ISSN 2330-717X

Indonesia: Debate Over New Intelligence Bill

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Indonesia should put the passage of a controversial intelligence bill on hold until there is a more comprehensive assessment of its security needs.

Indonesia: Debate over a New Intelligence Bill, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, looks at the debate that the draft law has produced over the role of the intelligence services in a democracy, many of whose citizens are still sceptical that once repressive institutions have actually changed. It also examines the process that led to the bill’s moving to the top of Indonesia’s legislative priorities.

“The idea of giving a formal legal basis to the intelligence agencies is a good one, but a concept paper on national security strategy should have come first, with an assessment of the challenges the country faces and the appropriate roles for different agencies in addressing them”, says Achmad Sukarsono, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Analyst. “The drafting process was backwards”.

Prepared in late 2010, the draft was originally scheduled for enactment in July 2011 but has been delayed by differences among four major constituencies: lawmakers, the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, civil society and the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, BIN).

The controversy centers around three issues: whether BIN should have arrest and detention powers; whether wiretapping and other intercepts should require a court order; and how to ensure oversight and accountability mechanisms consistent with democratic governance. The government is arguing for more powers and less oversight than even BIN itself sees as desirable, while civil society organisations fear a return to abusive practices of the past. In the middle are the legislators, who wanted to give a legal mandate to the only part of the security structure that still lacks one, as well as to put in place better intelligence coordination and more safeguards against rogue activities.

The debate has been further complicated by plans for other security-related legislation, including a broader national security bill and proposed amendments to the anti-terrorism law. Failure to consider these as a package or coordinate discussion around them may increase the possibility of inconsistency, overlapping mandates and unclear division of labour among security agencies.

The lack of legislative coordination may be an inevitable consequence of the fact that these bills are being drafted by different institutions in a new democracy. “Some democratic messiness is better than authoritarian precision, but a little more strategic direction would be useful”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “Working out a solid national security agenda is worth a few more months of discussion”.

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