Paul Daley – Operatives from Indonesia's special forces, Kopassus, made extraordinary efforts to implicate Australia in illegal spy flights in East Timor last year, according to Australian intelligence sources. The Indonesian operatives are also alleged to have posed as United Nations employees in an attempt to influence political outcomes in Timor.
The intelligence sources say that last May – as the UN and Australia prepared to take leading roles in coordinating elections to determine East Timor's future – Kopassus mounted a "black operation" in the province. This had included the use of helicopters and at least one helicopter-capable vessel off the coast.
The Kopassus operation took place as Indonesian military leaders publicly complained about unexplained helicopter flights and maritime movements in and around East Timor, while heavily implying that Australia was responsible.
Intelligence sources told The Age the operation also included Kopassus using a white helicopter bearing a UN logo. The helicopter – which operated extensively along the East-West border – ferried passengers falsely claiming to be employed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The passengers urged villagers to support the pro-autonomy movement.
The revelations about the Kopassus activities come after Indonesia's newly-elected civilian government claimed at the weekend the Australian military had secretly operated in East Timor.
The Defence Minister, Mr John Moore, has dismissed the latest Indonesian allegations. His spokesman said: "That allegation was made last year by [former Indonesian armed forces commander] Wiranto and we denied it then ... we categorically deny it again today."
Australian intelligence operatives began assessing shipping and aircraft movements in East Timor in the middle of last year, after a number of senior Indonesian figures complained that their satellite surveillance had detected unusual ship and helicopter movements in the area. On 9 June last year, General Wiranto ordered increased naval and air surveillance off East Timor after what he said were five unusual helicopter flights in May.
East Timor's then military commander, Colonel Tono Suratman, said there had been two landings of helicopters similar to Pumas – a description fitting Seahawk helicopters which can be operated from Australian navy ships. He said the flights happened while a large vessel with a helicopter landing pad sailed off the East Timor coast.
After checking the Indonesian reports, Australian intelligence operatives confirmed – largely through the use of signals intelligence – that the ship and the helicopters were in fact Indonesian and had, at the time, been used by Kopassus. "There was no doubt that the flights referred to involved Indonesian aircraft and an Indonesian boat and that the Indonesians knew this while complaining publicly about the incidents," a source said. "It was reasonably concluded that Indonesia was trying to implicate the UN and Australia in spy flights ... which did not happen. It was an attempt by implication to slur international reputations before the [East Timor] vote and before UNAMET (the United Nations Assistance Missions for East Timor)." It is understood that the intelligence was passed to senior Federal Government figures.
In recent days, senior Indonesian political and military identities, including General Wiranto, have publicly suggested that Australia made secret spy flights and landings in East Timor.
Indonesia's Defence Minister, Dr Juwona Sudarsono, said there was a "strong suspicion" Australian forces had made secret landings by air and sea. "Hard evidence is is very hard to clarify ... but you know the nearness of Darwin and the fact that our troops heard night-flying helicopters and even sea landings, makes it very hard for us not to believe it was to support the [Falintil] guerrillas," he said.