The Lion City. A den for Western spies? Pic: AP.

What are the regional foreign policy consequences? asks Asia Sentinel’s Murray Hunter

Singapore is an anomaly in Southeast Asia. It has staunch connections with the US and Israel and a network of varied corporate interests all around the world. It is a small, primarily non-Muslim city-state surrounded by much larger, occasionally antipathetic Muslim countries. Sovereignty disputes on the South China Sea are continuing, and unpredictable events like Sulu militants invading Lahad Datu in Sabah continue to occur. Singapore’s security is of prime domestic importance.

The potency and effectiveness of Singapore’s intelligence services was seen in the 1990s with the successful recruitment of Australian intelligence officers to pass on sensitive information to Singaporean intelligence at the DSD (now Australian Signals Directorate) listening station at Cabarlah, near Toowoomba, Queensland.

Even though Singapore has initiated a number of security programs like the Eyes-in-the-Sky (EiS) program with Malaysia and Indonesia to protect the Melaka Straits, and undertakes joint surveillance of the South China Sea with Malaysia, using land, sea, and air based assets, Malaysia and Indonesia are still very suspicious of Singapore’s intentions.

In particular, Indonesia is very concerned that Singapore has been colluding with Australia and the United States with spying activities within Indonesia, recently calling the Singapore Ambassador to Jakarta for an explanation. The majority of Indonesia’s international telephone and internet traffic is routed through Singapore, which leaves the country very vulnerable to Singapore’s SIGINT programs.

Singapore has extensive military links with other nations of the Western block with air force squadrons based in France, the United States, and Australia. These relationships are also firmly embedded in the intelligence arena.

The Singapore Special Branch was the forerunner to the Security Intelligence Division under the Ministry of Defense (SID) and Internal Security Division (SID) under the Home Ministry. The Special Branch was set up by the British and later Singaporean operatives were trained by Australians who operated the old Kranji SIGINT listening post before its closure in 1974. Due to historical reasons, both the SID and ISD have a strong anti-communist culture.

The role of the SID is to gather and analyze intelligence related to the national security of Singapore. The SID has an external focus and undertakes clandestine activities like it did in supplying weapons to anti-communist fighters in Cambodia during the 1980s. The internal component is the ISD which confronts and addresses threats to national security, international terrorism, border protection, racial tensions, fraud against the state, foreign subversion, and espionage.

The ISD controls the internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial for up to two years. It is the ability to incarcerate suspect terrorists for long periods of time without legal redress, not allowed in most Western countries, that has allowed the ISD to develop an understanding of the reasons why people become terrorists, valuable knowledge for other Western intelligence agencies. Members of the both the SID and ISD work throughout all parts of the civil service and diplomatic missions around the world. It is believed that even Singapore Airlines and other regional airlines are infiltrated by agents of ISD/SID.

The prime SIGINT function in relation to the “five eyes” collaboration, according to Philip Dorling of the Sydney Morning Herald, is in partnership with Britain, The United States, and Australia in intercepting data and telecommunications by tapping undersea cables that link Asia, the Middle East and Europe, under a program called TEMPORA. The two major fiber optic cables are the SEA-ME-WE-3 running from Japan, via Singapore through Djibouti, the Suez, the Straits of Gibraltar, to Northern Germany, and the SEA-ME-WE-4, from Singapore to Southern France.

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