WASHINGTON — The government on Friday scrambled to call back all copies of a State Department history that details the U.S. role in Indonesia's deadly purge of communists in the 1960s.
In a diplomatically embarrassing case of terrible timing, hundreds of libraries across the country are stocking the recently released history of American officials' secret support for the anti-communist campaign that undermined the rule of Sukarno, Indonesia's founding president. Sukarno's daughter became the country's new leader this week.
Intelligence officials sought to portray the release of the report as inadvertent, but a Government Printing Office spokesman said the agency got State Department approval before making the book publicly available in April.
"We did not inadvertently release this history," said GPO spokesman Andrew Sherman.
"Only within the last two weeks have we been contacted by the State Department" and "every now and then an agency will say, 'There is a problem with a document, can you pull it back.' That's what we have been in the process of doing over the last several days--talking to the State Department and finding a way to ask the libraries to take those books off the shelves," Sherman said.
The National Security Archive, a private group specializing in national security issues, said the CIA had tried to suppress the history. The group on Friday posted the disputed volume on Indonesia on its Web site: http://http://www.nsarchive.org.
The text of a four-page CIA memo from then-Far East Division Chief William E. Colby is deleted in its entirety. The history identifies the source and date of the memo. Colby, who later became CIA director, died in 1996.
The CIA memo is dated the day after a State Department cable contained in the history spells out a U.S. plan to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to a group bent on the destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party.
"This is to confirm my earlier concurrence that we provide Malik with 50 million rupiahs requested by him for the activities of the Kap-Gestapu movement," says a Dec. 2, 1965, document from the American ambassador in Indonesia to William P. Bundy, assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 1964 to 1969.
"The chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support in this instance are as minimal as any black bag operation can be," the document concluded.
Of the Gestapu, the ambassador's document said, "This army-inspired but civilian-staffed action group is still carrying burden of current repressive efforts targeted against the PKI," a reference to the Indonesian Communist Party that was allied with Sukarno.
In an April 15, 1966, message to Washington, the embassy acknowledged: "We frankly do not know whether the real figure" of communists who have been killed "is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000 but believe it wiser to err on the side of the lower estimates, especially when questioned by the press."
Adding detail to revelations of over a decade ago, the volume also points out that the U.S. Embassy supplied lists of top communist leaders to the Indonesians who were trying to destroy the PKI. The embassy said the lists were "apparently being used by Indonesian security authorities who seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership."