106. Memorandum From Director of the United States Information Agency Rowan to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Indonesia: Possible U.S. Courses of Action

Anti-American activities in Indonesia, particularly those directed against USIS during the last six months, have created a situation that I can describe only as intolerable. I believe that American interests and our national dignity, not only in Indonesia but elsewhere, require that action now be taken to indicate that we will not allow such actions to continue unpenalized.

I realize that our long-suffering patience in these matters has been due in large part to our desire to keep Indonesia out of the communist orbit at virtually any cost, but it seems obvious that the Indonesian government is abusing our patience to its advantage—and thus our present predicament.

What is happening to USIS in Indonesia is obviously part of the much larger picture of U.S.-Indonesian relations. It is apparent that the Indonesian government has decided to apply to these relations its now well-established strategy of exerting a steadily-increasing pressure on the official and private interests of foreign countries with whose policies it does not agree with the expectation that it can force a change in those policies. At present, USIS has been singled out for special attention. We shall soon have nothing worthwhile left in the way of an information operation. The pressures now being brought to bear on American rubber estates in Sumatra indicate that these interests are next on the list. Just as in the case of the Dutch, beginning in 1957, and of the British, following the establishment of Malaysia in 1963, this trend will continue either until we make the desired concessions to the GOI or until nothing remains.

While USIS is rapidly being deprived of its capacity for effective programming, it would be a serious mistake to close down any of our operations voluntarily. Such an action would be interpreted by both our enemies and friends as a retreat and as knuckling under to communist pressure. And since no significant differences appear to exist between the Government of Indonesia and the Partai Kommunis Indonesia insofar as immediate objectives are concerned, withdrawal on our part [Page 224]could only encourage further excesses against other American interests on the part of the government. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that USIS apparently has no future in Indonesia under present conditions, I am prepared to sacrifice a part, or even all, of our operation there if the Department is willing to take strong and immediate action (1) to protest what has happened to date, and (2) to put our opponents everywhere on notice that such actions inevitably have a price tag attached to them.

While superficially we appear to have little leverage with the Indonesian government, I am convinced that there are many courses of action open to us. The following come immediately to mind:

The top Indonesian representative available should be called in and bluntly informed that the activities which the Indonesian government has been tolerating, encouraging and even engaging in are contrary to established international and diplomatic custom and usage and that we do not intend to continue to suffer such treatment without retaliating. The press should be informed in advance that the Indonesians are being called in, and we should encourage as wide dissemination of the substance of our complaint as possible.
We should recall the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, making it clear publicly that we do not intend to replace him until we have had some satisfaction from the GOI.
Whatever remains in the way of a U.S. economic assistance program in Indonesia, including training, the supplying of spare parts, civic action, malaria eradication, etc., should be terminated immediately, with attendant wide publicity.
Although the GOI’s information and cultural operation in this country is relatively small scale and hence cannot be equated with USIS in Indonesia, we should begin now to cut back certain of their activities here.

While the purely information operation of the GOI in this country has thus far been sporadic and largely ineffectual, the greatest activity has taken place in New York, as a part of the Indonesian Mission to the U.N. Following Indonesia’s decision to withdraw from the U.N. we thought for a time that the GOI was planning to move this activity to its consulate general in New York, a supposition which was supported by the transfer of responsibility for publishing the Mission’s bulletin, “News and Views,” to the consulate general. However, the Permanent Mission resumed issuance of the bulletin under its imprint at the end of January. This obviously cannot continue after March 1, the date on which Indonesia’s connection with the U.N. terminates. We do not yet know whether the consulate general will pick up the bulletin, or whether the embassy here will assume responsibility for its publication (as the consulate general information officer told one [Page 225]of our people would be the case). However, the embassy here has recently stepped up the issuance of its own information bulletin from a sporadic to a regular basis of once a week. Samples of Indonesian information output in this country are attached.2

We are inclined to believe that with the departure of the Indonesian U.N. Mission from New York, the GOI will probably attach greater importance to the remaining Indonesian presence there than has hitherto been the case, primarily because of New York’s importance commercially and as the seat of the United Nations headquarters, with its sizeable number of Afro-Asian representatives. Therefore, the presence of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York suggests some other interesting possibilities for retaliation. If our information operation in Surabaya is closed down, we should ask the Indonesians to withdraw their information people from New York.

If we deem it wise to close all USIS facilities in Indonesia and pull out our personnel, we should inform Indonesia that we are expelling all Indonesians engaged in informational, cultural, and other work of a nature done by USIA. This would include several Indonesians in Washington as well as some staff members in New York and San Francisco.

Because of the attacks on our Consulate proper in Medan and the harassment of our Consul in Surabaya, we ought even explore the question of whether we wish to close down our Consulate as well as the U.S. Information Service in Surabaya and in turn ask the Indonesians to close their entire New York operation.

I am fully aware that the recommendations that I have made are harsh, and that some would produce an angry reaction on the part of Sukarno.3 I believe that the only alternative is for us to continue taking abuse with the result that mob attacks will become the order of the day all around the world because government officials with grievance against us, or acting under communist pressure, will figure that they can get away with it.

Carl T. Rowan 4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Indonesia, Vol. III, Memos 9/64–2/65, [2 of 2]. Confidential. Copies were sent to Ball and William Bundy.
  2. Not attached to the source text.
  3. In a memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, February 19, Thomson noted that Rowan planned to see President Johnson that afternoon at 5:45 p.m. and Rowan might raise the issue of USIS in Indonesia along the lines of this memorandum. Thomson stated Rowan’s position was “an over-reaction,” a view shared by FE. Thomson also noted that Jones would return to Indonesia with the “toughest message ever communicated to the Indos, as a result of mob action.” The USIS library in Medan had just been reopened, Djakarta’s was in “temporary protective custody,” and facilities at Jogjakarta and Surabaya were closed. If the President asked for Bundy’s advice on Rowan’s views, Thomson suggested that Bundy advise the President to “hold off any such rash response until Jones and Sukarno have a further confrontation.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Indonesia, Vol. III, Memos 9/64–2/65, [2 of 2])
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.