[October 1995 note from David Johnson: This is a paper I wrote in 1976. It is presented here in its original version. It was written to encourage Congressional investigation of the issue by the Church Committee at the time. This paper was circulated privately but never published. It may have some enduring merit. Comments and criticisms are welcome.
As evidence that the subject matter is still relevant, please note this recently declassified quotation:
"From our viewpoint, of course, an unsuccessful coup attempt by the PKI might be the most effective development to start a reversal of political trends in Indonesia."
Then-US Ambassador to Indonesia Howard Jones
March 10, 1965
Chiefs of Mission Conference, Baguio, Philippines
Quoted in Audrey R. Kahin and George McT. Kahin, "Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia," 1995, p.225]
David T. Johnson
Center for Defense Information
1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington DC 20005
(* "Track Two" was the name given to a CIA covert operation undertaken in Chile in the fall of 1970 at the direction of President Nixon. Its purpose was to use all possible means to prevent Allende from assuming the presidency. Knowledge of Track Two was very tightly held. The State Department, the Defense Department, the American Ambassador in Chile, and the Forty Committee were not informed. Track Two was partially responsible for the murder of General Schneider, the Chilean Army Chief of Staff who opposed efforts of other military officers to stage a coup. Track Two failed in its objective in 1970. Other analogies to the Indonesian events are the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Reichstag fire.)
This paper presents the preliminary outline of a new interpretation of the events in Indonesia in 1965 that climaxed in the "coup" attempt of October 1st and the actions of the September 30th Movement (GESTAPU). It is argued that the September 30th Movement was not an action by "progressive" or dissatisfied middle-level military officers, nor a creature of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), nor was it stimulated by President Sukarno. GESTAPU was an instrument directly in the hands of General Suharto (and probably General Nasution) [1995 note from David Johnson: today I would delete the reference to Nasution] and most likely a creation of the Central Intelligence Agency for the purpose of "saving Indonesia from Communism" in a desperate situation. GESTAPU served the crucial function of providing a legitimate pretext for the drastic extermination of the PKI. It was calculated to put the reins of power quickly into the hands of Suharto and to place Sukarno in a restricted position.
GESTAPU worked. It is probably the most successful covert operation that the CIA has ever carried out. The participation of the CIA in GESTAPU--its "fingerprints on the gun"--cannot be proven unless the Congress digs hard to find the truth, as was done partly in the case of Chile. The CIA connection is hypothesized because it seems a logical outcome of U.S. policy toward Indonesia and because of the relative sophistication and complexity of the GESTAPU operation. Because of the close contact between the Indonesian Army and U.S. Defense Department advisers and attaches it is probable that certain of these personnel were also involved.
It is not maintained that the thesis of this paper is necessarily correct or proven. The author's hope is to demonstrate that it is sufficiently plausible that further research along these lines will be conducted by those more knowledgeable than he and that those in a position to do something about it will begin to look into the secret official record. The thesis is presented without a great deal of hedging but the author is aware that many of the facts he uses are open to a number of alternative explanations. Of course, many "facts" are in dispute. This first draft assumes some knowledge on the part of the reader of the basic events of the time and of the existing interpretive controversy. No special attempt is made here, however, to refute alternative theories. Only a portion of the supporting material is indicated.
The events of October 1, 1965, in Indonesia and their origin may truly be called "a riddle wrapped in an enigma.~ There is no consensus among students of Indonesia about the "correct" explanation. All existing theories have their articulate and plausible critics. Probably the majority of careful Indonesian scholars have abandoned the search for explanation. GESTAPU is an enormously complicated puzzle in which the pieces never fit together, their shape constantly changes, and new pieces keep appearing.
In an earlier age of innocence, the attributing to the CIA of a significant causal role in international affairs was a disreputable enterprise in which most professional analysts seldom engaged. With the revelations of recent years, however, the inhibitions on serious study of CIA activities have somewhat broken down. We also know far more than we did ten years ago about the extent of CIA operations and how the CIA works. In many cases, including Indonesia, we still know very little about what the CIA actually did over the years. But more than before we can feel on safe ground to think that the CIA was active. This is not CIA scapegoating, left-wing propaganda, conspiracy fascination, or a search for simple-minded solutions. It is a necessary and important research effort that must be undertaken before it can be seriously rejected. Of course, the great secrecy that envelops the subject places substantial restrictions on what normal academic research can accomplish.
This paper is based in the first instance on the author's reading of the recently released CIA Research Study "Indonesia-1965: The Coup That Backfired." The author has also read nearly everything available in English in the Library of Congress on the events of 1965. The major source material that has not been examined, except as described in secondary sources, is the large body of records of post-October 1 interrogations of prisoners held by the Indonesian Army and the records of the numerous trials that have been held. Undoubtedly new insights can be derived from these materials. The author's knowledge of Indonesia in general is relatively sparse, although he has visited the country and spent some time in previous years studying Indonesian political development. The present paper is the product of a month of very intensive research on the events of 1965 as well as some limited examination of studies on the CIA.
At some point in 1964 or 1965 (probably late 1964) the deterioration of U.S. relations with Indonesia and the left-ward drift of Indonesia had gone so far that the U.S. faced the need to reassess its policy toward Indonesia with an eye toward adopting new policies. Howard Jones, the American ambassador at the time, has described the extremely pessimist official assessment of how bad things had gotten from the American point of view. Ewa Pauker and Guy Pauker at RAND have described the projection of near-term PKI takeover and the pessimism about the ability of the Indonesian Army to reverse the apparently inevitable flow of events.
Jones indicates that a number of important meetings were held in which U.S. policy toward Indonesia was reassessed, beginning at the State Department in August 1964 after Sukarno's Independence Day speech, his most anti-American statement up to that time. The March 1965 annual meeting of U.S. mission chiefs held in the Philippines with Averell Harriman and William Bundy, was also important. Ellsworth Bunker, personal representative of President Johnson, spent 15 days in Indonesia in April 1965 evaluating the situation. There were undoubtedly other secret and perhaps more important meetings in which U.S. policy was put together.
The U.S. seems to have faced essentially six options with regard to Indonesia:
1. A hands-off policy of continuing much the same as before, letting things drift. (Of course, the U.S. had never been passive toward Indonesia and this can only be characterized as a hands-off policy in contrast to the other options.) The probable result would be that Indonesia would go Communist. There seems to have been near unanimous official agreement on the inevitability of Communist takeover in Indonesia if existing trends continued. The most important country in Southeast Asia would be lost. The U.S. effort to save Vietnam (bombing of North Vietnam began in February 1965) would probably be frustrated and all of Southeast Asia would be threatened. Clearly, this was an unacceptable option.
2. Try to get Sukarno to change his apparent policy of leading Indonesia toward Communist rule. The Embassy under Ambassador Jones had been pursuing this course for years, with little success (in American eyes). Sukarno had made more than clear his determination to continue his left-ward drive, both domestically and in foreign policy. Most Washington officials had given up on Sukarno and many agreed that "Sukarno has to go." Some identified him as a "crypto- Communist." This option was simply unworkable.
3. Eliminate Sukarno. Apparently this was considered, but rejected. The consequences would be too unpredictable. The Communist Party and its affiliates were so large and so extensively embedded in Indonesian society and political life that even in the absence of Sukarno's protection they might be able to hang on and prosper. An effort to go after the PKI in such circumstances would probably result in a very unpredictable and dangerous civil war which the United States, preoccupied with Vietnam, was not in a position to handle. A danger of killing Sukarno was that those who might be identified with it would be discredited because of Sukarno's enormous popularity in Indonesia, which efforts to undermine over the years had been unable to shake. Blaming an assassination on the left would not be credible because of the close alliance between Sukarno and the Communists. The PKI would have no plausible motive for such an action. An arranged "natural" death for Sukarno would leave the PKI as a very important force in Indonesia, and perhaps as the logical successor.
4. Encourage the Indonesian Army to take over the government. The Embassy had been pushing this option for years with some success but without achieving the final objective. Disunity within the Army had prevented any such explicit step to date and there seemed to be other inhibitions on a direct military takeover. The Army as a whole was still unwilling to move directly against Sukarno. Sukarno's determination to resist any further expansion of the Army's role was clear. In fact, he was doing much to try to "domesticate" and undermine the Army as an independent, anti-Communist force. Even in the event of an Army coup, without a solid pretext for quickly eliminating the PKI and a means of controlling Sukarno, the prospect of civil war would arise for the same reasons indicated in Option 3. While the U.S. could continue to cultivate military officials and try to stiffen their "backbone," Army takeover via some sort of coup would not resolve the problem in Indonesia.
5. Try to undermine the PKI and get the Communists to take actions that would discredit themselves and legitimize their elimination. (Option 6, the fabrication of such a discrediting, is a variant of this option.) Such a step would also necessitate moving against Sukarno as he probably would never permit the Army to act forcefully against the PKI no matter how objectionable the PKI might appear to be. A variety of covert efforts were mounted to try to damage the PKI's reputation and provoke it to misbehavior. These included linking the PKI with China, trying to show that the PKI did not really support "Sukarnoism" (the BPS episode), and the fabrication of documents and the attributing of provocative statements to PKI spokesmen (printed in non-Communist papers). But Sukarno helped to frustrate these efforts by banning almost all non-Communist political and press activity. The PKI was careful not to go too far and not to provide the excuse for its elimination. As PKI Chairman Aidit said, "We are prepared to tolerate insults and threats. We will not be provoked. If the army spits in our faces we will wipe it off and smile. We will not retaliate." Option 5 was continually tried but it did not seem to be working.
6. If the PKI would not provide its own death warrant, the pretext for extermination had to be fabricated for it. The optimum implementation of this option would serve to eliminate both the PKI and Sukarno as dominant forces in Indonesian political life. This option appears to have been the one finally chosen, although the point at which commitment to it was irrevocable is very uncertain. Parts of the other options, other "tracks" continued at the same time.
Undoubtedly, elements of the Indonesian military (and other anti-Communist groups) were also considering what to do about the drift of Indonesia toward Communist rule. It was highly unlikely, however, that the U.S. could sit passively and expect that Indonesians on their own would do what had to be done. American analysts seemed to have concluded that no Indonesian group on its own had the capability and will to do what was necessary to prevent Communist takeover. American initiative and cooperation were necessary.
The U.S. over the years had built up close relationships with many Indonesians, particularly in the Army. In fact, this was the essence of U.S. policy toward Indonesia over the previous five or more years. The coincidence of U.S. and anti-PKI Army interest would make natural, and simply a continuation of patterns already established, a collaboration and pooling of resources to carry out the best means available for stopping the PKI and "saving" Indonesia. The CIA provided a pool of expertise and technical capability for devising and implementing a relatively sophisticated and delicate maneuver.
The problem of lack of Army internal cohesion, as indicated in Option 4, remained a stumbling bloc. Efforts were made to achieve unity in moving against the PKI (and necessarily Sukarno) but although most generals agreed that the PKI had to go, some very important officers--notably the Army Chief of Staff General Yani-- were apparently unwilling to take steps that would severely damage Sukarno. After the failure of attempts to secure Army unity, the U.S. and the collaborating generals (principally Suharto and Nasution) [1995 note: again, I would today delete Nasution] decided that the urgency of the threat and the need for quick action required working with those who were willing. It was necessary to move in spite of the absence of Army unity.
Actions were undertaken to try to polarize Indonesian politics between the Communists and others, an effort that it was hoped might move the reluctant generals to the "right" side. The Gilchrist letter seems to have been part of a covert effort to stimulate distrust and antagonism between Sukarno and General Yani. It appears, however, that General Yani remained something of a Sukarno-loyalist. General Yani had become dispensable and probably he stood in the way of what had to be done.
The "Generals' Council" rumor, frequently considered the product of PKI work, was probably an important element of the CIA-Suharto covert operation in preparing the ground for GESTAPU. The rumor served a number of useful purposes. It helped to further the heightening of tension and uncertainty in Indonesian political life. It served to stimulate mistrust between Sukarno and certain generals that the CIA wanted to break with Sukarno. It alarmed the PKI and might even make it take the provocatory step that was hoped for. It provided a focus for debate and rumor that distracted attention from the real "conspiracy." It bore a resemblance to something that actually existed, General Yani's "braintrust," and thus provided a ready target group for the GESTAPU operation, plausible victims for the "PKI's" atrocities. The rumor helped to create a climate in which people would find GESTAPU at least superficially plausible, especially immediately on October 1st. There would be widespread belief in the imminent threat of a Generals' Council coup and "unwitting" people (notably the soldiers used by GESTAPU on October 1st) would be willing to take actions that they might otherwise question. The General's Council rumor helped to create something of a "controlled environment" in which certain planned stimuli would produce a relatively predictable response. Finally, the rumor was an important part of the cover story for why the PKI might be believed to have taken the action to be attributed to it.
The exploitation of the Sukarno's health rumor mill was another important part of the cover for GESTAPU. Unfortunately for the cover story, however, it turns out to have been one of the weak links. The post-1965 explanation of why the PKI allegedly carried out GESTAPU attributes a major role to the presumed fear on the part of the PKI that Sukarno was about to die. Chinese doctors are alleged to have convinced Aidit of this. The problem is that Sukarno recovered rapidly from his illness in August 1965 and Aidit, who was in constant contact with Sukarno, had more than sufficient time to find out about Sukarno's health for himself and to turn off any plans that were based on Sukarno's imminent demise. (The implausibility of this story may in part account for the growth of theories that attribute the authorship of GESTAPU to Sukarno and place the PKI in a subordinate role. Even the Suharto government seems to have adopted this "explanation.~) In 1965, however, the circulation of rumors by the CIA-Suharto group served to create a climate that would make GESTAPU plausible as well as the PKI's complicity in it.
It does seem clear that the PKI Politburo held meetings in August 1965 at which the health of Sukarno was discussed, as well as the Generals' Council rumors, and probably the existence of "progressive" officers. What was actually said about these subjects, however, is far from clear. The official Army version, presented through "confessions," probably took real events, kernels of truth, and spun them into the required pattern.
A very interesting question is whether the Untung group made contact with the PKI, perhaps to get the PKI to directly implicate itself or at least to take actions that could later be interpreted as "participation in GESTAPU." It seems likely that the GESTAPU conspirators would have considered it risky to acquaint anyone not "in the know" with what was going on. The danger would have been very great that the PKI would be suspicious and pass the information to Sukarno who would investigate. The PKI was constantly on the alert for "provocations." There is a possibility, however, that some vague intimation of GESTAPU was passed to Aidit via a source that Aidit would have found credible. If so, it appears that Aidit rejected PKI participation, despite later trial evidence.
An overlooked source of information on the relationship, if any, between the PKI and a "progressive" officers GESTAPU group is an article by the leftist journalist Wilfred Burchett that was originally published in November 1965. Burchett, relying on "an Indonesian whom I know as having close contact with the PKI leadership and who escaped the army dragnet in Jakarta," states that the PKI received "documentary" evidence of the existence of a Generals' Council in August and informed Sukarno about it. Burchett continues:
"In late September, Colonel Untung, head of the presidential guard, learned of the planned coup from independent sources. He approached leaders of the PKI, among others, revealing what they had known for some time, and urged joint action. to thwart the coup. The PKI leaders reportedly refused on the ground that such an action would be "premature" and that as long as Sukarno remained at the helm everything possible should be done to maintain unity, while all patriotic elements within the armed forces should remain vigilant to deal with any coup from above."
Of course, we have no way of knowing if this is what happened but it is possible.
The backgrounds of Lt. Col. Untung, the alleged leader of the September 30th Movement, and his colleagues have been examined by a number of independent scholars. The picture that emerges is not that of a group of "progressive" or disgruntled officers, but rather of a group of successful and professional military officers who had exhibited signs of anti-PKI views, had been given sensitive positions in which their past and present political affiliations and views would have been subjected to careful examination, and some of whom--perhaps the most important ones--had recently been trained in the U.S. (General Supardjo and Col. Suherman) and undoubtedly exhaustively "vetted" by the CIA and U.S. defense intelligence.
What seems to link most of the GESTAPU officers together is not their "progressiveness" but their association, both past and present, with General Suharto. Those participants, particularly in the Air Force, not overtly linked with Suharto may be considered CIA-Suharto "assets" activated to play their role in the GESTAPU scenario. The penetration of the Air Force and the Palace Guard by anti-PKI Army forces (and the CIA) is at least as plausible as the degree of penetration attributed to the PKI. The vigilance of the anti-PKI generals in keeping PKI influence out of their officer corps is well known, as is the effort to keep track of and penetrate the more leftist branches of the military services.
Before examining what took place on October 1st it is important to recognize that (if the thesis of this paper is correct) we are looking at a collection of actors and a sequence of events that were put together primarily to accomplish a very immediate and urgent task: the discrediting of the PKI (and its allies) in as dramatic and quick a fashion as possible, and the immobilization of factors that might complicate the situation. While some thought had obviously been given to cover, it is doubtful that extensive effort was put into constructing a cover story that would withstand close, dispassionate scrutiny . The ability of the Cornell researchers, after only a few months of research using primarily written materials, to reveal the weaknesses of the immediate cover story is testimony to its inherent crudeness. The CIA-Suharto group probably felt that, if they moved quickly and drastically enough, there was little likelihood that much foreign effort would be put into examining GESTAPU in detail. Certainly no Indonesian would he disposed to raise doubts.
A certain refinement of cover and justification for actions that, for the most part, had already been taken (the murder of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians) was provided by the obviously spurious Aidit "confession" and the fabricated confession and show trial of Njono. Untung was also put on trial early in 1966. Even sympathetic foreign journalists have raised questions about these early trials (no foreign journalists were permitted to attend and only selected Indonesians). We do not know at what point the Indonesian authorities found out about the Cornell study and other evidence that apparently their story was not going over abroad as well as they had hoped. It seems probable that the trials of Dani and Subandrio were primarily milestones in the campaign to remove Sukarno and less parts of the GESTAPU cover story. It was the trial of Sudisman in 1967 and that of Sjam in 1968 that were explicitly calculated for their effect on the foreign skeptics. Of course, Suharto has had other reasons as well for continuing the show trials.
The major military units involved on the side of the September 30th movement were officially under the command of General Suharto's KOSTRAD, the Army's Strategic Reserve. The semi-official Indonesian Army history of GESTAPU states: "Both the 454th and 530th Battalions together with the 328th Kudjong Battalion of the Siliwangi Division were under the operations command of the 3d Paratroop Brigade of the Army's Strategic Reserve." The Army book observes further that "KOSTRAD troops were scattered all over Indonesia, as [sic] that at the time of the coup General Soeharto had only the dc Kudjava and dc Parakomando battalion around Djakarta. Other KOSTRAD troops were at 'the other side.'"
The major mission of these KOSTRAD "coup" units was to take up positions around the crucial Merdeka Square, controlling Sukarno's Palace, the Indonesian Radio station, and the central telecommunications facilities.
One company of soldiers from the Palace Guard, the Tjakrabirawa, are said to have participated, together with KOSTRAD elements, in the kidnapping-murder of the six army generals. Lt. Col. Untung had been since May 1965 commander of one of the three Tjakrabirawa battalions. Considering Untung's position, this participation is quite possible, although it could have introduced a perhaps unnecessary complication into the proceedings. General Sabur, the commander of the Palace Guard, played a very unclear role in the GESTAPU and its aftermath. Although jailed for a period after 1965, he has been released and no charges have been brought against him. Whether Untung could have acted without Sabur's knowledge is uncertain. Only a few Tjakrabirawa troops were really necessary on October 1st, and they could have been KOSTRAD soldiers in Palace Guard uniforms. The extraordinary lack of professionalism in the execution of the "kidnappings" makes it unlikely that "unwitting" Tjakrabirawa troops played a significant role. Their role seems to have been that of making the first contact at each of the victim's home.
In the early morning hours of October 1st GESTAPU troops went to the homes of seven generals. Three of the generals, including Army head General Yani, were killed immediately and their bodies and three other generals were taken to a place called Lubang Buaja (Crocodile's Hole) on the outskirts of Halim Air Force Base. More than 100 troops surrounded the house of General Nasution but in a "near miraculous" escape, Nasution got away by climbing over a wall and hiding in the bushes. The fiction that one of his aides was captured and successfully impersonated one of the best known men in Indonesia for some hours afterwards (a crucial element in the CIA Research Study version of events), need not puzzle us. No such thing happened and General Nasution was meant to "escape," (The shooting of his daughter, apparently by accident through a door, seems too ghastly to have been part of the GESTAPU plan, although her death and funeral were very important in whipping up the subsequent fury against the PKI. Nasution's much commented upon "moodiness" after October 1st may in part be accounted for by his remorse about not taking better precautions to protect his family.)
General Nasution, the leading anti-Communist military figure in Indonesia, had to be on the list of victims of GESTAPU. His absence would have been incredible. He was not, however, a member of General Yani's "Generals' Council." The fact that it was General Suharto, rather than the more well known Nasution, who took the leadership of the counter-GESTAPU forces may have a complicated explanation. We do not know the subtleties of the Suharto-Nasution relationship. The most probable explanation is that the immediate appearance of Nasution as the head of the anti-PKI effort would have aroused suspicions. Some stories have Nasution being kept "protected" in a hidden place on October 1st from 6 AM until 7 PM when he finally appeared at KOSTRAD headquarters. Other reports have him at KOSTRAD headquarters on the morning of October 1st. Nasution is alleged to have broken his ankle in climbing over the wall, probably part of the cover story for why it had to be Suharto who took the lead.
Among the more incredible "mistakes" of the GESTAPU movement was the failure to try to kill or kidnap the two generals in Djakarta who had operational command of military forces in the area, General Suharto and General Umar. Ruth McVey has commented on how extraordinary this omission was, in view of the fact that Col. Latief was one of the major GESTAPU conspirators: "Col. A. Latief headed the mobile force of the Djaya (Djakarta) Division and had commanded a series of interservice capital defense maneuvers; he must have known the basic provisions for an emergency in the capital." In fact, Col. Latief seems to have been one of Suharto's men. McVey states: "Latief, also a Diponegoro Division officer (Suharto's former division), had fought under Suharto during the revolution; at the time of the Irian campaign he was at the Mandala Command headquarters in Ambone....He was assigned to KOSTRAD; his command at the time of the coup, Brigade I, was one of the KOSTRAD infantry brigades." Latief, according to Suharto himself, visited him on the night of September 30th at the hospital where Suharto was seeing his ill son. Another account has Col. Latief paying a visit to the military hospital on the morning of October 1st where Nasution's injured daughter had been brought. General Suharto and General Umar worked closely together almost immediately from the beginning on October 1st in "defeating" GESTAPU.
One general who was supposed to have originally been on the list of GESTAPU victims because of his position on General Yani's staff was General Sukendro. He was in Peking on October 1st. In fact, Sukendro was a close associate of Nasution and had the reputation of a man with intimate associations with the American military and the CIA. Sukendro came back from Peking with the story that on October 1st Chinese officials had shown Indonesians a list of the murdered generals before it had been announced. (Intimations of Chinese involvement in GESTAPU were rampant in the early months after October 1st but faded to nothing after their purpose had been served.)
What exactly occurred at Lubang Buaja where the six murdered and captured generals were taken and eventually dumped into a well is uncertain. Why they were taken there seems clear. Lubang Buaja, despite stories that "secret" military training of PKI people was occurring there, was well known as a place where Air Force officers since July had been conducting training of volunteers for the Malaysian Confrontation. Those trained included youths from both PKI and other organizations. The quick murder of the generals and their alleged mutilation by Communists was the core of the GESTAPU scenario. Whether there were people from Communist organizations present at Lubang Buaja is uncertain. It is possible that unwitting volunteers had been brought there to lend their presence to the proceedings. This could have been complicating however. It was sufficient that the dastardly deed be done at a place that was known as a gathering spot for the training of PKI volunteers. "Confessions" could be produced later.
There are a few indications that if, in fact, there were "volunteers" present at Lubang Buaja on the morning of October 1st they were not necessarily from PKI organizations. The eye-witness account used in the CIA Research Study states that there were civilians crowding around the prisoners yelling "kill the unbelievers," rather extraordinary words for Communists to be uttering. Accounts seem . to agree that the generals were almost unidentifiable, bloodied and beaten up, wearing pajamas, and blindfolded. Mortimer states that, among other non-Communist youths, people from the Moslem Ansor youth organization were expected at Lubang Buaja for training on October 1st. We may speculate that the GESTAPU officers present may have told anti-PKI youths that they had captured the killers of the generals.
Whoever killed and "mutilated" the generals, their murder served several important purposes for GESTAPU. Most importantly, it could be blamed on the PKI. The murder of General Yani opened the way for Suharto to take over control of the Army and implement the wrap-up of GESTAPU. It was standing procedure for Suharto to become acting Army head whenever Yani was not available. Suharto's behavior on October 1st seems to be that of someone who is immediately aware that Yani is dead. We find no discussion in accounts of October 1st of efforts by Suharto to locate and rescue captured generals until late in the day. He acted very quickly to take charge. He exhibited none of the uncertainty and hesitancy that characterized nearly everyone else on October 1st.
The killing of the generals was also important in inhibiting Sukarno from declaring in favor of the September 30th Movement, a danger that could have upset the scenario but which had been taken into account. The fact that Lubang Buaja could also be associated with the Air Force (although, contrary to general impression, it was not in fact located on Halim Air Force Base) was also useful in assuring that General Dani and the Air Force would not be tempted to throw their military forces behind the September 30th Movement. Once it became known what an enormous crime had been committed by the "progressive" GESTAPU--political murder was very rare in Indonesia--no one was likely to jump on the band-wagon and complicate the planned failure of GESTAPU. Of course, the discrediting of the leftist Air Force and General Dani was part of the purpose of GESTAPU.
It is probable that the killing of the generals was communicated as rapidly as possible to Sukarno so that he would not think of backing GESTAPU. Accounts have a helicopter flying over Lubang Buaja, perhaps part of Sukarno's (or Suharto~s?) efforts to verify absolutely that it was true. Sukarno was also probably told how the PKI was linked to the murders. His early knowledge that Nasution had probably "escaped" also served to inhibit any impulse to support GESTAPU.
When the first message of the September 30th Movement was broadcast over Radio Indonesia around 7 AM it was announced that Sukarno was being protected and that certain prominent persons who were to be targets of the Generals' Council action had also been taken under "protection." This was actually part of a deliberate action to control the behavior of and information available to leading non-GESTAPU political figures whom, if at large, could interfere with the GESTAPU scenario. PKI Chairman Aidit was brought to Halim very early on October 1st. (His wife states that he was kidnapped from his home.) Dani was brought to Halim. (Accounts differ on this.) Sukarno was brought to Halim. Most of Sukarno's advisors, such as Subandrio, Njoto, and Ali Sastroamidjojo, were not in Djakarta. Reports have it at if they had been in Djakarta they were on the list of persons to be "protected." Although there was some contact between these individuals at Halim, much of the time they were kept separated from each other in different houses with GESTAPU messengers going back and forth. (The phones had been cut in Djakarta. Only the Army had an emergency communication system functioning.) Aidit in particular was kept "protected" from any contact with Sukarno.
From the CIA Research Study account we learn that "Aidit definitely was accompanied by two bodyguards, who stayed with him the whole day of the 1st while he was at Halim and who accompanied him on the plane on his flight from Halim to Jogjakarta on the morning of the 2nd." The actual function of these "bodyguards" seems obvious. (It is remarkable how little role, even in the official accounts, Aidit seems to have played at Halim in guiding the movement that he is alleged to have been responsible for.)
Back at Merdeka Square, the GESTAPU-KOSTRAD troops had occupied the radio station at about the same time that the generals were being kidnapped. The use of the radio to broadcast a carefully prepared series of messages was a crucial part of the GESTAPU operation. The fact that Suharto, located just across the square in KOSTRAD headquarters, took no action until the evening to put the radio off the air--although he says that he very quickly decided that something was wrong--was suspicious and "explained" in the official version in terms of Suharto's desire to avoid violence. (His tolerance toward troops who had apparently killed or abducted six leading Army generals is remarkable.) In fact, Suharto deliberately waited to "retake" the radio station until the planned messages were completed. This he accomplished without firing a shot. (In the whole GESTAPU affair, including outside of Djakarta, only a handful of people were killed other than the generals.)
The most important characteristic of the first 7 AM GESTAPU radio broadcast in which the existence of the September 30th Movement was announced was that it was unclear whether GESTAPU was pro- or anti-Sukarno. The deliberate creation of uncertainty was necessary in part so as to prevent anyone "unexpected" from involving themselves. The fact that the name of Sukarno was not invoked in support of GESTAPU, which any genuine leftist coup attempt would probably have faked if necessary in order to increase the chances for success, probably made GESTAPU seem somewhat anti-Sukarno. The emphasis on its being "inside the military" was calculated to prevent anyone, especially the PKI, from taking to the streets and getting in the way. Basically, the impact of the 7 AM message was to confuse people and keep them sitting still waiting for the next message. In any event, given the climate of rumor in Djakarta, GESTAPU was not an implausible event, although who was behind it and what it was to accomplish was uncertain.
Another apparently calculated aspect of the first radio broadcast was the statement that a Revolutionary Council was going to be set up, with the implication--later made very clear--that it would be the new government. It was not until the afternoon that the "rather peculiar assortment of names" on the Revolutionary Council was announced. The indication of the abolition of the existing cabinet, however, was apparently partially intended to provide a rationale and gloss of legality for General Suharto to take quick command of the Army without consultation with Sukarno. In justifying his behavior afterwards, Suharto has cited the fact that GESTAPU had overthrown the existing government and therefore he was free to act on his own. (One of the contradictions in the post-1965 explanation of GESTAPU is that if the Untung group was primarily concerned to execute a limited operation to purge the Army of leading anti-PKI generals, why was it necessary to set aside the existing government, giving the operation the clear flavor of a political coup?)
Even the term "Revolutionary Council" may have been devised as another bit of dust thrown in the eyes of the confused public. Apparently the last time that "Revolutionary Councils" had been established in Indonesia was in 1956 and 1957 when some of the dissident anti-PKI regional military commanders had done so.
Although the radio announcement of the membership of the new Revolutionary Council, "the source of all authority in the Republic of Indonesia," was not broadcast until about 2 PM, we will discuss it here. It seems possible to discern several functions for this message. The rather heterogeneous and lack-luster membership seems calculated to discourage anyone from rallying to support. (Clearly, few, if any, of the non-military members of the Council had been informed before hand. A better selection could have been faked if assuring the success of the "coup" had really been important.) The unknown middle-ranking officers took the top positions for themselves. The heads of the non-Army military services were prominently displayed as members of the Council, perhaps part of the overall plan to prevent uncontrolled military forces from involving themselves in the GESTAPU events. Linking the heads of the Air Force, Navy, and Police with GESTAPU would make it possible to label any unwanted military action by these forces as part of the GESTAPU revolt.
It is uncertain how much additional calculation was put into the membership list. A handful of PKI officials from affiliated organizations were included, but none of the top PKI leaders. This again would discourage unplanned PKI involvement Later analyses of the membership indicate the possibility that the CIA's "experts" on communism may have devised the list according to their calculation of a plausible "stage" which the "revolution" in Indonesia had reached. In October 1965 The Washington Post published a story by Chalmers Roberts, apparently based on CIA briefings, that said U.S. officials reported to have evidence that Sukarno, through a coup, had "intended to turn his country into an Indonesian version of a Communist 'People's Democracy.'" We may guess that as part of the devising of a cover story for GESTAPU the CIA experts tried to simulate the kind of government that the PKI and Sukarno (apparently little distinction was made) might plausibly have been expected to set up if a pro-Communist coup occurred in Indonesia in the fall of 1965.
The 1968 CIA Research Study states that "the Revolutionary Council was the perfect Communist front organization." Justus van der Kroef has provided the most extensive exposition of the "People's Democracy" thesis, along the lines of Eastern European experience. Actually, judging by a more careful study of Soviet and Chinese examples, the PKI membership on the Revolutionary Council was too limited and the composition of the Council was far from being a "perfect" simulation. (The eight year old CIA Research Study contains several rather amateurish efforts to show the traces of Chinese Communist ideology or practice in the GESTAPU events, reflective of the spirit of the times.)
The behavior of Sukarno on October 1st, the subject of much speculation later on, seems to be that of someone who is unsure of what is going on, but wary and trying desperately to get a handle on the situation. The GESTAPU officers did not actually keep him prisoner at Halim Air Force Base--General Supardjo's role seems to have been that of a rather skilled handler of Sukarno, keeping up the GESTAPU pretence--and permitted him to send and receive messages and selected visitors. To the extent possible, however, information and advice available to Sukarno was controlled. (Sukarno's later emphasis on his being at Halim of his own free will was in the context of the rising anti-PKI hysteria. Sukarno struggled to keep it under control and did not want people to think that the "PKI-GESTAPU" had kidnapped him.)
We must assume that the CIA had prepared a psychological assessment of Sukarno which was an ingredient in planning the GESTAPU operation. How accurate and insightful the CIA's profile may have been we do not know. Considering the obsession of Westerners with Sukarno's sex life and the image of irresponsibility and irrationality that had been built up about him, we may suspect that the assessment was not highly useful. Some Americans seem to have considered Sukarno a coward and Howard Jones cites a Washington view, circa 1958, that Sukarno "did not have the intestinal fortitude to order the Indonesian military into action since it would split the country. Sukarno had worked all his life to unite his country; he was the last man to take an action that would result in a division that might be irrevocable." The view of Sukarno as unwilling to take decisive and divisive military action against other Indonesians could have been a factor in the planning of GESTAPU. Sukarno's lack of ruthlessness would be exploited.
One of the clearer indications of the absence of collusion between Sukarno and the GESTAPU officers, and of their willingness to ignore him when necessary, is the fact that (according to the CIA Research Study) at about noon on October 1st Sukarno told General Supardjo to stop the September 30th Movement. However, some important radio broadcasts had yet to be made, and the rationale for the apparently fabricated incriminating October 2 Harian Rakjat editorial would have been destroyed if General Supardjo had immediately stopped GESTAPU. The GESTAPU actions continued in Djakarta until the evening.
At about 1 PM an announcement, over General Sabur's name, was broadcast that "President Sukarno is safe and well and continues to execute the leadership of the State." This seems to have been a genuine statement from Sukarno, and implied his rejection of the September 30th Movement. Sukarno did not leave Halim until about 8:30 PM when he went to Bogor, having failed to prevent Suharto from taking over the Army.
In addition to the GESTAPU radio broadcasts containing the details of the Revolutionary Council, the other important afternoon message was a statement attributed to General Dani, the leftist Air Force Chief of Staff, expressing support for the September 30th Movement. This was broadcast at 3:30 PM. The means by which this "Order of the Day" was elicited from Dani, or whether it was fabricated, is uncertain. The statement carried a dating of 9:30 AM, before Sukarno's radio message, although it was not actually broadcast until six hours later.
The CIA Research Study comments on this "incredibly poorly timed" message of General Dani: "Two hours after Sukarno had studiously avoided committing himself over the radio the Air Force Chief Dani had pledged support of the Air Force to the coup." The peculiarity of this was accentuated by the fact that Dani was considered to be a man who carefully calculated his steps to fall in line with Sukarno. It seemed impossible that Dani could take such an action without Sukarno's endorsement. Perhaps in the confused and controlled circumstances at Halim the GESTAPU officers had managed to convince Dani earlier in the day that Sukarno wanted him to prepare a pro-GESTAPU Order of the Day to have on hand in case of need. (The possibility of straight fabrication exists, although the author has found no emphatic assertion to this effect by Dani.)
Assuming that the Dani message was a planned part of the GESTAPU scenario, it's purpose, of course, was to incriminate the leftist Dani and the Air Force in the GESTAPU coup attempt and the murder of the generals. (In the early days after October 1st Suharto seems to have been even more interested in defaming the Air Force than the PKI. After all, the Air Force had weapons and the PKI did not.) The Dani message also helped to enhance the plausibility of a PKI newspaper editorial expressing similar views on the next day. Early and unambiguous identification of Dani with GESTAPU would also inhibit him from taking unwanted military action.
Following the broadcast of the Dani statement, there were only a few steps left for GESTAPU, except for the action in Central Java to be examined later. Another incident of incriminating PKI involvement in GESTAPU was the alleged appearance late in the day near Merdeka Square of Pemuda Rakjat (the PKI youth organization) youths armed with Chinese weapons supposedly given to them by the Air Force. They were quickly disarmed by units of the KOSTRAD-GESTAPU 530th Battalion which had already "rejoined" the loyal forces. (Perhaps the incident was arranged in part to demonstrate that the KOSTRAD-GESTAPU units were not really bad.)
This futile arming of "PKI" youths with marked Chinese weapons that were never used is another of the almost endless string of GESTAPU "mistakes." The CIA Research Study comments: "The weapons were all small arms of Chinese origin, with the 'Chung' trademark stamped on them. The Indonesian army was known not to have any weapons of that type. There is absolutely no doubt that the arms were the property of the Indonesian Air Force." (Suharto is later said to have thrust one of these "Chung" guns before Sukarno as proof of GESTAPU's evil.)
While the CIA analyst may have "no doubt," another explanation seems more probable. (Stories of Chinese arms shipments to Indonesia were rife after October 1st but even the CIA Study, in other places, questions their accuracy.) The CIA is known to have had a large store of Chinese weapons at this time, which were used for a variety of purposes, including such "incriminating" schemes. This incident was simply another planned part of the GESTAPU effort to incriminate the PKI in GESTAPU in dramatic fashion. The youths might have been unwitting Pemuda Rakjat but that could have been too dangerous and it seems more probable that they were other youths, or possibly it did not even happen at all.
Apparently there were armed anti-PKI youths in Djakarta already on October 1st who had some idea of what was going on. Donald Hindley has written the following:
"October 1 was an even more confusing day for the civilians of Djakarta....And yet, while the situation was still in doubt, a few civilians did take action to use the September 30 Movement as the excuse for a public attack on the Communist Party. "By the evening of 1 October, several Moslems had met and agreed to form a Moslem Action Command Against Communism. These initial, and very few, activists were members of HMI (Moslem University Student's Association), PII (Moslem High School Students), Gasbiindo (Indonesian Moslem Trade Union Association), and the Muhammadijah, all of them organizations formerly affiliated with Masjumi. The only politician willing to be involved on that first day was Subchan, a vice-chairman of the NU and, in many ways, atypical of his party's leadership. That evening the group made contact with the army leadership, in the person of Djakarta commander Major General Umar Wirahadikusuma, who agreed to give them a few weapons. More important, Umar approved the formation of KAP-Gestapu (Action Front for the Crushing of Gestapu: Gestapu being an abbreviation of the Indonesian for 'September 30 Movement'). The plans for the more narrowly based, specifically Moslem Action Command were quietly dropped. Already, then, the army leadership had proffered its encouragement and (as yet less clearly apparent) protection for those who would spearhead a civilian campaign against the PKI."
If this is true, it indicates either remarkable prescience (it occurred before any evidence of PKI connection to GESTAPU had been announced) or, in our interpretation, that the GESTAPU action was a CIA-Suharto creation. The list of organizations involved on October 1st reads like a list of those civilian groups who would most likely have been working under CIA guidance. The use of anti-PKI students by the Army after October 1st is well known. The use of similar groups in many countries is also standard CIA practice. The extraordinarily early creation of KAP-GESTAPU with Army support is evidence of how the groundwork for the subsequent exploitation of the GESTAPU events was laid right from the beginning, if not before.
By about 7 PM on October 1st the Army had retaken the Indonesian Radio station and at 8:45 PM an announcement was broadcast that the "counter-revolutionary" September 30th Movement had kidnapped a number of generals but that Sukarno and Nasution were now safe and "the general situation is again under control."
Then occurred what subsequent observers have considered one of the most puzzling GESTAPU "mistakes," the appearance on October 2nd (after almost all other papers had ceased publication) of an issue of the PKI newspaper Harian Rakjat containing an editorial and cartoon endorsing the September 30th Movement. There is a remote possibility that the PKI editors were taken in by the messages they heard over the radio and had thrown caution overboard and in fact wrote such an editorial, but it is more probable that it was a fabrication. The Cornell study examined the October 2nd issue of Harian Rakjat at length and raised some doubts about the authenticity of the editorial and cartoon. The Cornell researchers, however, did not go so far as to declare them phony. The Cornell study does state that "the Djakarta garrison commander, Maj. Gen. Umar Wirahadikusumae, issued an order dated 6:00 p.m. on the 1st to the effect that no publications of any kind were to appear without permission of the Djakarta war authority, save for the Army newspapers Berita Yudha and Angkatan Bersendjata, whose buildings were to be guarded to ensure that they did come out." The Cornell study states that it is "quite likely that the Harian Rakjat office and plant...was occupied by government troops at or not long after the time that Gen. Umar gave this order."
The Cornell researchers rejected "the most obvious explanation, that of an Army falsification" for the appearance of the October 2nd issue on rather weak grounds: "Everything is written in the normal Harian Rakjat jargon, and the competence of the PKI's enemies at falsifying party documents has always been abysmally low." The Cornell study had already pointed out that the editorial, and the cartoon, were not in typical Harian Rakjat style; the mere appearance of "authentic" jargon does not exclude the falsification hypothesis. The clumsiness of some earlier falsifications might lead one to suspect that the Army had help on this one, from the falsification experts in the CIA.
The CIA Research Study finds the October 2nd editorial "mystifying," "an act of political suicide." The Study's explanation for how it happened is that Aidit was too busy doing other things to contact the Harian Rakjat editors and tell them to stop: "They could certainly have prevented its circulation....In the confusion of the moment, Aidit obviously did not have the time or the opportunity to contact the editors of Harian Rakjat if the matter of the editorial even occurred to him. He was totally occupied at the time with more important matters." With Sukarno having not endorsed the September 30th Movement, it is highly unlikely that Aidit, if he had been able to act, would have permitted the PKI to come out in public so quickly in favor of it. The Suharto-CIA thesis seems a more plausible explanation than "oversight. "
The activities of the September 30th Movement outside of Djakarta were restricted almost completely to Central Java and officers of the Diponegoro Division, General Suharto's former command. The CIA Research Study states: "In the three key cities of Central Java, there occurred the same basic pattern of military action followed by a public statement of support for Untung's movement and an announcement of the formation of a Revolutionary Council." Officers of the Diponegoro Division, led by Col Suherman, the Chief of Army Intelligence for Central Java (who had returned from training in the U.S. a month before), carried out these actions. (A number of analysts, including the semi-official Army historians, have noted that apparently the PKI had infiltrated the intelligence and civic action branches of the Army most successfully. It would seem more probable that the Suharto-CIA group had infiltrated those branches where American influence, guidance, and training were strong.)
The Djakarta pattern was followed even to the extent of having another remarkable "escape" of the leading military figure, General Sujosumpeno, the Division Commander, who then put down the coup with ease. Only two officers were killed by GESTAPU, Col. Katamso, the commanding officer in Jogjakarta, and his deputy. The subsequent discovery of their bodies was again used to whip up anti-PKI emotions. The interesting wrinkle in this case is that Col. Katamso was a most unlikely victim of the "progressive" GESTAPU. According to Ruth McVey's research, Katamso was a relatively pro-PKI military officer and, in Rex Mortimer's words, "the singling out of Colonel Katamso for destruction seems decidedly perverse." (We may speculate that as no further victims of the Yani-type were needed, the CIA-GESTAPU group decided that they might as well make a pro-PKI officer the sacrificial lamb in Central Java.)
There were a few alleged PKI demonstrations of support for GESTAPU in Central Java but it appears that, as in Djakarta, most, if not all, were fabricated. The "PKI" action that received most attention was a demonstration in Jogjakarta on October 2nd. Major Muljono, a civic action officer in the Diponegoro Division, was the GESTAPU leader in Jogjakarta. He seems to have been the one that put together the demonstration and other pro-GESTAPU actions. The CIA Research Study states that "The major PKI mass organizations were restrained from action....Apparently Muljono was able to influence the Communist youth more than the PKI leadership." The Cornell study states that the demonstration in Jogjakarta "appears to have been chiefly a function of connections between the local coup leader, Major Muljono, and civilian youth groups. The demonstration was notable for the absence of PKI, SOBSI, Gerwani, and BTI participants." Major Muljono was the only important officer in Central Java who was later put on trial. He "confessed" everything.
The wrap up of GESTAPU in Central Java took slightly longer than in Djakarta but followed the same pattern of "Suharto-style" negotiations and immediate, cooperative surrender.
Our analysis is that the basic reason why the CIA-Suharto group decided to extend GESTAPU outside of Djakarta is that they wanted to show that the PKI-GESTAPU was a nation-wide threat so as to justify a nation-wide repression of the PKI. Central Java was the easiest place for Suharto to arrange the necessary GESTAPU actions and PKI "implication." GESTAPU was limited to a few cities where the Diponegoro Division was concentrated. As the CIA Research Study states, "Nothing of the sort that happened in Semarang, Jogjakarta, and Solo happened anywhere else in Java, not even in East Java, where there were many powerful centers of Communist strength." The Cornell study comments on the Central Java coup efforts that "what is extraordinary is not the amount of Communist participation in the initial phase of the affair but the lack of it."
Before concluding, let us consider the fate of the leading GESTAPU conspirators. Some of them were tried and sentenced to death (Lt. Col. Untung, General Supardjo), others were said to have been killed in military clashes (Col. Suherman), and others (Col. Latief) have never been brought to trial or had their execution announced. It is our assumption that all of the leading military officers involved in GESTAPU on October 1st were "witting" actors in the CIA-Suharto plan. There is a remote chance that someone like Untung could have been unwitting but considerations of security would seem to have excluded the possibility of using someone who might easily have informed higher authorities of GESTAPU's existence or plans. We believe, particularly if the CIA connection is accurate, that these conspirators have subsequently been provided with new identities by the CIA and resettled outside of Indonesia. This kind of resettlement and looking after one's assets is relatively standard CIA procedure. The temptation to tie up loose ends and prevent any possibility of leaks raises the suggestion that the GESTAPU officers have been eliminated after serving their purpose but, not to be ironic, the honorable men at the CIA would probably consider this to be in violation of their code of conduct.
The official announcements of executions of GESTAPU officers, such as there have been, have been rather vague. For example, although Untung was tried and convicted in early 1966, it was not until September 1968 that Suharto stated for the first time that Untung and three other military leaders of the coup had been executed in December 1967. The 1968 CIA Research Study speculated that Latief was one of those executed in 1967 but in 1972 Latief made his first public appearance as a witness in the trial of Pono, an alleged PKI coup organizer. General Supardjo remained at large after October 1965 and was not arrested until early 1967. Apparently the Army knew where he was and his arrest was timed to serve a purpose in the ouster of Sukarno. In December 1965 it was announced that Col. Suherman and the other important GESTAPU officers from the Diponegoro Division headquarters had been shot dead in a clash with government troops in Central Java. Other Army sources have said that they were actually captured before they were shot. The evidence available to the author indicates that there have been no public or independently verified executions of any of the GESTAPU officers.
Discounting the dubious confessions displayed at the post-1965 show trials, the CIA-Suharto hypothesis seems to have the following advantages over other explanations of GESTAPU:
1. It is consistent with PKI policy and behavior before, during, and after the October 1st events. It explains PKI unpreparedness.
2. It is consistent with President Sukarno's behavior before, during, and after the events of October 1st. Sukarno had never resorted to political murder.
3. It explains why the coup was launched in such a disadvantageous military situation, why it was carried out with such incompetence, and why it failed so easily. GESTAPU was meant to fail, and quickly.
4. It is consistent with expected U.S. activism. It is highly implausible that the U.S. would have passively permitted Indonesia to "go Communist." Something had to be done. A desperate situation required desperate measures.
5. It relates the GESTAPU action to those who benefited from it.
6. It is consistent with what we know of the backgrounds of the GESTAPU officers. They were, for the most part, Suharto's men and there is no evidence, except for that obtained through "confessions," that they had any pro-PKI inclinations.
7. It explains why General Yani and his associates were killed (and not merely kidnapped or put on trial). There were several strong motives for the CIA and Suharto to get rid of Yani. Victims of the "PKI" were required and in the Indonesian context, Yani was a "constitutionalist," loyal to the existing regime, as General Schneider was later in Chile.
8. It is inconsistent (a positive value) with a series of highly suspicious trials that were stage-managed by the Indonesian Army for obvious political purposes. As Justus van der Kroef wrote in 1970, "What Indonesians have been reading about Gestapu thus far is likely, in retrospect, to be more valuable as an index to the manipulation of the opinion and feelings concerning the September 30 events than as a contribution to an understanding of the coup itself." That a few trials, those of Sudisman and Sjam, impressed some foreign observers is only indicative of the fact that the state of the art has advanced since the 1930's in the Soviet Union.
The Cornell study in 1966 perceived the absence of links between GESTAPU on the one side and the PKI and Sukarno on the other and the essentially reactive behavior of the latter. The Cornell researchers concluded that the GESTAPU actors were entirely within the military establishment. A number of analysts noted the many associations between the GESTAPU officers and General Suharto. In the climate of 10 years ago, however, prior to the revelations of CIA operations, few were willing to take the next step and draw the logical connections that most adequately explain GESTAPU and its origins.