Wall Street Journal by Rob Taylor
August 27, 2014
CANBERRA, Australia—A new intelligence code of conduct between Australia and Indonesia meant to soothe a diplomatic spat about spying will help increase cooperation and combat the threat of militants returning home from fighting in Syria and Iraq, Australia’s government said.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop flew to the Indonesian island of Bali on Wednesday to sign a code of conduct sought by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Mr. Yudhoyono demanded that the accord be made last year, after revelations that Australian spy agencies in 2009 tried to tap his phone shortly after two Jakarta hotel bombings.
In response to the revelations, Indonesia recalled its ambassador to Canberra for six months and suspended cooperation with Australia on border security and defense exercises, although Indonesian observers did attend an air-combat exercise in the northern Australian city of Darwin earlier this month.
Before meeting her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa to sign the agreement, Ms. Bishop sidestepped questions on whether the code would curtail spying between the two countries during an interview with Australian radio.
“This specifically says that Australia and Indonesia will not use our resources, including our intelligence resources, to harm each other’s interests,” she said. “In fact, it enhances the opportunities for cooperation between our intelligence agencies and anticipates a greater level of engagement between Australian intelligence agencies and Indonesian intelligence agencies.”
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately comment. Mr. Yudhoyono had pressed for an agreement by August, in part to pressure Australia but also to avoid leaving a diplomatic issue hanging over the country’s new president.
Australia has warned of a “disturbingly large” migration of Islamic militants from home and elsewhere joining the conflict in Iraq, and is trying to increase regional counterterrorism cooperation to guard against any future threat. The U.S. on Wednesday signed a deal with Australia to share visa and immigration information in an effort to tighten border control, while Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said extra customs officials have been placed at airports to make travel in and out of the country by militant suspects more difficult.
Since Islamic militants who trained and fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1980s bombed a Bali nightclub in 2002, more than 90 Australians have been killed by extremists in Indonesia. Australia’s heavily fortified embassy in Jakarta was bombed in 2004, killing nine Indonesian workers.
But the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq has stirred concern that Indonesia’s homegrown militant movements, which have been fractured largely due to police action, could experience a revival. Mr. Yudhoyono earlier this month condemned religious extremism and said the Islamic State’s violence was an embarrassment to Muslims. He said he ordered Indonesia’s police and military to block militant websites and combat the spread of support for the Islamic State.
Ms. Bishop said the limits on espionage activities were “particularly pertinent” in light of the foreign fighters being drawn to join the Islamic State, which she said included a significant number of Indonesians. In addition, Australia has become the largest per capita source of foreign fighters within the Islamic State’s ranks. Australia’s outgoing intelligence chief on Wednesday said about 60 Australians were believed to have traveled to Iraq to join two main al Qaeda derivatives, the al Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
“We believe 15 Australians have already been killed in the current conflicts, including two young Australian suicide bombers,” said David Irvine, the outgoing Director-General of Security for Australia’s government.
Australia conservative government has moved to introduce new legislation aimed at strengthening the ability of intelligence agencies and police to monitor and detain suspected militants.