COMMENT In the middle of April 2011, blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, better known as RPK, dropped a bombshell in denying his sensational statutory declaration dated June 2008.
He claimed that he had been misled into making a false allegation against Rosmah Mansor, wife of premier Najib Abdul Razak.
The sources of information who RPK (left) named were persons close to PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and one Kol Azmi Zainal Abidin from ‘military intelligence’.
However, then defence force head Jen Azizan Ariffin clarified that the information provided by Azmi Zainal was false and had never been in the possession of the armed forces. He also said Azmi Zainal’s “actions are personal and have no relation to the armed forces”.
Azizan’s statement does not absolve the military of wrongdoing. He did not clarify whether or not the military intelligence had been involved in the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu or if it was secretly interfering in politics.
It is worth noting that Malaysia, which practices Westminster parliamentary democracy, bars the military from taking part in politics, to maintain independence and honour. An independent armed forces ensures the success of a bipartisan political system and prevents attempts at a coup d’etat.
However, the ‘military intelligence’ mentioned by RPK does not exist in the armed forces. The correct authority is the Defence Staff Intelligence Division (BSPP).
It is the most secret unit in the armed forces and is headed by a director-general who is also a three-star general. Generally, its responsibilities include the planning and execution of relevant actions to counter or neutralise sabotage or negative and covert hostile operations, as well as to conduct electronic and psychological warfare.
It can conduct joint intelligence gathering with other organisations within or outside the country, but only with the defence minister’s approval and a directive from the defence force chief.
As the BSPP is deemed a strategic tool, its development has always been accorded priority. It is believed that its intelligence gathering capability is more advanced than that of the police special branch.
This capability is more than sufficient to pry into political information. So, the question is, has BSPP done so?
Public ‘admission’ of interference
Two interesting news reports could shed some light on this.
First, in July 2006, then premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad was attacked with pepper spray when he arrived in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, to attend a political seminar.
The police immediately arrested dozens of people for investigation, including seven army personnel from the 8th Brigade. But what were they doing there?
Second, after the BN encountered its biggest defeat in the 2008 general election, Mahathir held a press conference on March 9, during which he denounced premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s under-performance.
He also claimed that Abdullah’s refusal to take the advice of the special branch and military intelligence unit not to call a general election, had contributed to the BN’s electoral defeat.
Take note: This was the first time a top national leader publicly admitted that the military intelligence was ‘involved’ in politics.
While the BSPP did not violate any law, its behaviour went against its ethics and the democratic system.
It is self-evident that making an intelligence agency, whether the BSPP or special branch, a private consulting group is a violation of good governance, and must be challenged immediately.
In light of this, there is a pressing need to make the government reveal more information about allegations by Mahathir and RPK, in particular the BSPP’s apparent involvement in politics.
It is also time to enact laws, as the US has done, to prohibit and monitor the government’s use of intelligence agencies to spy on political opponents or to serve its own political interests.
And it is the duty of the rakyat to prevent political espionage in Malaysia.
LAM CHOONG WAH is a former military reporter and defence analyst. He holds a Master's degree in Strategic and Defence Studies.