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Secretary-General Kofi Annan (left) with former United States President William Clinton (right), attending the Independence Day ceremonies in Dili, May 2002. (UN Photo)

A Quarter Century of U.S. Support for Occupation

East Timor Truth Commission report uses declassified U.S. documents to call for reparations from U.S. for its support of Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor from 1975 until U.N. sponsored vote in 1999

National Security Archive provides more than 1,000 documents to East Timor Truth Commission after Bush Administration refuses cooperation

Recently Declassified British Documents Reveal U.K. Support for Indonesian Invasion and Occupation of East Timor. 1975-1976

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 174

Edited by Brad Simpson
Director, Indonesia-East Timor Documentation Project
For more information contact:
Brad Simpson - 609/751-8206
bsimpson@princeton.edu

Posted - November 28, 2005

Links

Press Release

British documents on East Timor invasion

The Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project

"Timorese Parliament Should Release Truth Commission Report Immediately"
International Center for Transitional Justice
November 28, 2005

In the news

"Government lied to cover up war crimes in 1975 invasion of island"
By Richard Lloyd Parry
The Times (UK)
November 30, 2005

"Documents show Britain covered up murders of 5 journalists in RI's 1975 invasion of E. Timor"
Associated Press
December 1, 2005

"Files show complicity on Timor"
By Donald Greenlees
International Herald Tribune
December 1, 2005

"New documents expose US backing for Indonesian invasion of East Timor"
Agence France-Presse
December 2, 2005

"Thirty Years After the Indonesian Invasion of East Timor, Will the U.S. Be Held Accountable for its Role in the Slaughter?"
Democracy Now!
December 7, 2005

Related posting

East Timor Revisited
Ford, Kissinger and the Indonesian Invasion, 1975-76

Introduction

Today, as East Timorese President Xanana Gusmão transmits to East Timor's Parliament the 2,500 page final report of the country's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) on human rights violations committed in East Timor between 1974 and 1999, the National Security Archive is making available some of the more than 1,000 formerly classified U.S. and British documents that it and British researchers provided to assist the work of the Commission. The CAVR's final report, which has not yet been made public, strongly criticizes the role of the international community in supporting Indonesia's invasion and occupation of East Timor and calls for reparations from the governments of the U.S. and United Kingdom and from Western arms manufacturers.

East Timorese youth being tortured and killed by a member of the Indonesian military (Released by Mr. Jose Ramos-Horta in 1996)
The CAVR report is the culmination of a three year process begun in January 2002. The CAVR's mandate was to document and assess responsibility for human rights abuses that occurred in East Timor beginning in 1974, when Portugal began the decolonization process, and continuing from 1975 through 1999, during which time Indonesia invaded and occupied the territory. In support of this process, the National Security Archive's Indonesia-East Timor documentation project in the spring of 2002 approached the CAVR and offered its assistance in gathering U.S. documents needed to fulfill the commission's mandate.

According to the CAVR, the timing of the release to the public of either the 2,500 page report or its executive summary will now be determined by East Timor's Parliament. While respectful of the prerogatives of East Timor's Parliament to determine the timing and manner of the final report's release, the National Security Archive's Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project is releasing these U.S. and British documents in the hopes of encouraging the speediest possible release and widest possible dissemination of the CAVR's findings.

The Archive has worked for many years to open U.S. government files on Indonesia and East Timor. In December 2001, the Archive posted newly declassified documents showing that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford gave the green light to Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, the beginning of a 24-year occupation in which more than 100,000 Timorese died (Readers are invited to refer to this earlier briefing book for historical background on East Timor and Indonesia's 1975 invasion).

For several reasons, we believed that it was important to assist East Timor's truth commission process. First, the CAVR was operating under severe financial and personnel constraints that limited its ability to interview personnel and gather information and documents relevant to its mandate. Documents from the U.S. and other countries could thus help to fill important gaps in the CAVR's knowledge of human rights violations from 1974 to 1979 and the role of international actors in supporting the invasion and occupation of East Timor. Second, our work with the CAVR builds on the Archive's collaboration with and support for other national truth commissions in Central and Latin America. Finally, we felt it was critical to clarify the U.S. role in one of the most horrific acts of mass violence in post-World War II history. The work of truth commissions in Guatemala, Argentina and other nations has demonstrated that mass atrocities such as those committed in East Timor often have a crucial international dimension in the form of military, diplomatic and political support provided for human rights abusing regimes by the international community, including the United States.

Much remains unknown about the U.S. relationship with the authoritarian Suharto regime between 1975 and 1998, the nature of Washington's military support for the Indonesian armed forces and U.S. knowledge of ongoing atrocities and abuses in East Timor and Indonesia itself during this period. These documents represent a first, fragmentary step in recovering this history.

In January 2003 the CAVR wrote to U.S. President George W. Bush requesting the Administration's cooperation in declassifying U.S. documents on a select number of egregious cases of human rights abuses, U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, and Indonesian military/militia violence in 1999. While the U.S. did provide financial assistance to the CAVR process, the Bush Administration released no documents to the commission in response to its requests.

During this same period, however, Archive staff and researchers gathered some 2,000 pages of documents from the National Archives and the Nixon, Ford and Carter presidential libraries. The project director also filed approximately 150 Freedom of Information Act and Mandatory Review requests resulting in the declassification and release of more than 1,000 documents totaling nearly 4,500 pages. Archive staff transferred these documents in PDF format onto a CD-ROM with an Excel index and gave them to the CAVR. The CAVR in turn used these documents to help draft portions of its final report dealing with the history of Indonesia's invasion and occupation and the role of international actors.

Getting the Documents

The vast bulk of the documents declassified for the CAVR by the Indonesia-East Timor documentation project concern the period immediately leading up to and following the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (1975 through 1978), as well as the months leading up to and following East Timor's 1999 vote for independence. Hundreds of additional documents have since been declassified, including more than 1,000 pages concerning the 1999 referendum and Indonesian sponsorship of terrorist militias in East Timor. Many of these documents will be made available in future Archive briefing books (copies of which will be provided to the East Timorese government), and eventually in a larger published collection of documents concerning U.S. relations with Indonesia during the Suharto New Order period (1965 to 1999).

What the Documents Show

The Archive's postings reveal a consistent pattern by successive U.S. administrations - stretching over twenty-five years - of subordinating East Timor's right to self-determination to its relations with Indonesia. They also demonstrate that Washington realized Indonesia's intention of taking East Timor by force far earlier than previously recognized, was aware of - and discounted or suppressed - credible reports of ongoing Indonesian atrocities from 1975 to 1983, turned a blind eye to the extensive use of U.S. weapons in East Timor, and through 1999 viewed the crisis in East Timor primarily as a distraction from its priority of maintaining close relations with the Indonesian government and armed forces. (Since this briefing book overlaps with the Archive's previous document release on East Timor, readers are encouraged to consult that briefing book for more background on the Portuguese revolution, the decolonization of East Timor, the period immediately surrounding the invasion of East Timor and other essential material) Among the revelations in these documents:

  • Almost immediately after Portugal's so-called "Carnation Revolution" in 1974 U.S. officials, along with their British and Australian counterparts, became aware of Indonesia's intentions of incorporating the territory of Portuguese Timor, by force if necessary. As early as December, 1974, Document 2 demonstrates, Indonesian officials were sounding out the views of U.S. officials regarding a military takeover of Timor.
  • Nearly ten months prior to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and the State Department were paying close attention to the Indonesian military buildup and propaganda campaign. By March, 1975, Document 4 shows, the National Security Council was recommending "a policy of silence" regarding Indonesia's intention to "incorporate Portuguese Timor by force."
  • As previously leaked CIA intelligence analyses show, the Ford Administration followed Indonesia's mounting invasion of East Timor on a nearly daily basis and at the highest levels. In Document 9, a transcript of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's October 8, 1975 staff meeting, the Secretary was told "It looks like the Indonesians have begun the attack on Timor." Kissinger's only response was to ask his staff "I'm assuming you're really going to keep your mouth shut on this subject?"
  • As Document 11 reveals, on the eve of President Ford and Secretary Kissinger's December 5, 1975 arrival in Jakarta, upon hearing that an Indonesian invasion of East Timor was imminent, the U.S. State Department explicitly suggested that U.S. Ambassador David Newsom request that Indonesia "take no military action until well after the President's departure from Jakarta."
  • Ford Administration officials knew from the start that Indonesia launched its invasion of East Timor almost entirely with U.S. equipment, and that the use of this equipment was illegal. A National Security Council report compiled less than a week after the invasion, Document 15 offers a weapon-by-weapon description of the U.S. arms used by invading Indonesian troops.
  • Anxious about a possible cutoff of U.S. military assistance to Indonesia in the wake of its invasion of East Timor, Document 16 records U.S. Ambassador Newsom recommending contingency plans for covertly circumventing any possible Congressional ban.
  • In mid-1977, Carter Administration officials, led by then National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, blocked attempts (Document 23) by a U.S. Congressman, Donald Fraser (MN) to obtain a copy of the explosive cable transcribing President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger's December 6, 1975 meeting with Indonesian President Suharto in which Ford and Kissinger "went out of their way on the eve of the GOI move on Timor to assure Suharto of an understanding attitude by the U.S." Twenty four years later, in December 2001, the National Security Archive published the full text of this cable.
  • In a May 10, 1978 meeting with President Suharto in Jakarta (Document 29), then Vice-President Walter Mondale discussed with the Indonesian President the Administration's desire for expanded arms sales to Jakarta and recommended "how to handle public relations aspects of the [Timor] problem" in ways that would "have a beneficial impact on U.S. public opinion."
  • Through the 1980s, U.S. officials continued to receive credible reports of Indonesian massacres of Timorese civilians. As these cables (Document 33 and Document 34) concerning Indonesian military massacres of hundreds of civilians in September 1983 demonstrate, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta generally dismissed such reports, even when they came from Indonesian sources.
  • By 1993, the U.S. Ambassador in Jakarta was suggesting (Document 36) that the Suharto regime's effort to integrate East Timor into Indonesia had failed, observing that "the repressive and pervasive Indonesian military presence is the main obstacle to the government's goal of integration," a goal which would "never be palatable as long as it is demanded at gunpoint."
  • In September 1999 the CIA reported (Document 38) on Indonesian military and militia violence following East Timor's vote for independence as a form of terrorism, reporting that "the military has supported or worked alongside the militias."
  • Even after Indonesia's wanton destruction of East Timor in September 1999, the murder of an estimated 1500 Timorese and the reluctant severing of U.S. military ties with Indonesia, U.S. Ambassador Jean Stapleton Roy told Indonesian military officials (Document 39) of the Clinton Administration's desire to not let East Timor "further damage ties between the two nations" and emphasized the need to "pay attention to Indonesian sensitivities" regarding the deaths of Indonesians in East Timor during the 24 year Indonesian occupation.

Documents
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1: Memo from Walt Rostow to Averell Harriman, "Indonesia and Portuguese Timor," February 5, 1963, 16pp.
Source: National Archives and Records Administration

This contingency paper prepared by the State Department more than twelve years before Indonesia's invasion of East Timor demonstrates that the U.S. government had long been concerned about possible Indonesian designs on the territory. It argues that "self-determination for Portuguese Timor is meaningless for the indefinite future," but notes that "Indonesia has no legal basis for a claim to the territory." In the event of an Indonesian attack on Timor, something the State Department considers virtually inevitable, the paper concludes that the U.S. would have "for reasons of principle" to "take action against Indonesia at the U.N."

Document 2: National Security Council Memo from W.R. Smyser to Henry Kissinger, "Another Meeting with Your Indonesian Contacts," December 30, 1974, 2pp.
Source: Gerald Ford Library

This memo summarizes a recent meeting with Indonesian Defense Attaché? General Nichlaney and refers to Kissinger's back channel contacts with Indonesian officials. Nichlaney describes the Indonesian government's "interest in knowing the American attitude toward Portuguese Timor (and, by implication, our reaction to a possible Indonesian takeover)."

Document 3: U.S. Embassy Jakarta Telegram, "Propaganda Campaign re Portuguese Timor Continues; As the Official Denials of GOI Plans for Military Takeover," February 27, 1975, 4pp.
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

This telegram describes "obvious GOI-authored propaganda" in the Indonesian press alleging a "hate Indonesia" campaign in Portuguese Timor and warning of a looming Communist takeover. Notes "mixed signals currently emanating from Jakarta re GOI intentions vis-à-vis Portuguese Timor, as well as embarrassment of GOI over widespread reports planned Indonesian takeover," referring to leaked Indonesian military plans published in the Australian press.

Document 4: National Security Council Memo from W.R. Smyser to Henry Kissinger, "Policy Regarding Possible Indonesian Military Action against Portuguese Timor," March 4, 1975
Source: Gerald Ford Library

This "Top Secret" memo spells out for the National Security Advisor Indonesian political and military preparations for a move to "incorporate Portuguese Timor by force" and outlines possible U.S. policy responses. Reports U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia David Newsom's recommendation of "a policy of silence" and argument that the U.S. has "considerable interests in Indonesia and none in Timor." Kissinger signs off on Smyser's recommendations.

Document 5: Telegram 3399 from U.S. Consulate Surabaya to U.S. Embassy Jakarta, "Estimate of Indonesian Military Capabilities," March 3, 1975

Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

Cable outlines likely problems confronting any Indonesian invasion of East Timor, noting that "there is no potential reservoir of sympathy for Indonesian over lordship among the Timorese elite or the population at large." The U.S. consul concludes that "without local intelligence and a sympathetic population, conducting military operations in Timor would tax the capabilities of the best armed forces in the world."

Document 6: Telegram 10244 from U.S. Embassy in Jakarta to State Department, "Indonesia and Portuguese Timor," August 21, 1975
Source: Gerald Ford Library

In this crucial record of a conversation between U.S. Ambassador Newsom and General Yoga of the Indonesian Armed Forces, the Ambassador outlined U.S. policy in support East Timor's "peaceful" incorporation into Indonesia, but cautions that forcible incorporation might trigger a Congressional aid cutoff. Newsom goes on to note, however, in what can only be characterized as a diplomatic wink and nod, "the executive was more sympathetic to Indonesia's position than the Congress, and that he hoped Yoga understood."

Document 7: Memorandum of Conversation between Presidents Ford and Suharto, 5 July 1975, 12:40 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, National Security Adviser Memoranda of Conversations, Box 13, July 5, 1965 - Ford, Kissinger, Indonesian President Suharto

This document records a conversation between Suharto and Ford at Camp David on July 5, 1975, five months before the invasion of East Timor. Speaking only a few months after the collapse of the Thieu regime in South Vietnam, the two presidents shared a tour d'horizon of East Asian political issues, U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, international investment, and Portuguese decolonization. Fearing greater political and ideological ferment in the region following the Communist victory in Vietnam, Suharto saw his ideological concoction "Pancasila" (possibly misspelled "Pantechistita" in the document) as useful, no doubt because its emphasis on consensus excluded any oppositional political activity.(19) Not taking “consensus” for granted, Suharto wanted U.S. help in building up his military machine to increase its mobility for dealing with insurgent elements, noting that, “Especially at this moment, intelligence and territorial operations are very important.” Ford proposed setting up a joint commission to scrutinize Suharto's military request but wanted Kissinger to settle the details.

Suharto brought up the question of Portuguese decolonization in East Timor proclaiming his support for “self-determination” but also dismissing independence as unviable: “So the only way is to integrate [East Timor] into Indonesia.” Without mentioning Fretilin by name, Suharto misleadingly characterized it as “almost Communist” and criticized the group for boycotting the decolonization meeting in Macao. Suharto claimed that Indonesia did not want to interfere with East Timor's self-determination but implied that it might have to because “those who want independence are those who are Communist-influenced.”

While Lisbon still had legal sovereignty over East Timor, apparently neither Ford nor Suharto discussed the implications for Indonesian policy. Although Washington had worked closely with the Salazar dictatorship that ruled Portugal for decades, it was now deeply suspicious of the new social democratic regime in Lisbon; with its exaggerated concerns about a Communist coup, the Ford administration considered the possibility of expelling Portugal from NATO and supporting an independence movement in the Azores (where the U.S. had important military facilities). Thus, from Ford's and Kissinger's perspective in 1975, Portugual's role in the region was of little interest and did not pose an important obstacle to Indonesian action. That some left-leaning Portuguese officers had contacts with Fretilin undoubtedly made the White House even less inclined to concern itself with Portugal's response to Indonesian action in East Timor.

Document 8: The Secretary's Principals and Regional Staff Meeting, 12 August 1975
Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Office of the Secretary of State, Transcripts of HAK Staff Meetings, 1973-1977, Box 8

Apparently encouraged by his meeting with President Ford, Suharto returned from Washington on July 8 and made his first public statement suggesting that an independent East Timor was not viable. Only days later, UDT leaders launched their coup with the hope that they could suppress Fretilin. During an August 12 discussion of the coup, Henry Kissinger and his close advisers were not altogether sure what was happening, but did not disagree with Assistant Secretary Philip Habib's statement that the Indonesians would not let a “communist-dominated group,” i.e., Fretilin, take over. Kissinger, in particular, assumed that an Indonesian takeover would take place “sooner or later.” Believing that Australia, a key regional ally, would feel “impelled” to support self-determination for the Timorese, Kissinger and his advisers wanted to avoid controversy over the issue. They quickly agreed that the State Department should make no comment on the coup or related events.

A few days later, the Australian ambassador in Jakarta relayed a statement by U.S. ambassador John Newsom that summarized Washington's approach but alluded to a problem that Kissinger and his advisers had not specifically discussed on August 12. The message noted Newsom’s August 16 comment that if Indonesia were to invade East Timor, it [should] do so “effectively, quickly, and not use our equipment.” The U.S. ambassador recognized that there was a congressional prohibition on Indonesia’s use of military gear financed by U.S. aid for anything but defensive operations. Kissinger would come to understand the problem, if he did not already, but as document four suggests, he was not willing to let it tie Jakarta's hands.

Document 9: The Secretary's Staff Meeting, 8 October 1975
Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Office of the Secretary of State, Transcripts of HAK Staff Meetings, 1973-1977, Box 8

Secretary of State Kissinger and his staff meet as Indonesian troops launch their first main force attacks at Balibo and other western towns in Portuguese Timor. National Security Council Staffer Philip Habib told meeting participants "It looks like the Indonesians have begun the attack on Timor," a move which raises the possibility of Congressional action to cut off aid to Indonesia. Kissinger asks Habib "There are no moral lessons to be learned from this?" "Yes. The moral lesson is that we have the guns to go in," Habib replies. Kissinger presses his staff, asking, "I'm assuming you're really going to keep your mouth shut on this subject?"

Document 10: Telegram 7933 from U.S. Embassy Canberra to State Department, "FRETELIN Approach to Embassy," November 26, 1975
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

Just days before Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, Fretilin spokesperson for foreign affairs Jose Ramos-Horta meets with a U.S. embassy officer in Canberra, Australia. Horta warns that "an Indonesian invasion of East Timor is imminent." The Embassy officer listens to Horta's request for U.S. assistance "without comment."

Document 11: State Department Telegram 286 from Washington to USDEL Secretary Aircraft NIACT Immediate, "Portuguese Timor," December 5, 1975
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

Although the Ford Administration had known for a year that Indonesia was prepared to invade and annex East Timor by force, East Timor's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on November 28, 1975 provided President Suharto and the Indonesian military with the public justification for intervention that they had been seeking. The day before President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's arrival in Jakarta, the State Department informed Kissinger of Suharto's "decision" to "initiate a major military intervention in Timor between December 6-8," a move which would prove a "serious embarrassment for the President's visit." This important cable raises the possibility of the U.S. Ambassador "requesting the Indonesians … to take no military action until well after the President's departure from Jakarta."

Documents 12a and 12b:

Document 12a: Memorandum to President Ford from Henry A. Kissinger, "Your Visit to Indonesia," ca. 21 November 1975

Document 12b: Enclosure to Document 12, State Department Briefing Paper, "Indonesia and East Timor," ca. 21 November 1975

This Kissinger memorandum, prepared for President Ford some two weeks before the two were to visit to Jakarta, indicates that the administration's larger strategic interests in Indonesia made it unlikely that Washington would make a fuss over East Timor. The eventual fate of East Timor was evidently a relatively low priority for Kissinger and his staff—it was the twelfth and final item mentioned in the memo. While Kissinger, in the memo, acknowledged that the Indonesians have been “maneuvering to absorb the colony” through negotiations with Portugal and “covert military operations in the colony itself,” he apparently did not expect an overt invasion using U.S.-supplied military equipment. Indeed, his memo and the briefing paper on “Indonesia and Portuguese Timor” both indicate that to do so would violate U.S. law, suggesting that this consideration had induced "restraint" on the part of Jakarta. Moreover, and in contrast to Habib's view that Fretelin was "Communist-dominated," the author of the briefing paper more accurately characterized the Front as "vaguely left-wing."

Document 13: Telegram 3749 from State Department to USDEL Secretary of State, December 4, 1975
Source: Kissinger-Scowcroft Temporary Parallel File, Box A3, Country File, Far East-Indonesia

Document 14: Memorandum to Thomas Barnes from the National Intelligence Officer for Japan and Pacific Asia, "The Outlook for Timor," December 12, 1975
Source: NSC Country Files, EAP, Indonesia, Box 6, GFL, Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

This "Top Secret" intelligence analysis predicts that East Timorese Fretilin guerrillas will not be able to prevent Indonesia from establishing control over East Timor or establishing "an Indonesian-sponsored regime in Dili," though they may be able to continue military resistance more or less indefinitely. It further notes that "most members of the world community … want to bury this issue as soon as possible." East Timor's isolation, moreover, will "facilitate the efforts the Indonesians are sure to make to keep information on Timorese dissidents from reaching the outside world."

Document 15: Memo from Clinton Granger to Brent Scowcroft, "Indonesian use of MAP equipment in East Timor," December 12, 1975
Source: NSC Country Files, EAP, Indonesia, Box 6, GFL, Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

A week after the invasion of East Timor the National Security Council prepared a detailed analysis of the Indonesian military units involved and the U.S. equipment they used. The analysis reveals that virtually all of the military equipment used in the invasion was U.S. supplied: U.S.-supplied destroyer escorts shelled East Timor as the attack unfolded; Indonesian marines disembarked from U.S.-supplied landing craft; U.S.-supplied C-47 and C-130 aircraft dropped Indonesian paratroops and strafed Dili with .50 caliber machine guns; while the 17th and 18th Airborne brigades which led the assault on the Timorese capital were "totally U.S. MAP supported," and their jump masters U.S. trained.

Document 16: Memo from Thomas Barnes to Brent Scowcroft of the National Security Council, "Contingency Planning for Military Supply to Indonesia," February 18, 1976
Source: NSC Country Files, EAP, Indonesia, Box 6, GFL

Revelations of Indonesia's illegal use of U.S. equipment in the invasion of East Timor quickly led to calls in the U.S. Congress for a cutoff of military assistance. In this frank and revealing memo, Barnes summarizes a cable from U.S. Ambassador Newsom in which he calls for contingency planning to explore ways of circumventing a possible Congressional aid cutoff and continuing to supply Indonesia with U.S. military equipment, including co-production, provision of surplus equipment or "friendly foreign sources of compatible equipment."

Document 17: Telegram 1442 from U.S. Embassy Lisbon to State Department, "Portuguese Timor," March 5, 1976
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

This heavily excised cable summarizes a visit by an East Timorese defector from an Indonesian sponsored delegation to Lisbon. The visitor (name excised), described in the cable as the "Minister of State of the Democratic Republic of East Timor," is a former supporter of integration with Indonesia and political opponent of Fretilin who states that Indonesia is "forcing integration [of East Timor] with Indonesia against its will." The visitor alleges "numerous atrocities" against the civilian population of Timor, claims to have documentary proof of Indonesian involvement in the October 1975 murder of five Australian journalists. The embassy official comments that the source's documentation "appears genuine" and that his claims are consistent with those of other credible sources.

Document 18: Telegram 5605 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "GOI Request for Help in Timor," April 29, 1976
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

Four months after Indonesia's invasion, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC) Lt. General Moore met with Indonesian Defense Ministry Assistant for Planning Major General Yoga Supardi, who warned that Indonesia is encountering a "serious drain on resources, with shortages of ammunition for small arms, artillery, tank and naval guns," and needed helicopters, communications equipment and "ammunition of all calibers." The admission by top Indonesian officials that fierce fighting continued throughout Timor directly contradicts State Department assertions to members of the U.S. Senate that Indonesian forces were in full control of the territory and that fighting had ended.

Document 19: Telegram 6284 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "Situation in East Timor," May 13, 1976
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

On May 31, 1976 in Dili, thirty-seven hand-picked members of what Indonesia described as a "Popular Representative Assembly" unanimously voted to petition President Suharto asking for integration with Jakarta. This cable describes Indonesia's organization of this act of integration (which US officials ultimately did not attend). Indonesian officials state that "in view of extremely low level of education and continued hostility in interior, Indonesia had no choice but to stage manage to some extent" the selection of representatives who would "petition" for integration.

Document 20: Memo from Thomas Barnes to Brent Scowcroft of the National Security Council, "Military Equipment Deliveries to Indonesia," May 17, 1976
Source: NSC Country Files, EAP, Indonesia, Box 6, GFL

This memo outlines Secretary of State Kissinger's decision to renew the State Department's certification of U.S. weapons deliveries to Indonesia. In January 1976 the State Department had "quietly stopped certifying to Defense the delivery of further military equipment to Indonesia," though there was "no formal suspension, and no publicity about the action." The State Department hoped to renew certification after Assistant Secretary of State Philip Habib testified before Congress on the subject of Indonesia's use of U.S. equipment in East Timor.

Document 21: Telegram 067313 from State Department to U.S. Embassy Jakarta, "Timor," March 25, 1977
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

In March of 1977 former Australian consul to Portuguese Timor James Dunn published a report detailing charges that since December 1975 Indonesian forces had killed between 50,000 - 100,000 civilians in East Timor. When Congressman Donald Fraser called Dunn to testify before Congress, the U.S. embassy in Jakarta sent this detailed cable rejecting Dunn's charges as "exaggerated" and arguing - without citing evidence - that the situation in Timor had dramatically improved, "largely as a result of Indonesian restraint."

Document 22: Memo for Zbigniew Brzezinski from Michael Armacost, "Initiatives to Deepen Relations with Indonesia," June 14, 1977
Source: NSA Staff Materials, Far East Files, Box 4, Carter Library

This memo, drafted for President Carter, outlines proposed efforts to improve relations with the Suharto regime, which expressed worries in mid-1977 that U.S. interest in Southeast Asia "is waning" and was "perplexed" by the Carter Administration's human rights policies and the prospective phasing out of the grant military assistance program for fiscal year 1978. In the memo, Brzezinski urges the President to approve an expansion of economic assistance to the Suharto regime, ease conditions for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) of U.S. weapons, and "ease up on the human rights pressures directed at Indonesia," particularly with respect to East Timor. "The Indonesian decision is irreversible. The USG has accepted it."

Document 23: Memo from Michael Armacost to David Aaron and Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Request from Don Fraser for MemCon on President Ford Meeting with President Suharto," July 6, 1977
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

As part of his ongoing inquiry into East Timor, Congressman Donald Fraser (MN) requested a copy of the explosive memoranda of conversation between President's Ford and Suharto on the eve of Indonesia's invasion in which "Ford and Kissinger - for reasons I do not understand - went out of their way on the eve of the GOI move on Timor to assure Suharto of an understanding attitude by the U.S." Armacost recommends that the Administration invoke Executive Privilege to refuse release of the document, which he argues would "create a very damaging precedent in terms of preserving the confidentiality surrounding Presidential meetings with foreign leaders" and upset Kissinger. Brzezinzki agrees, preventing full release of the document for twenty four years.

Document 24: Action Memo from Maynes, Holbrooke, Hansen and Derian to Philip Habib, "UNGA Resolution on East Timor," November 1, 1977
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

For the third year in a row the U.N. General Assembly voted on a resolution condemning Indonesia's continuing occupation of East Timor and calling for self-determination, prompting a revealing assessment of the stakes involved in the U.S. stance. The memo notes that voting in favor of the resolution would "dramatically underscore our human rights concerns" and "conform to our position that the U.N. has a responsibility to deal with problems relating to human rights, including self determination (emphasis added)." Instead, the State Department recommended voting against the U.N. resolution (citing "problems" such as its mention of East Timor's right to self determination) as a way to "remove this irritant as we continue pressing the GOI for progress on human rights matters throughout Indonesia as well as in East Timor."

Document 25: Telegram 17202 from Jakarta to State, "East Timor," December 23, 1977
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

In 1977, reports began to emerge from East Timor about Indonesia's use of U.S.-supplied OV-10 Bronco aircraft, amid claims about their possible use for spraying chemical defoliants. In response to Congressional questions, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta assured the State Department that it had received "no reports that Indonesians have used chemical sprays in areas under Fretilin control" and that Indonesia's use of OV-10s in East Timor "has thus far been limited to machine guns, rockets, and perhaps bombs."

Document 26: Telegram 0021 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "General Murdani's Views on East Timor," January 3, 1978
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

This cable summarizes a meeting with General Benny Murdani, Assistant for Intelligence, Indonesian Department of Defense and Security, recently returned from a visit to East Timor. More than two years after Indonesia's invasion, Murdani states that "considerable time will still be required to achieve stability" due to continued Fretilin guerrilla operations. An observer (name excised) estimates that up to half a million Timorese may be beyond the control of Indonesian military forces - more than 80% of the territory's population.

Document 27: Memorandum for the President from the Vice President, "Visit to the Pacific," April 26, 1978
Source: NSA Staff Materials, Far East Files, Box 7, Carter Library

From May 9 to May 10, Vice President Walter Mondale visited Indonesia as part of a larger regional visit and the Carter Administration's initiative to "deepen relations" with the Suharto regime. This Memo for President Carter requested his approval for Mondale's policy goals for the trip, including the expedited delivery of sixteen A-4 fighter jets to Indonesia, which was then preparing for a massive campaign of aerial bombardment of East Timor in an effort to crush armed resistance to its occupation of the territory. Mondale's briefing memo makes no mention of East Timor.

Document 28: Memo for Deputy Executive Secretary of State Frank Wisner, "Presidential Guidance on A-4s," May 9, 1978
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

Shortly before his visit to Jakarta in May 1978, Vice President Walter Mondale wrote President Carter to request accelerated approval for the sale of sixteen A-4 fighter jets to Jakarta. On May 9, as Mondale arrived in Indonesia, President Carter issued a special Presidential Guidance approving the sale. Crucially, the guidance sought clarification "on the circumstances in which they envision the planes will be used, in particular in East Timor (emphasis added)."

Document 29: Telegram 12521 from Document: Telegram 6076 from Jakarta to State, "Summary of Vice President's Meeting with Suharto," May 10, 1978
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

In a May 10 meeting with Indonesian President Suharto, Mondale noted that Indonesia's 1977 release of thousands of political detainees had "helped create a favorable climate of opinion in the Congress" for expanded American arms sales. He suggested to Suharto that releasing prisoners more regularly would further improve public opinion and deflect criticism - a suggestion the regime later implemented. The Vice President likewise noted the two nations' "mutual concerns regarding East Timor," in particular "how to handle public relations aspects of the problem." As with the problem of political detainees, Mondale suggested that allowing humanitarian groups such as Catholic Relief Services access to East Timor would not only help refugees in the area (overwhelmingly generated by Indonesian military operations) but "have a beneficial impact on U.S. public opinion."

Document 30: Telegram 12521 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "Ambassador's visit to East Timor: Indonesian Policy and Possible U.S. Response," September 14, 1978
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

By 1978 Indonesia had gained firm enough control over East Timor's capital of Dili and other major cities that it felt it could bring in foreign observers on tours tightly scripted by Indonesian military officials. From September 6 to September 8 U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ed Masters traveled to East Timor with nine other foreign ambassadors to view the "basic GOI approach to the East Timor problem." The resulting cable offers extensive praise of Indonesian efforts in Timor, claiming the Indonesian military presence had been much reduced, movement was free, refugees being taken care of, and Indonesia devoted to the economic development of the province. Master's visit comes at the tail end of Operation Seroja, a territory-wide Indonesian campaign of aerial bombardment, encirclement and forced relocation of tens of thousands of Timorese in which thousands are reported to have died.

Document 31: Telegram 10200 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "Impressions after June 10 attack in East Timor," June 25, 1980
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

On June 10, 1980, East Timorese guerrillas attacked the TV station and Indonesian troops in the town of Dare on the outskirts of the Timorese capital of Dili, demonstrating a continued ability to launch sizeable military operations. In retaliation, Indonesian troops killed or disappeared at least 73 Timorese civilians over the next several weeks. This cable recounts the impressions of a recent visitor to East Timor in the wake of the Dare attack, which caused "distress and embarrassment for security officials, and they can be expected to takes steps to prevent a repetition of the attack."

Document 32: Telegram 17317 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "Briefing on the Military Situation in East Timor," November 17, 1981
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

In the summer of 1981 the Indonesian military in East Timor launched Operation Keamanan, which among other tactics involved the forced recruitment of thousands of Timorese made to walk across large parts of the territory in the hopes of flushing out Fretilin guerrillas. According to later reports thousands of Timorese died during these operations from starvation and disease. This cable describes a briefing received by U.S. Embassy officials from the Indonesian military on "the strategy and results of the recent operation to eliminate Fretilin remnants." The cable notes that "normal life and agricultural activity in the eastern half of the province would have been severely disrupted" by the operations, although the embassy official did not discuss civilian casualties of the operation. As a result of the operation, thousands of civilian supporters of Fretilin had been sent to Atauro island (an island off the north coast converted to a giant prison camp) where, according to Indonesian military officials prisoners were being "brainwashed."

Document 33: Telegram 14397 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "___views on East Timor developments," September 9, 1983
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

Document 34: Telegram 15303 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "Current Developments in East Timor," September 23, 1983
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

In August 1983 Fretilin guerrillas attacked Indonesian military forces at the airport in Dili, killing 18 soldiers. In response to the attack, and as part of a larger military offensive involving 10,000-12,000 troops, Indonesian soldiers carried out several large massacres: of 200-300 civilians near the town of Viqueque, and at least 500 civilians in villages near Mount Bibileu. These two lengthy cables describe those operations and the breakdown of the ceasefire which preceded it, and fits a persistent pattern lasting from 1975 to 1999 in which U.S. Embassy officials expressed skepticism over the scale or even the existence of Indonesian atrocities in East Timor. In the second cable, the embassy officer repeats the claim, apparently from an Indonesian source (whose identity is excised), of several hundred killed near Viqueque.

Document 35: Telegram 38327 from State Department to U.S. Mission Geneva, "UNHRC: Contingency Paper on East Timor," February 9, 1993
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

In February 1993 the new U.S. Administration of Bill Clinton co-sponsored a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting critical of Indonesia's human rights record and the situation in East Timor. The UNHRC vote came in the wake of Indonesia's massacre of more than 270 East Timorese civilians in the capitol of Dili in November 1991. Following the massacre, which subsequent statements by Indonesian officials suggested was an act of official policy, scores of nonviolent activists received lengthy prison terms for taking part in the demonstration that led to the massacre and in demonstrations in Indonesia protesting the killings, while a handful of low-ranking military officials received miniscule sentences or reassignments. This cable, which discusses the U.S. stance regarding East Timor at the 1993 UNHRC meeting, demonstrates the limits of U.S. human rights policy toward East Timor. While calling for a fuller account of Timorese still missing from the 1991 massacre and "reductions of the harsh sentences given to civilian demonstrators," the U.S. delegation "welcomed" and was "encouraged" by the Indonesian government's widely condemned response to the killings.

Document 36: Telegram 02365 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to State Department, "East Timor and Human Rights in Indonesia: A Fresh Look," March 5, 1993
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

In February 1993 U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Barry traveled to East Timor and came back apparently convinced of the need for a change in both Indonesian and U.S. policy toward East Timor. This important analysis of the situation inside East Timor early in the Clinton Administration notes that "the repressive and pervasive Indonesian military presence is the main obstacle to the government's goal of integration." Barry describes the mood in East Timor as "grim and repressive" and notes that "given the cruelty of Indonesian Army pacification tactics over the years, it is little wonder that their omnipresence is a source of smoldering resentment." Presciently, Barry describes Bishop Carlos Belo (who in 1996 won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Jose Ramos-Horta) as an "influential and articulate spokesman for the Timorese cause." While ruling out self-determination, notes that some Indonesians and collaborationist Timorese leaders advocate some form of autonomy as a means of increasing Timorese support for integration. Barry expresses skepticism, concluding that "integration will never be palatable as long as it is demanded at gunpoint."

Document 37: CIA Terrorism Review, August 1999
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

Revealing virtually nothing and wholly excised, this CIA Terrorism Review illustrates the problems that scholars of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor face in prying loose documents from the U.S. government. The report suggests, however, that the Administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton did consider Indonesian military and militia operations in East Timor in the months leading up to its August 30, 1999 referendum to be a form of terrorism.

Document 38: CIA Terrorism Review, September 1999
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive (390.pdf)

In the wake of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence, Indonesian military its militia proxies launched a scorched earth campaign in which an estimated 1,500 Timorese were killed, more than 250,000 Timorese forcibly driven across the border into West Timor, and an estimated 80% of East Timor's infrastructure destroyed. This heavily excised CIA Terrorism review confirms, if in the most muted language, the Indonesian military's involvement in the post-referendum violence, stating that "the military has supported or worked alongside the militias" and noting that "the militias' capabilities to carry out attacks, however, will depend in part on continued support from Indonesian military elements."

Document 39: Telegram 4662 from U.S. Embassy Jakarta to the State Department, "Meeting with _____," September 22, 1999
Source: Freedom of Information Act Release to the National Security Archive

With members of the Australian-led International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) arriving in Dili, East Timor, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia J. Stapleton Roy meets with an Indonesian General (name excised) to discuss the deployment and the larger question of U.S.-Indonesian relations. The General expressed strong opposition to Indonesian President B.J. Habibie's East Timor policy, which he suggests was never supported by the Indonesian Armed Forces. Remarkably, just days after the U.S. severing of military ties with Indonesia over the destruction of East Timor, Ambassador Roy told to his Indonesian colleague that the U.S. "does not want East Timor to further damage ties between the two nations" and emphasized the need to "pay attention to Indonesian sensitivities" regarding the deaths of Indonesians in East Timor during the 24 year Indonesian occupation. Appropriately, the Indonesian General ended this revealing conversation by reminding the Ambassador that "should not forget the starting point in East Timor" and the "strong support" of both the U.S. and Australia for Indonesia's 1975 invasion and subsequent occupation of the territory.

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