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1958: The First CIA Attempt

In spite of occasional flashes of truth in the press, the real U.S. involvement in the 1965 coup is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington. Official statements on the coup and its aftermath are practically nonexistent. Somewhat more is known of the 1958 attempt to overthrow the Sukarno government in which the CIA was involved.

In their authoritative book about the CIA entitledThe Invisible Government, Washington correspondents Thomas Ross and David Wise related how the U.S. supplied a right-wing rebel force in Indonesia with arms and a small air force of B-26 bombers in an attempt to overthrow Sukarno. The attempt failed, but not before one of the American pilots, Allen Lawrence Pope, was captured by loyalist forces.

Ross and Wise explain:

Three weeks before Pope was shot down, Dwight D. Eisenhower had emphatically denied charges that the United States was supporting the rebellion against President Sukarno.

"Our policy," he said at a press conference on April 30, "is one of careful neutrality and proper deportment all the way through so as not to be taking sides where it is none of our business.

"Now on the other hand, every rebellion that I have ever heard of has its soldiers of fortune...." But Pope was no freebooting soldier of fortune. He was flying for the CIA, which was secretly supporting the rebels who were trying to overthrow Sukarno. [p. 137]

This cool revelation was never contradicted by Eisenhower or anyone else. All the authors omitted to mention was the all too obvious fact that the CIA is the arm of the United States government itself.

After the Administration changed hands and President Kennedy had arranged for Pope's exchange and invited Sukarno to Washington, the new President was somewhat more candid than the old on the subject of the U.S. try at counter-revolution in 1958.

During the visit Kennedy commented to one of his aides: "No wonder Sukarno doesn't like us very much. He has to sit down with the people who tried to overthrow him. " [p. 145]

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in his authoritative biography of President Kennedy matter-of-factly confirms this story in a chapter analyzing Sukarno:

His deep mistrust of the white West was understandably compounded in the case of the United States by his knowledge that in 1958 the CIA had participated in an effort to overthrow him. [A Thousand Days, p. 532]

Wise and Ross also pointed out some of Washington's reasons for being favorable to the right-wing generals:

And many in the CIA and the State Department saw merit in supporting these dissident elements. Even if Sukarno were not overthrown, they argued, it might be possible for Sumatra, Indonesia's big oil producer, to secede, thereby protecting private American and Dutch holdings. At the very least, the pressures of rebellion might loosen Sukarno's ties with the Communists and force him to move to the Right. At best, the Army, headed by General Abdul Haris Nasution, an anti-Communist, might come over to the rebels and force wholesale changes to the liking of the United States. [The Invisible Government, p. 139]

That attempted coup failed. But seven years and nearly a million lives later these "changes" were effected.

A series of articles written by a Times team of journalists researching the activities of the CIA has confirmed the Wise-Ross story of the 1958 CIA intervention into Indonesia's internal affairs.

In Indonesia in the same year [1958], against the advice of American diplomats, the CIA was authorized to fly supplies from Taiwan and the Philippines to aid army officers rebelling against President Sukarno in Sumatra and Java. An American pilot was shot down on a bombing mission and was released only at the insistent urging of the Kennedy Administration in 1962. Mr. Sukarno, naturally enough, drew the obvious conclusions.... [New York Times, April 25, 1966]


There has been no slacking off of CIA activity in Indonesia since 1958. On the contrary, there is every indication that the influence of this agency deepened in right-wing circles as the position of the Indonesian government moved to the left. In the same articles which the Times researchers so carefully prepared, the following remarkable statement appears:

In Southeast Asia over the last decade, the CIA has been so active that the agency in some countries has been the principal arm of American policy. It is said, for instance, to have been so successful at infiltrating the top of the Indonesian government and army that the United States was reluctant to disrupt CIA covering operations by withdrawing aid and information programs in 1964 and 1965. [New York Times, April 27, 1966]

If the intelligence agency of another country had infiltrated the U.S. government and armed forces to their highest level, and if such infiltration were followed by a coup favorable to that foreign power and consolidated by a bloodbath of monumental proportions, there should be little doubt in people' minds about what had happened.

The thread of continued U.S. infiltration, subversion and economic sabotage in Indonesia after the 1958 attempted coup can be picked up only in small pieces. But enough has been made public to get the drift of what Washington was attempting to do. Control over the army was the key factor in undermining the Sukarno regime, and every effort was bent in this direction.

Senator Eugene J. McCarthy in the July 9, 1966, issue ofSaturday Review discussed the effects that the U.S. "military assistance" program has on foreign policy. He wrote:

Supplying arms opens the way to influence on the military and also on the political policies of the recipient countries. Experience has demonstrated that when an arms deal is concluded, the military hardware is only the first step. Almost invariably, a training mission is needed and the recipient country becomes dependent on the supplier for spare parts and other ordnance.

. . . Indonesia, where military elements appear to have taken de facto control of the government in the wake of recent turmoil, received, in addition to Soviet military assistance, nearly $64,000,000 in military-grant aid from the United States between 1959 and 1965.

When Sukarno told the U.S. "To hell with your aid!" it was an attempt to break loose from this armored stranglehold.

Even with the information revealed by Ross and Wise, however, the general public hasn't the least idea how deeply the U.S. was involved in the 1958 attempt to overthrow the Sukarno government. But in the case of thesuccessful coup of 1965, not even the gossips of Washington knew what really happened. So much was at stake for U.S. big business and for the world politics of U.S. imperialism that few indeed were the slips of "security" on the Indonesian question.


Probably no one knows better than former Secretary of Defense McNamara what importance Indonesia has in Washington's Asian strategy. While he is known to have a thousand answers ready and a volume of statistics at hand on other vital subjects, he was suspiciously tight-lipped on this. In the 1967 Fulbright Committee hearings on the U.S. Foreign Assistance Program, McNamara testified at length on the results of U.S. military aid programs in many countries throughout the world. Yet he was strangely uninformative on the results of such "assistance" to Indonesia, despite the unofficial leaks from "informed sources" greeting the military coup with glee. But McNamara was too modest to take credit for it.

Not as discreet was Senator Sparkman of Alabama, who perhaps needed assurance that all this aid was worth it. In banker's language he questioned Secretary McNamara:

SEN. SPARKMAN. I want to go back to . . . our continuing military aid to Indonesia. At a time when Indonesia was kicking up pretty badly -- when we were getting a lot of criticism for continuing military aid -- at that time we could not say what that military aid was for. Is it secret any more?

SECY. McNAMARA.I think in retrospect, that the aid was well-justified. SEN. SPARKMAN.You think it paid dividends?

SECY. McNAMARA. I do sir.

[Foreign Assistance Hearings,
p. 693]


In the prolonged period between the abortive coup attempt of 1958 when the CIA pilot was shot down and the successful military takeover in 1965, even top-ranking members of Congress were kept in the dark about the progress of U.S. subversion and infiltration.

One such Congressman was Clement Zablocki, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Far East. The extent of the secrecy shrouding relations between the U.S. and key persons in the Indonesian military and government can be judged by the fact that Zablocki, a Congressional "watchdog" over the U.S. interests in Asia, did not know in the summer of 1965, a few short months before the coup, why the Administration wanted to increase military aid to Indonesia.

Rep. Zablocki's committee was worried that increased military aid to Indonesia, which was being urged by the State Department after Johnson sent Ellsworth Bunker on a special mission to Djakarta in March, would be used to implement President Sukarno's outspokenly anti-imperialist policies. Called to testify before the committee in closed-door hearings was Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, William Bundy. What's the purpose of this aid, the committee wanted to know. Won't it be used in the campaign against Malaysia? "I want to point out," replied Bundy carefully, "that this equipment is being sold to the Indonesian army and not the Indonesian government." "What's the difference?" demanded Rep. William Broomfield. "It will be used against Malaysia." "We hope not," said Bundy. "When Sukarno leaves the scene, the military will probably take over. We want to keep the door open."

Broomfield continued to press the point, asking what "proof" the State Department had that the army leaders would be friendly to the United States. "We have hopes," was Bundy's reply. (Allen-Scott report -- Hall Syndicate, July 15, 1965]

Bundy's reticence to allay the fears of his less-informed colleagues seems to be the policy of top-level Administration personnel when questioned about Indonesia. As James Reston pointed out "Washington is being careful not to claim any credit" for the coup "but this does not mean that Washington had nothing to do with it." [New York Times, June 19, 1966] And former Secretary of Defense McNamara, who could have adopted an I-told-you-so attitude when reminded in the spring of 1966 by Senator Sparkman of earlier criticism of the military aid program, modestly limited his comment to "I think, in retrospect that the aid was well-justified."

By now, Zablocki must surely be convinced that it wasn't out of some idealistic urge or altruism that Washington tightened its connections with the Indonesian military. Since the takeover led by Generals Nasution and Suharto, Indonesia has moved into the American orbit. Final proof of this was the visit of the new Indonesian Foreign Minister, Adam Malik, to then President Johnson in September of 1966. And on that trip, Malik also dropped in on Zablocki and personally reassured him that the new government was "friendly" to the United States.


Malik's visit to the U.S. in September 1966 was the first by an Indonesian official of the "New Order." Columnist Marianne Means of the World Journal Tribune, after an exclusive interview with Malik wrote of his "friendship" with Hubert Humphrey. [WJT, Sept. 28, 1966]

Minneapolis -- A private plane carrying Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik and three aides glided unobtrusively into Wold-Chamberlain airport here at 10 a.m. last Sunday on a mission of international significance.

Malik, the top civilian in the government of Gen. Suharto, which seized power last October from pro-Communist President Sukarno, was hurrying to a private rendezvous with Vice President Humphrey in his elegant Sheraton-Ritz suite.

Protocol was ignored, for Malik had a very special motive for the conference and the Vice President was forced to wedge the meeting into a crammed campaign schedule.

Malik, who is visiting this country to arrange Indonesia's reentry into the United Nations, later indicated in a private interview the reason for the journey -- the Vice President had played a heretofore secret, but important, role in encouraging the democratic forces in Indonesia.

Humphrey, then Senate Whip and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, met Malik in 1963 at the ceremonial signing of the limited test ban treaty in Moscow. The men began to exchange messages, directly and through emissaries.

Humphrey conferred with President Kennedy, who authorized him to continue his unofficial personal contacts with the Indonesians and to urge them not to lose faith....

Thus the stage was set for their first face-to-face meeting in three years. During their talk, Malik assured the Vice President that Indonesia will use its efforts, slowly at first but inevitably, toward reducing Communist Chinese influence in Southeast Asia. Malik said one of the first steps envisioned is the development of a regional alliance with other non-Communist nations, such as Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. Malik also stressed to the Vice President that U.S. resistance to Communist aggression in South Vietnam had given heart to the leaders of the Indonesia revolt.

As he left the suite, Malik paused on the doorsill: "Goodbye, my old and dear friend," he said softly.

This remarkable article tells us a good deal. First, that a high-ranking member of the U.S. government engaged for two years in subversion against the Republic of Indonesia, encouraging members of the military who were opposed to their country's policies. That when these elements finally seized power, with the "encouragement" of the mightiest nation on earth, and massacred up to a million people, the "friendship" between these two great "democrats" ripened. And that part of the payoff for the deal was a reversal of Indonesia's foreign policy to one of support for U.S. aggression in Southeast Asia.

Humphrey had an opportunity to pay Malik, and the ruling generals, a return visit in November of 1967. Whatever promises and mutual congratulations were made in his private talks with Malik and General Suharto remain in the "confidential" category. One can only guess. But Humphrey's concern lest people get "the wrong idea" about what happened in Indonesia did make it into the press. [New York Times. Nov. 5, 1967]

Vice President Humphrey opened his visit to Indonesia today by publicly denying reports that have aroused anti-American feeling among Jakarta's leaders. It is not true, he said, that the United States action in Vietnam touched off the overthrow of Indonesia's leftist ruler, President Sukarno.

Speaking to about 200 Americans at the United States Embassy, Mr. Humphrey urged them to consider the effects of their words and actions. He said, "We do not want it to appear that what happened here was because we made it happen. That is not true." Some Indonesians are reported to have taken umbrage over talk, apparently originating in government sources in Washington, that the United States had a great deal to do with the overthrow of President Sukarno because of its Vietnam action.

Mr. Humphrey took a cue from Marshall Green, the United States Ambassador here, who has been quietly fighting that opinion.

Mr. Green portrays the United States presence in Southeast Asia not as having directly set off the Sukarno overthrow, but rather as having provided a shield behind which anti-Communist forces here and elsewhere might effectively operate.

Various Communist and left-wing spokesmen here attributed the Sukarno overthrow to the Central Intelligence Agency. Last November, President Sukarno, still clinging to a morsel of power, made a speech in which he referred to Ambassador Green 26 times as an agent of the CIA. ...

Humphrey may consider the effects ofhis words and actions more carefully than his employees. But he still can't hide what everyone in Indonesia seems to know: that the U.S. government had a big hand in creating the present regime.

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