Whistle-blower: Indonesia may have used Israeli malware to spy on political opponents

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Whistle-blower: Indonesia may have used Israeli malware to spy on political opponents Indonesian presidential candidate and incumbent Joko Widodo speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, April 13, 2019.
Achmad Ibrahim/AP, File

A whistle-blowing service said Monday it found evidence that Indonesian state agencies have been using Israel-made spyware that can hack into phones and turn them into surveillance devices. 

The State Intelligence Agency and police may have used the Pegasus software to spy on politicians and activists, including former opposition leader Prabowo Subianto, IndonesiaLeaks, a consortium of media outlets and investigative reporters, said in a report it released on Monday.

Jakarta supports Palestinian statehood and does not recognize Israel, but the devices to hack into phones and install the software did not come into the country directly from the Jewish state, according to IndonesiaLeaks. 

“The investigative team of IndonesiaLeaks found evidence that Pegasus had entered Indonesia in 2018,” it said.

Two sources told IndonesiaLeaks that a businessman who was the treasurer of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s campaign team for the 2019 election and is now a minister had allegedly used the Israeli spyware.

Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, currently the minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, was said to have had a special room in his house where spyware was allegedly used to tilt the president’s reelection bid in Jokowi’s favor.

The system was believed to be Pegasus, a former Jokowi administration official told IndonesiaLeaks, adding that the spyware could infiltrate the WhatsApp accounts of Jokowi’s political opponents.

Among the alleged targets of the spyware were Prabowo, who is now the defense minister in the second Jokowi administration, and Airlangga Hartarto, chairman of the Golkar party and the coordinating minister for economic affairs, the report by IndonesiaLeaks said.

When BenarNews contacted Trenggono’s office on Monday, an aide to the minister said he was not aware of the information. 

The IndonesiaLeaks report also cited unnamed sources who claimed to have operated Pegasus.

Pegasus was created by the NSO Group, one of Israel’s most successful technology companies. There have been widespread allegations that authorities in several countries such as Bangladesh have used the technology to spy on politicians, activists and journalists. 

The software has been used to facilitate human rights violations globally on a massive scale, according to a major investigation of potential surveillance targets conducted by a consortium of journalists from 10 countries and Amnesty International. 

A protester holds a banner during a protest attended by dozens of people outside the offices of Israeli cyber company NSO Group in Herzliya near Tel Aviv, July 25, 2021. [Nir Elias/Reuters]

NSO Group has said that it sells its products only to governments for legitimate law enforcement purposes. 

In November 2021, however, Washington blacklisted the firm for acting “contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

This is a lot of money’

According to the IndonesiaLeaks report, the Indonesian police in 2018 first purchased a zero-click system to infiltrate devices for 99 billion rupiah (U.S. $6.7 million).  

Such a system doesn’t require any action from the user of the device. Pegasus has one of the most sophisticated zero-click capabilities, according to experts.

The police denied using Pegasus or any other spyware. 

“The police have never acquired or used the Pegasus spyware. We have a system that follows legal interception procedures,” Slamet Uliandi, the chief of the police’s technology, information and communication division, said in the IndonesiaLeaks report.

Semuel Abrijani Pangerapan, the director general of informatics applications at the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, said Indonesia was not a Pegasus customer. 

“Indonesia is not on its list,” he told BenarNews.

He declined to comment further on the IndonesiaLeaks findings. 

“We only handle electronic system providers and content,” he said.

The State Intelligence Agency did not comment on the report. Other government officials also declined to comment, or did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The Alliance of Independent Journalists, one of the initiators of IndonesiaLeaks, said it wanted to highlight how the spyware was used to target certain groups.

“This is a lot of money and it comes from the taxpayers, of course,” Sasmito Madrim, the chairman of the alliance, told BenarNews.

He said that using taxpayers’ money for political interests or spying on activists who fought for democracy was unacceptable and demanded Jokowi offer an explanation. 

“We should not let the past election be tainted by things that are unaccountable, especially using tools from a country that we don’t have diplomatic ties with, Israel,” he said.


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