings to BIN.

According to Central Jakarta district court documents, Munir was poisoned with arsenic that was sprayed on his fried noodles during a Garuda Indonesia flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam on Sept. 7, 2004. The court sentenced a Garuda pilot, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, to 14 years imprisonment for poisoning Munir and for carrying forged travel documents.

The court documents describe a sophisticated plot that suggested the involvement of a larger, well-organized group of perpetrators. It also noted that Pollycarpus had no personal motive to kill Munir. The court recommended that the Indonesian police investigate the airline's security officials.

The court proceedings also brought to light 41 telephone conversations that took place between Pollycarpus and a mobile phone number before and after Munir's assassination. The mobile phone's owner was Maj. Gen. Muchdi Purwopranjono, a deputy director at BIN.

Muchdi was formerly the commander of the Indonesian army's Special Forces Koppasus unit, which was involved in kidnapping student activists during the Suharto era. He was removed from his position just days after Suharto's resignation in 1998 and retired from the military the next year. An investigative commission found that a Koppasus unit was involved in assassinating Papua leader Theys Eluai in November 2001.

In his court testimony, Purwopranjono confirmed that 0811-900978 was his mobile phone number, but he said the phone was frequently used by his driver and aides. He denied having ever met Pollycarpus. He also denied ordering Munir's assassination.

In Washington, Collins & Co. did its best to convince Congress that the Indonesian military and security apparatus had overcome its checkered history and was ready once again for normal treatment under the IMET and FMF programs. BIN's choice of Collins & Co. was no coincidence: Collins & Co.'s vice president for international business, Eric Newsom, was a former assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs in charge of running the IMET and FMF programs. He was also a former top aide to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a key figure in the Senate on human rights issues and U.S.-Indonesia policy.

The FARA records show that between June and October of 2005, Collins & Co. lobbyists, sometimes accompanied by BIN officials, met with several key members of Congress and their staffs. Among them were Leahy and Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as well Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and an aide to Sen. Barack Obama, both Illinois Democrats.

Newsom accompanied BIN deputy head As'ad Said Ali and BIN deputy director Burhan Mohammed to a meeting with Leahy and a key aide just off the Senate floor on July 21, 2005.

According to Tim Reiser, Leahy's top aide on the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (whose annual funding bill finances the IMET and FMF programs), Leahy agreed to take the 15-minute meeting to express his opposition to the resumption of full military assistance to Indonesia. Leahy told As'ad that he didn't think sufficient reform had yet taken place within the Indonesian military.

The Collins & Co. lobbying was certainly not the only reason that military cooperation was eventually reinstated; in fact, some of the key policy changes took place before Collins & Co. signed the initial contract with the Gus Dur Foundation. The push for reinstating IMET and FMF for Indonesia began shortly after the Bush administration took office in 2001. The administration and Republican allies in Congress say the previous policy of punishing Indonesia for human rights violations had not paid dividends; the much-hoped-for reform of the Indonesian military and security apparatus had not taken place.

In a post-Sept. 11 environment in which Indonesia suddenly took on greater strategic importance for the U.S., both the State and Defense departments sought to reinstate IMET and FMF as a demonstration of Washington's gratitude for Indonesian assistance in the global war on terrorism. In February 2005, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice determined that the Indonesian military had reformed itself sufficiently to merit the resumption of IMET; later, in November, the restrictions on FMF and defense exports were lifted.

In an interview with the Inter Press Service news agency, Leahy called the IMET decision "premature and unfortunate," saying that the resumption of a military training program for Jakarta "will be seen by the Indonesian military authorities who have tried to obstruct justice as a friendly pat on the back."

Leahy recently inserted a provision in the Senate version of the fiscal 2007 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (not yet passed by Congress) requiring the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing "the status of the investigation of the murder of Munir Said Thalib, including efforts by the Government of Indonesia to arrest any individuals who ordered or carried out that crime and any other actions taken by the Government of Indonesia (including the Indonesian judiciary, police and the State Intelligence Agency [BIN]), to bring the individuals responsible to justice."

The Gus Dur connection

Gus Dur is an internationally known Muslim cleric. He formerly headed the Nahdatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization and is widely recognized as an advocate of moderate Islam. He helped lead the opposition against Suharto in the 1990s, and in 1999, he became the first elected Indonesian president of the post-Suharto dictatorship.

Gus Dur was forced out of office by the Indonesian parliament in July 2000 over his erratic governing style and ceded power to Megawati Sukarnoputri. Megawati was succeeded by the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was elected in 2004.

When contacted in Jakarta, Gus Dur, who is legally blind, denied any involvement in the contract. "I don't understand. I don't know," he said. "Could you please give me a copy of those documents, just for my own use, so that I could check these people who used my name?"

But he added that he has close relations with Syamsir Siregar, the head of BIN, and As'ad Said Ali, BIN's second-in-command.

The Gus Dur Foundation's secretary, Ihksan Abdullah, also denied any knowledge of the foundation's involvement with BIN. "Frankly speaking, I don't know. How could we have this much money? How could we pay $30,000 per month?"

According to Abdullah, the foundation was established in January 2005, two weeks after the Asian tsunami hit the Indonesian province of Aceh. He described the foundation's objectives as establishing orphanages, public libraries and schools and holding scientific seminars. The foundation "has nothing to do with the military or international lobbying. We never had a meeting in which we talked about BIN," Abdullah told ICIJ.

"Companies worldwide conduct due diligence when signing contracts, especially with foreign firms," said Abdullah, a lawyer with his own firm. "I think this [contract] was signed without Gus Dur's knowledge."

The foundation's governing documents show that Gus Dur is its founder. He appointed Abdullah and three other men to sit on its board: Aris Junaidi, the treasurer, and members Salim Muhamad and Sulaiman.

"They're all close associates to Gus Dur. They're mostly political adventurers," said Ahmad Suaedy, executive director of the Wahid Institute, whose office is located at the same address noted in the Collins & Co. contract as that of the Gus Dur Foundation.

The Wahid Institute is a newly formed research institution whose stated purpose is to promote a "moderate and tolerant view of Islam." Gus Dur, for whom the new organization is named (Wahid being Gus Dur's formal last name), is the patron of the new institute as well. Suaedy added that the Gus Dur Foundation moved out of the compound in January 2006 following a request from Gus Dur's daughter, Yenny, the director of the Wahid Institute, who dislikes "those political adventurers."

Muhyiddin Arubusman, a close associate of Gus Dur, signed the original Collins & Co. contract on behalf of the Gus Dur Foundation. Arubusman is a member of the Indonesian parliament from the National Awakening Party, whose patron is also Gus Dur. Ikhsan Abdullah, the Gus Dur Foundation secretary, told ICIJ that Arubusman had no official position at the foundation, although Arubusman — as well as BIN deputy head As'ad Said Ali — frequently attended foundation meetings between January and May 2005 to talk about fundraising. As'ad is a member of the Nahdatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization.

Arubusman comes from Ende, a small town on Flores Island, which is a predominantly Catholic area. The Ende airport is named for his father's uncle Hasan Aroeboesman. Earlier this year, Muhyiddin Arubusman edited and published a book on terrorism, Terorisme di Tengah Arus Global Demokrasi (Terrorism in the Global Democratic Current), in which both BIN's As'ad Said Ali and Gus Dur wrote chapters.

In telling ICIJ that he had signed the contract with Collins & Co., Arubusman said, "Our concern was then Aceh and Papua's separatism. BIN asked assistance from the Gus Dur Foundation to influence the U.S. Congress."

"The Collins & Co. came to Jakarta. BIN organized everything. I just signed the contract. I share similar concerns over Aceh and Papua separating from Indonesia," he said.

Arubusman gave a mixed answer when asked whether he was authorized to sign the contract on behalf of the Gus Dur Foundation or whether Gus Dur himself knew about the contract. "I can't discuss more. I have to bear in mind Gus Dur's good name. He didn't know," Arubusman said.The Free Acheh Movement declared independence in December 1976, arguing that the Acehnese were being colonized by Indonesia. The movement claims that "Indonesia" is a name foisted on minority ethnic groups by the Javanese, the main ethnic group in Indonesia, indigenous to its most populous island. The Free Papua Movement began in 1965 when the Dutch, who formerly ruled the Indonesian islands as colonies, were still supporting Papua's push to be an independent state. Indonesia invaded Papua and manipulated a U.N. independence referendum there in 1969. Proponents of a unified Indonesia argued that the country should include all of the former Dutch colonies, including Papua. Both islands have a troubled history of violence with the Indonesian central government.

Legislator Muhammad A.S. Hikam, whose office is next to Arubusman's, was dubious that Arubusman has the savvy to understand Washington's political corridors or to hire a firm such as Collins & Co. "He even doesn't speak English very well," Hikam said.

When Arubusman signed that first contract with Collins & Co. in May 2005, President Yudhoyono's fact-finding team on the Munir killing was about to recommend that the police investigate BIN's involvement in the assassination.

Yudhoyono also ordered Lt. Gen. Syamsir Siregar, who had taken over the job of heading BIN, to open up his institution to public scrutiny. But BIN dragged its feet and refused to cooperate with the police investigation, citing its need to protect state secrets. BIN did not respond when contacted several times to comment on this story.

A group of 68 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to President Yudhoyono on Oct. 27, 2005, urging his government to implement the investigative team's suggestions on the Munir killing. "We understand the [report] suggests that the government should create a new commission with a strong mandate to explore the evidence wherever it may lead, including enforcement of full cooperation of all state agencies, including [BIN]."

The bipartisan letter, co-sponsored by Reps. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., closes by noting: "Munir devoted his life to finding the truth, and in the end he gave his life for that cause. Now his own death is the subject of an unprecedented fact-finding report. We strongly urge your government to fulfill Indonesia's promise as an open and democratic society by publicly releasing the report and acting on its recommendations."

Gus Dur himself called on the Indonesian government to hold BIN accountable. He held a news conference with Suciwati, Munir's widow, one day after Pollycarpus' verdict was read, declaring that Munir was a hero and that Muchdi should be questioned. The former president told the media that he was committed to finding Munir's murderer; he privately told Suciwati that As'ad was "clear."

Ikhsan Abdullah, the Gus Dur Foundation's secretary, wondered aloud how Munir's friends and widow would respond if they knew that the Gus Dur Foundation was involved in lobbying the U.S. Congress to resume full military cooperation with Indonesia.

"Gus Dur is known as a human rights campaigner. He has big influence and a global reputation. What will the people of Papua think of Gus Dur if these documents are published?"

Susanna Hamblin and Marina Walker Guevara contributed to this report.

The ICIJ investigation is supported by funding from the JEHT Foundation.

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