Unintelligent Intelligence

It is as embarrassing as it gets in government to be caught spying on a friendly country, as US officials can attest in the wake of revelations of American eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And the US is not alone: Now Australia has been caught listening in on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

JAKARTA – It is as embarrassing as it gets in government to be caught spying on a friendly country. Just ask officials in the United States in the wake of revelations that the National Security Agency tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. And the US is not alone: Now Australia has been caught listening in on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife, and inner circle.

These revelations, from material leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, will reverberate politically for some time. The fallout is particularly damaging for the Australia-Indonesia relationship, as I can now attest while visiting Jakarta.

Indonesia’s friendship with the new Australian government has already been stretched over the issue of turning back boats laden with asylum-seekers. Now Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s refusal (unlike President Barack Obama) to apologize to his counterpart for the electronic surveillance has generated a massive public outcry. The issue is fueling nationalist sentiment in Indonesia – already elevated in the run-up to next year’s general election.

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