also A Letter to the Editor, New York Review of
Books, April 10, 1997
The following article first appeared in the Spartanburg, South
May 19, 1990. It was published in the San
Francisco Examiner on
May 20, the Washington
May 21, 1990, and the Boston
May 23, 1990. This version is from the Examiner.
Ex-agents say CIA compiled death lists for
After 25 years, Americans speak
of their role in exterminating Communist Party
by Kathy Kadane, States News Service, 1990
WASHINGTON - The U.S. government played a significant role in one of
the worst massacres of the century by supplying the names of
thousands of Communist Party leaders to the Indonesian army, which
hunted down the leftists and killed them, former U.S. diplomats say.
For the first time, U.S. officials acknowledge that in 1965 they
systematically compiled comprehensive lists of Communist operatives,
from top echelons down to village cadres. As many as 5,000 names
were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later
checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured,
according to the U.S. officials.
The killings were part of a massive bloodletting that took an
estimated 250,000 lives.
The purge of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) was part of a U.S.
drive to ensure that Communists did not come to power in the largest
country in Southeast Asia, where the United States was already
fighting an undeclared war in Vietnam. Indonesia is the fifth
most-populous country in the world.
Silent for a quarter-century, former senior U.S. diplomats and CIA
officers described in lengthy interviews how they aided Indonesian
President Suharto, then army leader, in his attack on the PKI.
"It really was a big help to the army," said Robert J. Martens, a
former member of the U.S. Embassy's political section who is now a
consultant to the State Department. "They probably killed a lot of
people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's
not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a
White House and State Department spokesmen declined comment on the
Although former deputy CIA station chief Joseph Lazarsky and former
diplomat Edward Masters, who was Martens' boss, said CIA agents
contributed in drawing up the death lists,
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, "There is no substance to the
allegation that the CIA was involved in the preparation and/or
distribution of a list that was used to track down and kill PKI
members. It is simply not true."
Indonesian Embassy spokesman Makarim Wibisono said he had no
personal knowledge of events described by former U.S. officials. "In
terms of fighting the Communists, as far as I'm concerned, the
Indonesian people fought by themselves to eradicate the Communists,"
Martens, an experienced analyst of communist affairs, headed an
embassy group of State Department and CIA officers that spent two
years compiling the lists. He later delivered them to an army
People named on the lists were captured in overwhelming numbers,
Martens said, adding, "It's a big part of the reason the PKI has
never come back."
The PKI was the third-largest Communist Party in the world, with an
estimated 3 million members. Through affiliated organizations such
as labor and youth groups it claimed the loyalties of another 17
In 1966 the Washington Post published an estimate that 500,000 were
killed in the purge and the brief civil war it triggered. In a 1968
report, the CIA estimated there had been 250,000 deaths, and called
the carnage "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century."
U.S. Embassy approval
Approval for the release of the names came from the top U.S. Embassy
officials, including former Ambassador Marshall Green, deputy chief
of mission Jack Lydman and political section chief Edward Masters,
the three acknowledged in interviews.
Declassified embassy cables and State Department reports from early
October 1965, before the names were turned over, show that U.S.
officials knew Suharto had begun roundups of PKI cadres, and that
the embassy had unconfirmed reports that firing squads were being
formed to kill PKI prisoners.
Former CIA Director William Colby, in an interview, compared the
embassy's campaign to identify the PKI leadership to the CIA's
Phoenix Program in Vietnam. In 1965, Colby was the director of the
CIA's Far East division and was responsible for directing U.S.
covert strategy in Asia.
"That's what I set up in the Phoenix Program in Vietnam -- that I've
been kicked around for a lot," he said. "That's exactly what it was.
It was an attempt to identify the structure" of the Communist Party.
Phoenix was a joint U.S.-South Vietnamese program set up by the CIA
in December 1967 that aimed at neutralizing members of the National
Liberation Front, the Vietcong political cadres. It was widely
criticized for alleged human rights abuses.
"You shoot them"
"The idea of identifying the local apparatus was designed to --
well, you go out and get them to surrender, or you capture or you
shoot them," Colby said of the Phoenix Program. "I mean, it was a
war, and they were fighting. So it was really aimed at providing
intelligence for operations rather than a big picture of the thing."
In 1962, when he took over as chief of the CIA's Far East division,
Colby said he discovered the United States did not have
comprehensive lists of PKI activists. Not having the lists "could
have been criticized as a gap in the intelligence system," he said,
adding they were useful for "operation planning" and provided a
picture of how the party was organized. Without such lists, he said,
"you're fighting blind."
Asked if the CIA had been responsible for sending Martens, a foreign
service officer, to Jakarta in 1963 to compile the lists, Colby
said, "Maybe, I don't know. Maybe we did it. I've forgotten."
The lists were a detailed who's-who of the leadership of the party
of 3 million members, Martens said. They included names of
provincial, city and other local PKI committee members, and leaders
of the "mass organizations," such as the PKI national labor
federation, women's and youth groups.
"I know we had a lot more information" about the PKI "than the
Indonesians themselves," Green said. Martens "told me on a number of
occasions that ... the government did not have very good information
on the Communist setup, and he gave me the impression that this
information was superior to anything they had."
Masters, the embassy's political section chief, said he believed the
army had lists of its own, but they were not as comprehensive as the
American lists. He said he could not remember whether the decision
to release the names had been cleared with Washington.
The lists were turned over piecemeal, Martens said, beginning at the
top of the communist organization. Martens supplied thousands of
names to an Indonesian emissary over a number of months, he said.
The emissary was an aide to Adam Malik, an Indonesian minister who
was an ally of Suharto in the attack on the Communists.
Interviewed in Jakarta, the aide, Tirta Kentjana ("Kim") Adhyatman,
confirmed he had met with Martens and received lists of thousands of
names, which he in turn gave to Malik. Malik passed them on to
Suharto's headquarters, he said.
Embassy officials carefully recorded the subsequent destruction of
the PKI organization. Using Martens' lists as a guide, they checked
off names of captured and assassinated PKI leaders, tracking the
steady dismantling of the party apparatus, former U.S. officials
Information about who had been captured and killed came from
Suharto's headquarters, according to Joseph Lazarsky, deputy CIA
station chief in Jakarta in 1965. Suharto's Jakarta headquarters was
the central collection point for military reports from around the
country detailing the capture and killing of PKI leaders, Lazarsky
"We were getting a good account in Jakarta of who was being picked
up," Lazarsky said. "The army had a 'shooting list' of about 4,000
or 5,000 people."
Detention centers were set up to hold those who were not killed
"They didn't have enough goon squads to zap them all, and some
individuals were valuable for interrogation," Lazarsky said. "The
infrastructure was zapped almost immediately. We knew what they were
doing. We knew they would keep a few and save them for the kangaroo
courts, but Suharto and his advisers said, if you keep them alive,
you have to feed them."
Masters, the chief of the political section,
said, "We had these lists" constructed by Martens, "and we were
using them to check off what was happening to the party, what the
effect" of the killings "was on it."
Lazarsky said the checkoff work was also carried out at the CIA's
intelligence directorate in Washington.
By the end of January 1966, Lazarsky said, the checked-off names
were so numerous the CIA analysts in Washington concluded the PKI
leadership had been destroyed.
"No one cared, as long as they were Communists, that they were being
butchered," said Howard Federspiel, who in 1965 was the Indonesia
expert at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and
Research. "No one was getting very worked up about it."
Asked about the checkoffs, Colby said, "We came to the conclusion
that with the sort of Draconian way it was carried out, it really
set them" -- the communists -- "back for years."
Asked if he meant the checkoffs were proof that the PKI leadership
had been caught or killed, he said, "Yeah, yeah, that's right, ...
the leading elements, yeah."
A Letter to the Editor, New
York Review of Books, April 10, 1997
To the Editors:
I very much admired Ms. Laber's piece on Indonesian politics and the
origins of the Soeharto regime. In connection with her assertion
that little is known about a CIA (or US) role in the 1965 coup and
the army massacre that followed, I would like to make your readers
aware of a compelling body of evidence about this that is publicly
available, but the public access to it is little known.
It consists of a series of on-the-record, taped interviews with the
men who headed the US embassy in Jakarta or were at high levels in
Washington agencies in 1965. I published a news story based on the
interviews in The
Washington Post ("U.S.
Officials' Lists Aided Indonesian Bloodbath in '60s," May 21, 1990),
and have since transferred the tapes, my notes, and a small
collection of documents, including a few declassified cables on
which the story was based, to the National Security Archive in
Washington, D.C. The Archive is a nongovernmental research institute
and library, located at the George Washington University.
The former officials interviewed included Ambassador Marshall Green,
Deputy Chief of Mission Jack Lydman, Political Counsellor (later
Ambassador) Edward E. Masters, Robert Martens (an analyst of the
Indonesian left working under Masters' supervision), and (then)
director of the Central Intelligence Agency's Far East division,
The tapes, along with notes of conversations, show that the United
States furnished critical intelligence -- the names of thousands of
leftist activists, both Communist and non-Communist -- to the
Indonesian Army that were then used in the bloody manhunt.
There were other details that illustrate the depth of US involvement
and culpability in the killings which I learned from former
top-level embassy officials, but have not previously published. For
example, the US provided key logistical equipment, hastily shipped
in at the last minute as Soeharto weighed the risky decision to
attack. Jeeps were supplied by the Pentagon to speed troops over
Indonesia's notoriously bad roads, along with "dozens and dozens" of
field radios that the Army lacked. As Ms. Laber noted, the US
(namely, the Pentagon) also supplied "arms." Cables show these were
small arms, used for killing at close range.
The supply of radios is perhaps the most telling detail. They served
not only as field communications but also became an element of a
broad, US intelligence-gathering operation constructed as the
manhunt went forward. According to a former embassy official, the
Central Intelligence Agency hastily provided the radios --
state-of-the-art Collins KWM-2s, high-frequency single-sideband
transceivers, the highest-powered mobile unit available at that time
to the civilian and commercial market. The radios, stored at Clark
Field in the Philippines, were secretly flown by the US Air Force
into Indonesia. They were then distributed directly to Soeharto's
headquarters -- called by its acronym KOSTRAD -- by Pentagon
representatives. The radios plugged a major hole in Army
communications: at that critical moment, there were no means for
troops on Java and the out-islands to talk directly with Jakarta.
While the embassy told reporters the US had no information about the
operation, the opposite was true. There were at least two direct
sources of information. During the weeks in which the American lists
were being turned over to the Army, embassy officials met secretly
with men from Soeharto's intelligence unit at regular intervals
concerning who had been arrested or killed. In addition, the US more
generally had information from its systematic monitoring of Army
radios. According to a former US official, the US listened in to the
broadcasts on the US-supplied radios for weeks as the manhunt went
forward, overhearing, among other things, commands from Soeharto's
intelligence unit to kill particular persons at given locations.
The method by which the intercepts were accomplished was also
described. The mobile radios transmitted to a large, portable
antenna in front of KOSTRAD (also hastily supplied by the US -- I
was told it was flown in in a C-130 aircraft). The CIA made sure the
frequencies the Army would use were known in advance to the National
Security Agency. NSA intercepted the broadcasts at a site in
Southeast Asia, where its analysts subsequently translated them. The
intercepts were then sent on to Washington, where analysts merged
them with reports from the embassy. The combined reporting,
intercepts plus "human" intelligence, was the primary basis for
Washington's assessment of the effectiveness of the manhunt as it
destroyed the organizations of the left, including, inter alia, the
Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI.
A word about the relative importance of the American lists. It
appears the CIA had some access prior to 1965 to intelligence files
on the PKI housed at the G-2 section of the Indonesian Army, then
headed by Major-General S. Parman. CIA officials had been dealing
with Parman about intelligence concerning the PKI, among other
matters, in the years prior to the coup, according to a former US
official who was involved (Parman was killed in the coup). The
former official, whose account was corroborated by others whom I
interviewed, said that the Indonesian lists, or files, were
considered inadequate by US analysts because they identified PKI
officials at the "national" level, but failed to identify thousands
who ran the party at the regional and municipal levels, or who were
secret operatives, or had some other standing, such as financier.
When asked about the possible reason for this apparent inadequacy,
former US Ambassador Marshall Green, in a December 1989 interview,
characterized his understanding this way:
I know that we had a lot more information than
the Indonesians themselves.... For one thing, it would have been
rather dangerous [for the Indonesian military to construct such
a list] because the Communist Party was so pervasive and [the
intelligence gatherers] would be fingered...because of the
people up the line [the higher-ups, some of whom sympathized
with the PKI]. In the [Indonesian] Air Force, it would have been
lethal to do that. And probably that would be true for the
police, the Marines, the Navy -- in the Army, it depended. My
guess is that once this thing broke, the Army was desperate for
information as to who was who [in the PKI].
By the end of January 1966, US intelligence assessments comparing
the American lists with the reports of those arrested or killed
showed the Army had destroyed the PKI. The general attitude was one
of great relief: "Nobody cared" about the butchery and mass arrests
because the victims were Communists, one Washington official told