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Indonesia’s counter-intelligence community likely faces a more challenging operational environment than ever before.
In theory, counter-intelligence (CI) means information gathered and activities conducted to identify the enemy presence within a friendly intelligence network, and penetrate, recruit and neutralize hostile intelligence activities. In line with that definition, the newly passed Law No. 17/2011 on State Intelligence mandates that the primary responsibility of national counter-intelligence is to prevent, exploit and thwart any intelligence acts perpetrated by adversaries against the country’s national security.
For that purpose, intelligence services prepare “operational security” measures and conduct “counter-
The former comprises passive measures to deny or prohibit unauthorized intrusions to classified information or materials. The maintenance of good operational security requires the establishment of static defenses.
This includes a classification system of information, screening and clearance procedures for personnel security along with physical and electronic safeguards — such as safes, alarms, encryption, passwords and so forth.
Counter-espionage is a more active, or perhaps offensive, form of CI. It seeks to identify and develop detailed knowledge about an adversary’s intelligence capabilities, plans and operations. To do so, CI operatives conduct covert operations to penetrate hostile intelligence services (or terrorist cells), recruit defectors and ultimately attempt to mislead the opponent with various methods of disinformation or deception.
With this in mind, Indonesia’s current strategic environment presents several outstanding challenges for its CI community in fulfilling its commitments to the state.
First, the proliferation of non-traditional security issues — including economic disruption, terrorism and transnational organized crimes — increase the probability that there will be greater, if not more overlapping, espionage threats (or potential ones) to Indonesia. In effect, the scope of national CI responsibilities is likely to be more complex because the source and objective of hostile intelligence penetrations may vary from one to another.
As such, defense planning activities and classified or highly classified documents may not necessarily be the primary target nowadays. Given the importance of national competitiveness in a globalized economy, foreign governments might attempt to collect information related to technological expertise, resource exploration maps, and or strategic commercial plans. It is also plausible, under such eventualities, that civilian scientists or government contractors could be seen as potential targets, or even as vulnerable as state officials, due to their knowledge and access to sensitive materials.
Second, the ongoing threat of terrorism has greatly complicated national CI efforts. The objective of CI and counterterrorism are practically identical — the identification and neutralization of hostile secret organizations. However, the diversification of functions and priorities among Indonesia’s intelligence services on counterterrorism are likely to raise bureaucratic and coordination issues because of their overlapping roles in CI.
Third, the advent of the information age has also created another potential nightmare for Indonesian CI professionals. A highly dynamic threat environment entails accurate assessments, timely warning, and rapid dissemination of intelligence. While information technologies — including computer interconnection — are essential for better intelligence sharing, they are not impenetrable by cyber-espionage threats. Hostile intelligence services might attempt to intercept electronic transmissions, or hack computer mainframes to steal sensitive information. Consequently, CI specialists will have to find new counter-measures for national security entities to protect their databases, operational networks, and digital communications against cyber attacks.
Fourth, the various loopholes within Indonesia’s existing legal frameworks could also undermine the work of the CI community. Indonesia’s Criminal Code (KUHP) on crimes against state security requires four “pre-conditions” for the conviction of espionage acts. The accused individual must: (1) deliberately reveal, communicate or smuggle (2) classified information or materials (3) to foreign powers (4) with intent to harm national security.
Given these legal requirements, prosecutors will find it difficult to present solid evidence to charge and win cyber-espionage lawsuits, for example. Indeed, to successfully prosecute such lawsuits, the confidential data that was transferred to the opponent must be included in the indictment documents. This could seriously hamper the CI community’s “damage assessment” process to investigate just how far has the national security or intelligence system been compromised. Even worse, the accused spy and his lawyer could try “graymail” attempts by threatening to reveal classified information in an open court as a means to avoid prosecution.
Fifth, the exclusive focus on a specific CI approach might discard the bigger goal. Law enforcement officers, on their part, tend to overemphasize making successful prosecutions of espionage acts. This, however, will eliminate the possibility of counter-espionage operatives turning the still-secret moles’ discoveries into useful assets for disinformation operations against the adversary.
Last but not least, many within Indonesian society tend to overlook the imperative to have a rigorous national counter-intelligence system and operation. Given their previous experience under the authoritarian regime, legislators and democratic activists have become wary of secrecy and overzealous CI operations.
While stressing the principles of transparency and accountability, they fear that the practice of secrecy will endanger the checks-and-balances system under which strong democratic governance rests. Indeed, the public’s negative perception was very much evident in the judicial review of the State Intelligence Law and the process to halt the passing of the State Secrecy Bill.
Such a mentality misled Indonesian society on the more crucial issues surrounding the proper ends of national CI. This could prove to be problematic, particularly given to the proliferation of espionage threats, where Indonesia has
become more exposed than ever before.
It would be very naive to believe that the need of rigorous CI is irrelevant in the democratic realm. Thus, the intelligence services should legitimately maintain confidential information from the public for fear that adversaries could also be informed.
That being said, the ultimate challenge for Indonesia’s CI community is to protect “sacred” secrets from our country’s enemies without covering up “dirty” secrets from the public.
The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.