Indonesia has recalled its ambassador from Australia following reports the country’s security agency tried to tap the mobile phone of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The latest leak from former US National Security Agency worker Edward Snowden said the agency also targeted the phones of Indonesian first lady Kristiani Herawati and another eight government ministers and officials.
The documents said that the Australian Defence Signals Directorate, now the top-secret Australian Signals Directorate, attempted to listen to the president’s phone conversations on at least one occasion and tracked activity on the phone for 15 days in August 2009.
The diplomatic spat is the second in less than a month between Indonesia and Australia stemming from other Snowden revelations linking Australia with US espionage.
It is an early test for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s new government, which was elected in September and is anxious to cement ties with its near-neighbour before the uncertainty of Indonesian presidential elections next year.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the president had “directly ordered” the ambassador, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, to be recalled.
Mr Abbott, who was not in government in 2009, declined to comment on the reports in parliament. “All governments gather information, and all governments know that every other government gathers information,” he said.
“The Australian government uses all the resources at its disposal – including information – to help our friends and our allies, not to harm them.”
But Bob Carr, Australia’s foreign minister until Mr Abbott’s coalition won September elections, advised him to assure Mr Yudhoyono that if his phone had been tapped, it would not happen again.
“If the American president can give a guarantee to Angela Merkel of Germany that America won’t be overhearing what she says on the phone, then we ought to be able to do it without any trouble to the president of Indonesia,” Mr Carr said.