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Sep 16, 2014 | Commentary

Indonesia’s president elect Joko Widodo is now busy drafting the cabinet lineup for his upcoming administration, which will take power in October 2014. These days almost everyone talks about candidates for such high-profile portfolios like the minister of foreign affairs, minister of defense, or minister of home affairs. But almost no one, except a few individuals in Indonesia’s security community, talks about possible candidates for the Chief of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara or BIN).

Of course, it is not our job to focus more energy on talking about this position’s candidacy. Instead, what should be addressed is the reformation of the agency and how the Indonesian public can rely on its intelligence in the face of radical ideological groups, such as Islamists groups like the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria and its Indonesian followers, as well as other threats to our national security. Do we see a progress in intelligence agency three years after the enactment of Intelligence Law No. 17/2011?

If we talk about structural and organization reform, BIN has transformed its structure from five deputies/department into seven. Yet there is insufficient hard evidence to show that its performance is much better today than under the old structure. Three strategies can be identified to reorganize intelligence, (1) streamlining to enhance the organization’s effectivity and efficacy, (2) reorganizing to be responsive institution, and (3) redefining its function and responsibility.

In regards to BIN reorganization, it seems they are more focused on the strategy number 2 and 3. For example, the Deputy 5 on covert action and propaganda was dissolved and replaced by Deputy 3 on counter-intelligence. Streamlining of the organization is simply not a BIN priority, as shown by the fact that they already set up BIN representatives (BINDA) in almost all provinces of Indonesia (34 provinces). Another issue that has surfaced is who are the Heads of BINDA in each province? And are they competent enough to do their main task as intelligence officers? Indonesia’s public knows little about such matters, to say nothing about the agency’s performance.

Judging from its latest update, Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency wants to recruit more operatives to face challenges from the global, regional, and national level. The number of new recruits ranges between 40 and 60 personnel annually. Their minimum academic qualification is an undergraduate degree, though that remains an ongoing challenge. From an institutional point of view, the number of recruits is quite modest. But the real question is whether they are capable of dealing with the complex new threats from non-state actors, with more imminent threats now including, among other things, cyber attacks and hybrid warfare.

On the other hand, new intelligence officers do enjoy good training and education. For instance, BIN uses Indonesia’s Intelligence College (STIN) as a recruiting pool, allowing for the best people in the country to become intelligence officers. This college is one of the main sources of recruitment for the State Intelligence Agency. Therefore, from capacity building perspective, it is considered a progressive and very much welcome institution.

On the transparency and accountability question, there has not been much progress after the murder of Indonesia’s human rights activist Munir, allegedly killed by a BIN “agent” ten years ago. Although an accomplice was sentenced to prison and one former high-ranking BIN officer was exonerated in trial, the mastermind behind the murder remains unknown. Some people are skeptical that it will be resolved in the near future –and for good reason, since the outgoing SBY (President Soesilo B. Yudhoyono) administration has been ill-inclined to commit to prosecuting the real mastermind. With BIN’s culture of secrecy so deep, there is little commitment by the current government to resolve it.

However, Intelligence Law No. 17/2011 stipulates that the Indonesian parliament has the authority to oversee the national intelligence agency, including BIN and others agencies. Up to now the subcommittee on intelligence has yet to be established. As a consequence, the oversight now performed by Commission 1 of our National Parliament (DPR) is not enough to adequately supervise the State Intelligence Agency’s performance, which the enacted law requires. As a result, BIN’s accountability is hardly scrutinized by our lawmakers.

According to one retired intelligence officer, BIN has been able to score enough; in other word, its performance is neither good nor bad. His remarks signify that BIN has not done much of its homework to show its performance to Indonesia’s public at large. The Intelligence Law, as a legal framework to oversee intelligence, is not being implemented by our national parliament. Therefore, it likely depends very much on leadership of upcoming new presidential directive to speed up the expected reform of this particular “untouchable” security actor and place the right man on the right job.


Beni Sukadis is National Security analyst from LESPERSSI (Indonesian Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies) based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is a recipient of a fellowship on National Security Policymaking from the Institute for Training and Development in Amherst, Massachusetts in 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @fewgoodman.