By Joe Cochrane
New York Times
JAKARTA, Indonesia >> Engaged in a dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea and battling Australia over migrant boats, Indonesian authorities are sounding the alarm over another pressing issue: Pokemon.
Government officials, including leaders of the country’s security forces, are warning that Pokemon Go, the new, globally popular location-based mobile game, is a national threat that could enable its enemies to gain access to top-secret data and penetrate sensitive government and military sites.
“As the game uses a real-time camera, there will be security risks when played” near or within restricted state facilities, Sutiyoso, director of the State Intelligence Agency, the domestic spy service, told reporters on Friday. Like many Indonesians, he has only one name.
Echoing his concerns, Yuddy Chrisnandi, director of the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform, barred all civil servants via his Twitter account from playing Pokemon Go while on duty inside government buildings. He said doing so could compromise state secrets.
And on Wednesday, members of Indonesia’s armed forces and National Police were also barred from playing the game while on duty, with their leaders calling it a security threat, according to local news reports.
Before this, an advisory that circulated among the Indonesian military and the National Police claimed that the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was using the game as a “data collection system,” according to The Jakarta Globe, an English-language online publication.
The leaked advisory, according to the publication, stated that the CIA had done the same thing with Facebook.
Juwono Sudarsono, a former Indonesian defense minister, cast doubt on the claims, saying the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency “was unlikely to spend billions to spy on Indonesia,” with which Washington has strong diplomatic, economic and security relations.
The stark warnings have had scant effect upon other government officials. Pramono Anung, Cabinet secretary to President Joko Widodo, gleefully told reporters last week that he had captured a number of Pokemon while playing the game on the grounds of the presidential palace in Jakarta, the capital. The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the playing of Pokemon Go has now been banned on palace grounds.
In addition, the city’s governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, has suggested holding an event where Pokemon Go gamers play inside City Hall to help promote tourism.
Pokemon Go has not been officially introduced in Indonesia, meaning gamers in the country are using unauthorized apps to play — including the government officials.
Some security experts and analysts are skeptical that the game poses a threat to national security. They instead point to xenophobia among Indonesia’s security forces dating to the country’s independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1945.
“It’s the mind frame of the military itself — them not understanding what Pokemon really is, and about the technology,” said Yohanes Sulaiman, a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University. “It’s all part of their paranoia.”
“They believe in this idea of proxy war,” he said. “The enemy is not there to attack us directly; they want to brainwash us — young teenagers — who are focusing on Pokemon and forgetting their duty to defend the country.”
Indonesian politicians and security officials over the decades have frequently pushed the theory that the country is under constant threat from its Southeast Asian neighbors, as well as the West.
In March 2015, Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, the Indonesian army chief at the time who is now the commander of the country’s armed forces, declared in a speech that there was a “proxy war” being waged by foreign elements to steal the country’s territory and get the nation’s youth hooked on drugs.
In 2008, the country’s health minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, suggested that the United States was leading a conspiracy to develop the bird flu virus into a biological weapon and leave developing countries that need vaccines at its mercy.
Robertus Robet, a sociology lecturer at the State University of Jakarta, said that Indonesia’s security forces, even more than 15 years into the country’s transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, continue to “project their own fear into some empirical objects such as a game like Pokemon.”
Yet, there has been at least one security lapse.
On Monday night, a French citizen working in Indonesia was temporarily detained after stumbling onto the grounds of a military base in West Java province while searching, he said, for Pokemon figures.
He was eventually released, according to local police officials.