Secret documents released by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden show that Australia's intelligence efforts against Indonesia involve a massive penetration of its phone networks and widespread data collection, and are not just targeting suspected terrorists or key political figures.
The documents reported in The New York Times have disclosed new details of how the Australian Signals Directorate offered its US counterpart surveillance of an American law firm representing Indonesia in trade disputes with the US. The documents show the level of co-operation between the US National Security Agency and the Australian Signals Directorate, and for the first time reveal the Australian electronic espionage agency's comprehensive access to Indonesian's national communications systems.
According to a 2012 NSA document, the Australian Signals Directorate has accessed bulk call data from Indosat, Indonesia's domestic satellite telecommunications provider, including data on Indonesian officials in various government ministries. A document from last year states that the Australian Signals Directorate obtained nearly 1.8 million encrypted master keys, which are used to protect private communications, from the Telkomsel Mobile telephone network, and developed a way to decrypt almost all of them.
The new spying revelations come as US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Indonesia for meetings with Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. But a spokesman for Indonesian Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Djoko Suyanto said he was not concerned because the Indonesian government does not discuss secret information by phone.
However, he took another swipe at Prime Minister Tony Abbott over news last year that Australia had tapped the phones of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his inner circle. ''Prime Minister Tony Abbott could apologise to President SBY the way Barack Obama did to Angela Merkel. We have asked for clarification over what Australia tapped but we haven't got a response so far,'' spokesman Agus Barnas said.
On Monday Mr Abbott said the government did not comment on security matter ''except to say that Australia needs to have a strong intelligence operation. Australian intelligence has been instrumental in prevention of numerous terrorist attacks – including in Indonesia''.
''If the media wants to talk constantly about this kind of thing inevitably it will dominate conversations – I guess unhelpfully dominate conversations,'' he told ABC radio.
The New York Times also reported that the Australia Signals Directorate specifically monitored communications between the Indonesian government and a US law firm that was representing Jakarta in trade disputes with the US.
According to a monthly bulletin from the NSA's liaison office in Canberra dated February last year, Australia offered to share intercepted communications including ''information covered by attorney-client privilege''. US liaison officials asked for guidance from NSA's in-house lawyers because of US legal restrictions on targeting American citizens or businesses for surveillance without a warrant.
With agreement from the NSA's headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, the Australian Signals Directorate was ''able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested US customers''.
On Sunday, Mr Abbott said Australia would never use its intelligence gathering for commercial purposes. He said Australia did not use gathered intelligence ''to the detriment of other countries''. ''We use it for the benefit of our friends,'' he said. ''We certainly don't use it for commercial purposes.''