|Home > South-East Asia >> Indonesia|
CIA tie asserted in Indonesia purge
New York Times - July 12, 1990
Michael Wines – A dispute has developed over a report that 25 years ago, United States officials supplied up to 5,000 names of Indonesian Communists to the Indonesian Army, which was then engaged in a campaign to wipe out the Communist Party in that country.
The House Intelligence Committee plans to investigate the report, which said that State Department and Central Intelligence Agency officials who served in Jakarta "described in lengthy interviews how they aided Indonesian Army leader Suharto" in his attack on the Indonesian Communist Party.
Gen. Suharto, now Indonesia's President, took control of the Government in October 1965, days after Communist insurgents launched an unsuccessful coup and killed six senior military officials. His army later encouraged and joined in a nationwide massacre of known and suspected Communists, which the CIA has said claimed 250,000 lives before it ended in early 1966.
The article, distributed by the Washington-based States News Service on May 17, first appeared in The Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal on May 19, and has been published by other papers, including The Washington Post, in somewhat abridged form.
The author of the article, Kathy Kadane, quoted Robert J. Martens, who from 1963 to 1966 was a political officer at the United States Embassy in Jakarta, as saying that he had headed an embassy group of State Department and Central Intelligence Agency officers who for two years compiled lists of as many as 5,000 Communist Party members and sympathizers.
He was quoted as saying that the lists were turned over to an aide to the Indonesian Foreign Minister, who was known as an anti-Communist, once the massacre of Communists and others had begun.
The article also said that approval for the release of the names came from the top officials at the Embassy, including Ambassador Marshall Green.
Release of a list: Who approved it?
There is no question that a list of names was provided to the Indonesians. The dispute has focused on whether the decision to turn over the names was that of an individual American Embassy officer, or was coordinated with the Central Intelligence Agency and approved by senior embassy officers.
Also, there is some disagreement over the significance of the action – whether the turning over of several thousand names was important information for the Indonesian Army.
Mr. Martens, who is retired from the Foreign Service and now lives in Maryland, acknowledged in an interview that he had passed the lists of names to the Indonesians. But he contended in a letter to the editor of The Washington Post that "I and I alone decided to pass those 'lists' to the non-Communist forces."
"I neither sought nor was given permission to do so by Ambassador Marshall Green or any other embassy official," he said in the letter.
"I also categorically deny that CIA or any other classified material was turned over by me. Furthermore, I categorically deny that I 'headed an embassy group that spent two years compiling the lists.' No one, absolutely no one, helped me compile the lists in question."
He said in the letter that the lists were gathered entirely from the Indonesian Communist press and were available to everyone. Mr. Green, who later became Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, called the Kadane account "garbage."
"There are instances in the history of our country, and specifically in the Far East, where our hands are not as clean, and where we have been involved," he said in Washington, where he lives in retirement. "But in this case we certainly were not."
Ms. Kadane said tape-recorded interviews support "every point of the story that was published," and the editor of States News Service, Leland Schwartz, said: "The news service stands behind the story and we feel that there is no question that what we said took place, took place. This comes from principals at the time."
Responding to a New York Times reporter's request, States News Service, which provides articles on Federal Government activities to local and regional newspapers, furnished transcripts of several key interviews used to prepare the article. They appear ambiguous on the central accusation: that Mr. Green and others approved releasing to the Indonesians a list of Communist Party members.
What was US role in frenzied killing?
The Indonesian coup attempt and the massacre occurred against a backdrop of political intrigue and virulent anti-Americanism in Jakarta, where the Government was then controlled by a charismatic pro-Communist dictator, President Sukarno. Mr. Sukarno had actively supported the three million-member Indonesian Communist Party, also known as the PKI, as a counterweight to General Suharto's growing influence as head of the military.
In October 1965, one day after a coup attempt by Communist forces was beaten back by General Suharto, Communist forces killed six senior military officers. In response, army units marched into Communist strongholds and, joined by anti-Communist civilians, began a frenzied round of killing. Mr. Sukarno retained titular control for another six months before being ousted by General Suharto.
In an interview, Mr. Martens said he told Ms. Kadane that he acted without approval because he wanted to avoid embassy red tape at what he believed was a critical time.
"I felt it necessary and useful to provide people standing up to this Communist takeover the means to understand what was happening," Mr. Martens said. "If we had any purpose in the world except to be bureaucrats, that was the sort of thing I felt we ought to be doing."
Ms. Kadane agrees that Mr. Martens told her that he acted alone, but contends that Mr. Green and two other officials then at the United States Embassy – the deputy chief of mission, Jack Lydman, and the political section chief, Edward Masters – acknowledged in interviews that they approved Mr. Martens's action in advance.
In interviews with The New York Times, Mr. Lydman, Mr. Masters and the two senior CIA officials in Jakarta at the time of the coup denied any involvement in Mr. Martens's action.
According to the transcripts of Ms. Kadane's tape-recorded interviews, Mr. Green said he had no recollection that Mr. Martens had compiled lists of Communist Party members. Asked whether he had approved the transfer of such a list to the Indonesians, he replied, "I have no recollection of such a thing."
When Ms. Kadane said that others had confirmed it, he replied, "Well, I wouldn't gainsay it," and added, "I told you I couldn't remember it."
Role of 'top people': One memory fails
But the transcripts do not show conclusively that others confirmed Mr. Green's involvement. Indeed, they suggest that some embassy officials did not see the lists as sensitive or of great value to the Indonesians.
Mr. Masters at first replied, "Oh, sure," when asked if Mr. Martens told him about passing the list, the transcripts show, and he later added, "We knew where the names were going." But when asked several times if Ambassador Green or CIA officials also knew or approved, he replied: "I'm not sure anyone could remember at this late date. Let's face it, an awful lot of things were going on out there. This was not No. 1."
Mr. Masters, now head of the Washington-based National Planning Association, later told Ms. Kadane that the Indonesian military was not a group of "village idiots" and that he believed they knew how to find Communist leaders without American help.
In a final conversation with Ms. Kadane, when he became aware of what would later appear in print, Mr. Masters said: "I certainly would not disagree with the fact that we had these lists, that we were using them to check off, OK, what was happening to the party. But the thing that is giving me trouble, and that is absolutely not correct, is that we gave these lists to the Indonesians and that they went out and picked up and killed them."
"I don't believe it," he said. "And I was in a position to know."
The transcript of an interview with Mr. Lydman includes an assertion by Ms. Kadane that "top people" in the embassy coordinated the release of the list. Mr. Lydman replied, "Oh, yes, absolutely."
But in an interview last week in Washington, where he is retired, Mr. Lydman said his response was "absolutely not what I intended."
"I certainly wasn't focusing on the impact of what she was saying," Mr. Lydman said. He said many issues were coordinated at daily staff meetings at the embassy, but that he had no knowledge of any approval for the release of the lists.
CIA involvement: Ex-officers speak
When interviewed for her article, the deputy CIA station chief in Jakarta at the time, Joseph Lazarsky, told Ms. Kadane that the Jakarta CIA station "contributed quite a bit" to Mr. Martens's lists, contradicting Mr. Martens's assertion that the lists were assembled only from press clippings.
But the CIA station chief in Jakarta at the time, B. Hugh Tovar, denied that his office gave any classified information on Indonesian Communist officials to Mr. Martens.
The article also said that William Colby, a former Director of Central Intelligence who headed the CIA's Far East division in 1965, "compared the embassy's campaign to identify the PKI leadership to the CIA's controversial Phoenix Program in Vietnam." Phoenix was a CIA-sponsored effort to identify Communist agents within the South Vietnamese civilian population, some of whom were later killed by South Vietnamese Army units.
Mr. Colby said in a telephone interview that his remarks were "misappropriated." He noted that he had repeatedly stated publicly that the CIA had no covert involvement in the Indonesian coup or its aftermath.
One observer removed from the controversy is John Hughes, a former editor of the Christian Science Monitor who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Indonesian coup and later wrote a book on the subject.
Reached in Maine, where he now edits The Camden Reporter and The Free Press in nearby Rockland, Mr. Hughes said the notion that the United States Embassy would have assisted the army in locating Communists seemed "pretty far out" to him.
"I don't think the Indonesian Army needed any help in going after Communists in Indonesia at that time," he said. "It sort of boggles the mind that the embassy would need to be giving out lists. There wasn't any problem about killing people. There was an abundance of names and targets. Everybody knew who was a PKI cadre."