East Timor and all that.

Greg Schofield gschofield at one.net.au
Sun May 20 10:28:39 MDT 2001

Comrades I was rather deeply disturbed at some of the views expressed about
East Timor, moreover the level of debate itself and sectarian passions that
it provoked.

I make this reply to no particular post, nor I have gone through the
archive, as the recent remarks indicate that this would well be a waste of
time. Instead I will address my self to the role of Australia its
intelligence agencies and others, and especially the role of the army.

I have had a special interest in the Australian army since being beaten-up
and being involved in a subsequent car chase through Sydney by what were
apparently officer cadets who had been given a free-rein of activity in the
night before the 1975 election following the coup in November.

Some years later do to personal economic circumstances (debts) I joined the
Reserve army for a period of intense (and paid) service. In this position I
was able to question many ordinary soldiers specifically about the vents of
1975 (the army was put on alert and was deployed).

Later in Darwin I had, in general conversations, gathered a rather broad
perspective of army intelligence gathering, especially of Indonesian
military radio traffic. Coupled with some historical understanding of other
intelligence units, special units in some other operations and training
taking place. All this is background to what I have to say next, none of it
represents any secret or special knowledge, rather I believe I have a
general picture of the class nature of the Australian army and some notion
of its intelligence operations.

The Australian Trade Union Movement, Labor Party and Communist party played
a significant international role in Indonesian independence, some years
later Australian intelligence agencies played a more direct role in the
1965 coup and the slaughter of PKI, trade union leaders and many others.

It would be a mistake to equate all state agencies as the same and in doing
so sum pretty spurious notions are easily hatched, none more-so than in the
case of East Timor. Australian Foreign Affairs consists of at least one
third intellegence agents posing as diplomats and advisers and possibly
another third who work very diligently and if anything are of fairly
liberal persuasions, the other third is just the normal representation of
lifetime public servants.

For some time within the Foreign Affairs department there have been those
who believed that Australia should exert itself against Indonesian
interests for independence in East Timor. There were others more concerned
with oil deposits and leases within East Timor's international economic
maritime sphere and worried that independence would jeopardize this asset
(probably Australia's only substantial economic interest in the island).
Another faction identifies more closely and directly with US interests,
which in this area wishes above everything else to maintain an integrated
Indonesia with a single central government.

Given this there are several overlapping interests all concerned with East
Timor, plus the domestic pressure of Australian people for a number of
historical reasons wished East Timor well. The Government itself is besides
being conservative, very lackluster in every respect except to its close
ties to US Foreign policy and parochial interests in "protecting"
Australian investments in the region (this is said only to show its correct
relationship to US concerns which are primary).

The there is the army. For decades it has been training Indonesian officers
at four distinct levels, three of which are tightly integrated and part of
normal army training. The three areas can be seen as normal military
officer training (tactical, logistic and planning), communications
(especially field radio and cryptography - for obvious reasons this makes
it much easier for our military to monitor from Darwin), military field
intelligence (an emphasis on counter-insurgency, interpretation and again
planning - however, very much along normal military lines).

The fourth element of training is somewhat different and not integrated
into the Australian army, rather separated from it despite the involvement
of army personnel. This is where the nastier dirty tricks, political
intelligence, special forces etc training takes place, not available to
run-of-the-mill Indonesian officers and out of sight of normal military.

This fourth element training is very much an international affair and
involves all our favourite military and quasi-military organisations
especially from the UK and US but also including some of the nastier types
from South Africa and elsewhere.

Any clear analysis of the East Timor requires seeing all these things as
inter-related but also separate.

What has to be acknowledge first that at different levels of the military,
practically all Indonesian radio traffic is known in Australia and a good
deal of other communication traffic as well - there are several specialist
units in Darwin who do this permanently and this information is relayed
back to both Canberra and the US (probably a good deal more to the latter
than the former). Very little of what the Indonesian army gets up to is
unknown to someone in Australia, plus many of the officer corps are
personally known and their careers are available in detail.

Foreign Affairs and no doubt other bodies, the UN and such like negotiated
with Indonesia and the independence leadership for the referenda. I suspect
for a number of inter-related reasons. From the Australian perspective
there were different motivating forces:

A genuine wish to serve the East Timorese people, the fact that the ongoing
war was becoming more and more an embarrassment, a government seeking a
popular initiative at home, the real fear that East Timor would win during
a time when Indonesia itself was weak and that it would start acting
independently and pose a threat to many cozy relationships, the need to
legitimize the oil leases and finally an attempt to stabilize Indonesia itself.

These varying factors are important in understanding the actual dynamics
rather than just relying on abstract formulas one way or another.

On the surface the vote was good way out of a lot of predicaments for
nearly all the parties concerned, however there were important caveats.

US policy, large sections of Indonesian ruling class, sections of
Australian government and sections of the political intelligence arm of the
military had vested interested best served by seeing that East Timor was
punished. Moreover, during the period of punishment the independance
leadership was put on intense pressure to concede to many of the things
Australia put to it (I have no proof of this but a whole number of minor
facts and outcomes seem to point in this direction).

The critical thing that needs to be understood in the workings of various
imperial concerns in East Timor, is that it is not the sending in of
Australian troops that was the act of imperialism, it was the setting up of
the vote in such a way that the East Timorese would pay in blood and peace
keeping troops were withheld!

I hope this is clear - the weeks that followed the ballot until a small
detachment landed in East Timor are the critical weeks for here imperialism
pulled off a master stroke.

Australian intelligence knew well beforehand what was being organised in
East Timor, in fact knew it intimately, the details also went to the US and
the broad strokes of this was communicated even to the Australian
Government (a rarity in itself). But nothing happened, forces were
withdrawn in the face of growing violence, the Australian army was
specifically told it would not be needed and the days went by, then the weeks.

It takes less than a few days for a few battalions to be readied, naval
transport was actually directed away from the top end while whatever was
being done in the background was carried out.

The forces when they were sent were small, too small to do anything but
secure Dilli and the surrounding country-side - meanwhile thousands were
marched westwards at gun point. Despite this the Australian command on the
ground (ordinary soldiers and officiers) actually secured much more of East
Timor than could be expected of such a small force. Aside from a few
incidents of unruly soldiers, the Australian army did not act as thugs at
all, and discharged its duties as reasonably could be expected of it (in
fact did much better than was expected of it).

However, this intervention was not where the harm was done, but in the
period leading to it. Even when the vote was first suggested intelligence
reports knew of the factions of the Indonesian army's vicious response. Yet
it was pretended that everything was unexpected to this end some Australian
police volunteers (helping with ballot security) the UN observers and most
of all the East Timorese people were all dupes of three powers (US,
Australian and Indonesian) and their various agencies.

A few valiant ex-diplomats tried to point this out the time, but the left
was squabbling about its all important "positions" and seemed to have
missed the vital facts as they happened - in fact I believe that the
reasons the troops were finally sent when they were was motivated by the
real concern that elements within Foreign Affairs might spill the beans.

Now comrades you can dismiss all this, I will not argue about it, but can
anyone out there see how unreasonable it is for communists to have opposed
positions on the military intervention when this was never the real issue
about actual imperialist actions. Unless we give up this hopelessly naive
seeking of positions and lines and spend a little more time just trying to
make sense out of things we just remain a joke in the eyes of the working

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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