INDONESIA 1957-1958

War and pornography

from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum



"I think it's time we held Sukarno's feet to the fire," said Frank Wisner, the CIA's Deputy Director

of Plans (covert operations), one day in autumn 1956.{1} Wisner was speaking of the man who

had led Indonesia since its struggle for independence from the Dutch following the war. A few

months earlier, in May, Sukarno had made an impassioned speech before the US Congress

asking for more understanding of the problems and needs of developing nations like his own.{2}

The ensuing American campaign to unseat the flamboyant leader of the fifth most populous

nation in the world was to run the gamut from large-scale military maneuvers to seedy sexual


The previous year, Sukarno had organized the Bandung Conference as an answer to the

Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), the US-created political-military alliance of area

states to "contain communism". In the Indonesian city of Bandung, the doctrine of neutralism had

been proclaimed as the faith of the underdeveloped world. To the men of the CIA station in

Indonesia the conference was heresy, so much so that their thoughts turned toward assassination

as a means of sabotaging it.

In 1975, the Senate committee which was investigating the CIA heard testimony that Agency

officers stationed in an East Asian country had suggested that an East Asian leader be

assassinated "to disrupt an impending Communist [sic] Conference in 1955".{3} (In all likelihood,

the leader referred to was either Sukarno or Chou En-lai of China.) But, said the committee,

cooler heads prevailed at CIA headquarters in Washington and the suggestion was firmly


Nevertheless, a plane carrying eight members of the Chinese delegation, a Vietnamese, and

two European journalists to the Bandung Conference crashed under mysterious circumstances.

The Chinese government claimed that it was an act of sabotage carried out by the US and

Taiwan, a misfired effort to murder Chou En-lai. The chartered Air India plane had taken off from

Hong Kong on 11 April 1955 and crashed in the South China Sea. Chou En-lai was scheduled to

be on another chartered Air India flight a day or two later. The Chinese government, citing what it

said were press reports from the Times of India, stated that the crash was caused by two time

bombs apparently placed aboard the plane in Hong Kong. A clockwork mechanism was later

recovered from the wrecked airliner and the Hong Kong police called it a case of "carefully

planned mass murder". Months later, British police in Hong Kong announced that they were

seeking a Chinese Nationalist for conspiracy to cause the crash, but that he had fled to


In 1967 a curious little book appeared in India, entitled I Was a CIA Agent in India, by John

Discoe Smith, an American. Published by the Communist Party of India, it was based on articles

written by Smith for Literaturnaya Gazeta in Moscow after he had defected to the Soviet Union

around 1960. Smith, born in Quincy, Mass. in 1926, wrote that he had been a communications

technician and code clerk at the US Embassy in New Delhi in 1955, performing tasks for the CIA

as well. One of these tasks was to deliver a package to a Chinese Nationalist which Smith later

learned, he claimed, contained the two time bombs used to blow up the Air India plane. The

veracity of Smith's account cannot be determined, although his employment at the US Embassy in

New Delhi from 1954 to 1959 is confirmed by the State Department Biographic Register.{5}

Elsewhere the Senate committee reported that it had "received some evidence of CIA

involvement in plans to assassinate President Sukarno of Indonesia", and that the planning had

proceeded to the point of identifying an agent whom it was believed might be recruited for the

job.{6} (The committee noted that at one time, those at the CIA who were concerned with possible

assassinations and appropriate methods were known internally as the "Health Alteration


To add to the concern of American leaders, Sukarno had made trips to the Soviet Union and

China (though to the White House as well), he had purchased arms from Eastern European

countries (but only after being turned down by the United States),{7} he had nationalized many

private holdings of the Dutch, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, the Indonesian Communist

Party (PKI) had made impressive gains electorally and in union-organizing, thus earning an

important role in the coalition government.

It was a familiar Third World scenario, and the reaction of Washington policy-makers was

equally familiar. Once again, they were unable, or unwilling, to distinguish nationalism from

pro-communism, neutralism from wickedness. By any definition of the word, Sukarno was no

communist. He was an Indonesian nationalist and a "Sukarnoist" who had crushed the PKI forces

in 1948 after the independence struggle had been won.{8} He ran what was largely his own show

by granting concessions to both the PKI and the Army, balancing one against the other. As to

excluding the PKI, with its more than one million members, from the government, Sukarno

declared: "I can't and won't ride a three-legged horse."{9}

To the United States, however, Sukarno's balancing act was too precarious to be left to the

vagaries of the Indonesian political process. It mattered not to Washington that the Communist

Party was walking the legal, peaceful road, or that there was no particular "crisis" or "chaos" in

Indonesia, so favored as an excuse for intervention. Intervention there would be.

It would not be the first. In 1955, during the national election campaign in Indonesia, the CIA

had given a million dollars to the Masjumi party, a centrist coalition of Muslim organizations, in a

losing bid to thwart Sukarno's Nationalist Party as well as the PKI. According to former CIA officer

Joseph Burkholder Smith, the project "provided for complete write-off of the funds, that is, no

demand for a detailed accounting of how the funds were spent was required. I could find no clue

as to what the Masjumi did with the million dollars."{10}

In 1957, the CIA decided that the situation called for more direct action. It was not difficult to

find Indonesian colleagues-in-arms for there already existed a clique of army officers and others

who, for personal ambitions and because they disliked the influential position of the PKI, wanted

Sukarno out, or at least out of their particular islands. (Indonesia is the world's largest

archipelago, consisting of some 3,000 islands.)

The military operation the CIA was opting for was of a scale that necessitated significant

assistance from the Pentagon, which could be secured for a political action mission only if

approved by the National Security Council's "Special Group" (the small group of top NSC officials

who acted in the president's name, to protect him and the country by evaluating proposed covert

actions and making certain that the CIA did not go off the deep end; known at other times as the

5412 Committee, the 303 Committee, the 40 Committee, or the Operations Advisory Group).

The manner in which the Agency went about obtaining this approval is a textbook example of

how the CIA sometimes determines American foreign policy. Joseph Burkholder Smith, who was

in charge of the Agency's Indonesian desk in Washington from mid-1956 to early 1958, has

described the process in his memoirs: Instead of first proposing the plan to Washington for

approval, where "premature mention ... might get it shot down" ...


we began to feed the State and Defense departments intelligence that no one could

deny was a useful contribution to understanding Indonesia. When they had read

enough alarming reports, we planned to spring the suggestion we should support the

colonels' plans to reduce Sukarno's power. This was a method of operation which

became the basis of many of the political action adventures of the 1960s and 1970s.

In other words, the statement is false that CIA undertook to intervene in the affairs of

countries like Chile only after being ordered to do so by ... the Special Group. ... In

many instances, we made the action programs up ourselves after we had collected

enough intelligence to make them appear required by the circumstances. Our activity

in Indonesia in 1957-1958 was one such instance.{11}



When the Communist Party did well again in local elections held in July, the CIA viewed it as "a

great help to us in convincing Washington authorities how serious the Indonesian situation was.

The only person who did not seem terribly alarmed at the PKI victories was Ambassador Allison.

This was all we needed to convince John Foster Dulles finally that he had the wrong man in

Indonesia. The wheels began to turn to remove this last stumbling block in the way of our

operation."{12} John Allison, wrote Smith, was not a great admirer of the CIA to begin with. And in

early 1958, after less than a year in the post, he was replaced as ambassador by Howard Jones,

whose selection "pleased" the CIA Indonesia staff.{13} go to notes

On 30 November 1957, several hand grenades were tossed at Sukarno as he was leaving a

school. He escaped injury, but 10 people were killed and 48 children injured. The CIA in

Indonesia had no idea who was responsible, but it quickly put out the story that the PKI was

behind it "at the suggestion of their Soviet contacts in order to make it appear that Sukarno's

opponents were wild and desperate men". As it turned out, the culprits were a Muslim group not

associated with the PKI or with the Agency's military plotters.{14}

The issue of Sukarno's supposed hand-in-glove relationship with Communists was pushed at

every opportunity. The CIA decided to make capital of reports that a good-looking blonde

stewardess had been aboard Sukarno's aircraft everywhere he went during his trip in the Soviet

Union and that the same woman had come to Indonesia with Soviet President Kliment Voroshilov

and had been seen several times in the company of Sukarno. The idea was that Sukarno's

well-known womanizing had trapped him in the spell of a Soviet female agent. He had succumbed

to Soviet control, CIA reports implied, as a result of her influence or blackmail, or both. "

This formed the foundation of our flights of fancy," wrote Smith. "We had as a matter of fact,

considerable success with this theme. It appeared in the press around the world, and when

Round Table, the serious British quarterly of international affairs, came to analyze the

Indonesian revolt in its March 1958 issue, it listed Sukarno's being blackmailed by a Soviet

female spy as one of the reasons that caused the uprising."

Seemingly, the success of this operation inspired CIA officers in Washington to carry the

theme one step further. A substantial effort was made to come up with a pornographic film or at

least some still photographs that could pass for Sukarno and his Russian girl friend engaged in

"his favorite activity". When scrutiny of available porno films (supplied by the Chief of Police of

Los Angeles) failed to turn up a couple who could pass for Sukarno (dark and bald) and a

beautiful blonde Russian woman, the CIA undertook to produce its own films, "the very films with

which the Soviets were blackmailing Sukarno". The Agency developed a full-face mask of the

Indonesian leader which was to be sent to Los Angeles where the police were to pay some

porno-film actor to wear it during his big scene. This project resulted in at least some

photographs, although they apparently were never used.{15}

Another outcome of the blackmail effort was a film produced for the CIA by Robert Maheu,

former FBI agent and intimate of Howard Hughes. Maheu's film starred an actor who resembled

Sukarno. The ultimate fate of the film, which was entitled "Happy Days", has not been


In other parts of the world, at other times, the CIA has done better in this line of work, having

produced sex films of target subjects caught in flagrante delicto who had been lured to Agency

safe-houses by female agents.

In 1960, Col. Truman Smith, US Army Ret., writing in Reader's Digest about the KGB,

declared: "It is difficult for most of us to appreciate its menace, as its methods are so debased as

to be all but beyond the comprehension of any normal person with a sense of right and wrong."

One of the KGB methods the good colonel found so debased was the making of sex films to be

used as blackmail. "People depraved enough to employ such methods," he wrote, "find nothing

distasteful in more violent methods."{17}

Sex could be used at home as well to further the goals of American foreign policy. Under the

cover of the US foreign aid program, at that time called the Economic Cooperation Administration,

Indonesian policemen were trained and then recruited to provide information on Soviet, Chinese

and PKI activities in their country. Some of the men singled out as good prospects for this work

were sent to Washington for special training and to be softened up for recruitment. Like Sukarno,

reportedly, these police officers invariably had an obsessive desire to sleep with a white woman.

Accordingly, during their stay they were taken to Baltimore's shabby sex district to indulge



The Special Group's approval of the political action mission was forthcoming in November

1957{19}, and the CIA's paramilitary machine was put into gear. In this undertaking, as in others,

the Agency enjoyed the advantage of the United States' far-flung military empire. Headquarters

for the operation were established in neighboring Singapore, courtesy of the British; training

bases set up in the Philippines; airstrips laid out in various parts of the Pacific to prepare for

bomber and transport missions; Indonesians, along with Filipinos, Taiwanese, Americans, and

other "soldiers of fortune" were assembled in Okinawa and the Philippines along with vast

quantities of arms and equipment.

For this, the CIA's most ambitious military operation to date, tens of thousands of rebels were

armed, equipped and trained by the US Army. US Navy submarines, patrolling off the coast of

Sumatra, the main island, put over-the-beach parties ashore along with supplies and

communications equipment. The US Air Force set up a considerable Air Transport force which

air-dropped many thousands of weapons deep into Indonesian territory. And a fleet of 15 B-26

bombers was made available for the conflict after being "sanitized" to ensure that they were

"non-attributable" and that all airborne equipment was "deniable".

In the early months of 1958, rebellion began to break out in one part of the Indonesian island

chain, then another. CIA pilots took to the air to carry out bombing and strafing missions in

support of the rebels. In Washington, Col. Alex Kawilarung, the Indonesian military attachÆ, was

persuaded by the Agency to "defect". He soon showed up in Indonesia to take charge of the rebel

forces. Yet, as the fighting dragged on into spring, the insurgents proved unable to win decisive

victories or take the offensive, although the CIA bombing raids were taking their toll. Sukarno

later claimed that on a Sunday morning in April, a plane bombed a ship in the harbor of the island

of Ambon -- all those aboard losing their lives -- as well as hitting a church, which demolished the

building and killed everyone inside. He stated that 700 casualties had resulted from this single


On 15 May, a CIA plane bombed the Ambon marketplace, killing a large number of civilians on

their way to church on Ascension Thursday. The Indonesian government had to act to suppress

public demonstrations.

Three days later, during another bombing run over Ambon, a CIA pilot, Allen Lawrence Pope,

was shot down and captured. Thirty years old, from Perrine, Florida, Pope had flown 55 night

missions over Communist lines in Korea for the Air Force. Later he spent two months flying

through Communist flak for the CIA to drop supplies to the French at Dien Bien Phu. Now his luck

had run out. He was to spend four years as a prisoner in Indonesia before Sukarno acceded to a

request from Robert Kennedy for his release.

Pope was captured carrying a set of incriminating documents, including those which

established him as a pilot for the US Air Force and the CIA airline CAT. Like all men flying

clandestine missions, Pope had gone through an elaborate procedure before taking off to

"sanitize" him, as well as his aircraft. But he had apparently smuggled the papers aboard the

plane, for he knew that to be captured as an "anonymous, stateless civilian" meant having

virtually no legal rights and running the risk of being shot as a spy in accordance with custom. A

captured US military man, however, becomes a commodity of value for his captors while he

remains alive.

The lndonesian government derived immediate material concessions from the United States as

a result of the incident. Whether the Indonesians thereby agreed to keep silent about Pope is not

known, but on 27 May the pilot and his documents were presented to the world at a news

conference, thus contradicting several recent statements by high American officials.{20} Notable

amongst these was President Eisenhower's declaration on 30 April concerning Indonesia: "Our

policy 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."{21}

And on 9 May, an editorial in the New York Times had stated:


It is unfortunate that high officials of the Indonesian Government have given further

circulation to the false report that the United States Government was sanctioning aid

to Indonesia's rebels. The position of the United States Government has been made

plain, again and again. Our Secretary of State was emphatic in his declaration that

this country would not deviate from a correct neutrality ... the United States is not

ready ... to step in to help overthrow a constituted government. Those are the hard

facts. Jakarta does not help its case, here, by ignoring them.


With the exposure of Pope and the lack of rebel success in the field, the CIA decided that the

light was no longer worth the candle, and began to curtail its support. By the end of June,

Indonesian army troops loyal to Sukarno had effectively crushed the dissident military revolt.

The Indonesian leader continued his adroit balancing act between the Communists and the

army until 1965, when the latter, likely with the help of the CIA, finally overthrew his regime.




return to mid-text

1. Joseph Burkholder Smith, Portrait of a Cold Warrior (G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1976) p.



2. New York Times, 18 May 1956.


3. Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Foreign and Military Intelligence, Book 4, Final

Report of The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence

Activities (U.S. Senate), April 1976, p. 133.


4. New York Times, 12, 30 April 1955; 3, 4 August 1955; 3 September 1955; 22 November 1967,

p. 23.


5. John Discoe Smith, I Was a CIA Agent in India (India, 1967) passim; New York Times, 25

October 1967, p. 17; 22 November, p. 23; 5 December, p. 12; Harry Rositzke, The KGB: The Eyes

of Russia (New York, 1981), p. 164.


6. lnterim Report: Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, The Select Committee

to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (U.S. Senate), 20

November 1975, p. 4, note.


7. David Wise and Thomas Ross, The Invisible Government (New York, 1965, paperback edition)

pp. 149-50.


8. Julie Southwood and Patrick Flanagan, Indonesia: Law, Propaganda and Terror (London,

1983) pp. 26-7.


9. Wise and Ross, p. 148.


10. J.B. Smith, pp. 210-11.


11. Ibid., pp. 228-9.


12. Ibid., p. 240.


13. Ibid., pp. 229, 246.


14. Ibid., p. 243.


15. Sex-blackmail operations: ibid., pp. 238-40, 248. Smith errs somewhat in his comment about

Round Table. The article's only (apparent) reference to the Soviet woman is in the comment on

p. 133: "Other and more scandalous reasons have been put forward for the President's leaning

towards the Communist Party."


16. New York Times, 26 January 1976.


17. Truman Smith, "The Infamous Record of Soviet Espionage", Reader's Digest, August 1960.


18. J.B. Smith, pp. 220-1.


19. Referred to in a memorandum from Allen Dulles to the White House, 7 April 1961; the memo

briefly summarizes the main points of the US intervention: Declassified Documents Reference

System (Arlington, Va.) released 18 December 1974.


20. The military operation and the Pope affair:

a) Wise and Ross, pp. 145-56.

b) Christopher Robbins, Air America (US, 1979), pp. 88-94.

c) Col. L. Fletcher Prouty, US Air Force, Ret., The Secret Team: The CIA and its Allies in Control

of the World (New York, 1974) pp. 155, 308, 363-6.

d) New York Times, 23 March 1958, p. 2; 19 April; 28 May, p. 9.

e) Sukarno, An Autobiography, as told to Cindy Adams (Hong Kong, 1966) pp. 267-71; first

printed in the US in 1965; although a poor piece of writing, the book is worth reading for

Sukarno's views on why it is foolish to call him a Communist; how he, as a Third-Worlder who

didn't toe the line, was repeatedly snubbed and humiliated by the Eisenhower administration,

apart from the intervention; and how American sex magazines contrived to make him look


f) J. B. Smith, pp. 246-7. There appears to be some confusion about the bombing of the church.

Smith states that it was Pope who did it on 18 May before being shot down. Either he or other

chroniclers have mixed up the events of April and May.


21. Wise and Ross, p. 145.


This is a chapter from Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II by

William Blum

Killing Hope