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Secret Meeting in the Home of
President Megawati of Indonesia

Feb. 28, 2005

Dear friends,

Fred Burks

A number of requests have come in for more information on the secret meeting to which I was a witness in September of 2002. My testimony in Indonesia last month related to this meeting made headlines in newspapers and TV programs across Indonesia, and most recently was even featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

At the end of each year, I write up a summary of the highlights of my year. Below I've copied a fairly detailed summary of what I wrote in my yearly summary of 2002 about this meeting. You will see that subtle, yet clear pressure was put on President Megawati of Indonesia by U.S. officials to secretly capture and turn over a prominent Muslim cleric. Yet these same officials and others, though acknowledging my presence at the meeting, have continually denied in the international press putting pressure on Indonesia in this case.

I've made a few editing adjustments to the original, like removing the name of the CIA agent. The end of the writing has some humorous details I think you'll enjoy. May each of us have the courage to stand and speak the truth when it clearly is in the interests of all good people who share our world. Take care and have a great day.

With best wishes,
Fred Burks
Former language interpreter for Presidents Bush and Clinton

PS For what led to me testify, see

Secret Negotiations with Indonesian President Megawati

My most fascinating interpreting work in 2002 was in Indonesia with President Megawati. I got a call from Karen Brooks, the Indonesian expert on the National Security Council one Friday in September. The very next day I hopped on a plane to meet her and another woman for a secret presidential briefing in Jakarta.

This other woman ended up letting me know she was a CIA agent. It's the first time anyone has ever admitted being in the CIA to me. She and I dined together one night. She said she enjoys and believes in the work, even though it means she often has to live a secret life. As an example, she couldn't go out with a friend in Jakarta on this visit, as no one was supposed to know that she was there. She was headed out on a secret mission to Afghanistan immediately after Jakarta.

Secret Clearance. During the initial phone call from Karen, she asked me if I had secret clearance. I told her that I have only a basic, low-level clearance. She said, "Oh sh*t! Well, can you keep a secret?" I'd been invited to apply for secret clearance a couple times in past years, but was told it was not required. As long as I don't have to, I'd rather not go through the process as it's a big hassle.

Over a year ago, Stephanie, the chief of Interpreting at the State Department, told me that it could make things easier in the future if I had secret clearance. I informed her that I had used the drug ecstasy twice about four years prior and could not lie about this on the forms. After hearing this, she recommended that I don't apply for secret clearance. She appreciated my honesty, though. We've become friends, and I've even given her information on the major cover-ups from I'd rather be honest about my own life and risk being fired than try to keep something secret. I would not make a good CIA agent.

A Wanted Man. At the meeting with Megawati, Ambassador Ralph Boyce, Karen Brooks, myself, and the CIA agent were present. The CIA agent was introduced as a special assistant to the president. She told Megawati that the US needed help in "rendering" Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, who she claimed had known ties to Al Qaeda. I had just learned that rendering means a secret agreement between two governments to covertly capture and turn over a wanted person. The "special assistant" said that US intelligence had proof that Ba'asyir had made two attempts on Megawati's life, in addition to masterminding a number of other heinous plots as the leader of Jemaah Islamiah. This information came from Omar al-Faruq, who had been rendered to the US previously by Indonesia.

Megawati responded that unlike al-Faruq, Ba'asyir was quite well known in Indonesia and revered by many (he is something like a Muslim version of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson). To secretly hand him over to the US would likely cause political and religious instability that she could not afford. The special assistant responded that she understood these legitimate concerns, but that if Ba'asyir wasn't turned over by the time of the APEC meeting (about six weeks later), the situation could become difficult. Megawati responded that the only way she could turn him over was if public opinion of Ba'asyir were somehow to turn against him. She also said that she hoped this situation would not lead to a severing of the good relations between our countries.

It's very interesting to note that just a few weeks after this meeting, a nightclub in Bali was bombed, killing nearly 100 Australians and another 100 Indonesians. US intelligence almost immediately linked Ba'asyir to the bombing. This gave Megawati the reason she needed, and the cleric is now in Indonesian custody, though he has not been rendered to the US. As the majority of Bali bombing victims were Australian, the bombing also served to scare both the Australian government and people into much more fully supporting the American war on terror. They had previously been quite reluctant. So the bombing ended up being very convenient for the American government–a little too convenient in my opinion.

Layers of Secrecy. On this particular visit, I spent a lot of time in secure parts of the embassy (which was under bomb threat alert at the time with concrete barricades out front and all). There were numerous notices on the walls stating, "Taking classified documents home is a violation of federal law." I worked on translating classified documents on a classified computer. It was quite something to see layer upon layer of security and secrecy in the embassy. It's very sad to me that this is how governments are run. I am very much into total transparency in my life. I find it incredibly liberating to live without hiding anything. Even the "secret" meetings I've interpreted for often end up being leaked (not by me) so that I can talk about them.

High-level Anti-terrorism Training. A few weeks after the Megawati briefing, I interpreted at an anti-terrorism training for high-ranking Indonesian police in Washington, DC. This took place at the same time all of the sniper killings were going on there. In this one-week course we had some very interesting high-level speakers. A three-star general who specialized in intelligence started off his speech with "Everything I tell you is the truth." Just a few sentences later, he stated, "We have no CIA officers in Indonesia." He was so full of it!!! I could hardly believe it! He even looked like he was lying! Several of the Indonesian police generals told me they didn't believe the guy. On the other hand, a four-star U.S. army general gave a great talk on the importance of effective communication and taught some empowering methods for this. I learned later that this friendly general had retired from the army during the Gulf War because there was too much bullsh*t going on behind the scenes. Fascinating experiences!!!

A Funny Story  :o)  I have to share one funny, fascinating story. The day after I arrived in Jakarta for the Megawati briefing, the US Embassy called me in to do some written translation. When I asked about clothing, they said to come dressed casually as the Megawati briefing wouldn't happen till the following day. I breathed a sigh of relief, because for the first time in my life, I had forgotten to bring my dress shirts when I packed back home! On discovering my huge error after getting into my hotel the previous evening, I ran out and managed to buy a couple decent shirts that fit, but I hadn't had a chance to iron them yet!

After several hours working in my casual clothes in the embassy, one of the guys came rushing up saying, "The briefing time has been changed. We're going to do it NOW!" I responded, "That may be a problem because I don't have a suit with me." I was thinking to myself that even if I rushed back to the hotel by taxi, my new shirts were not ironed and would look terrible! Taking a deep breath, I offered to rush to the hotel to change, feeling it was my only option at this point.

The guy stopped for a moment and looked at me kind of strange–like he was sizing me up or something. "What size neck do you have?" he asked. And then "What size chest and waist?" Ten minutes later I was wearing this guy's suit, which he always kept hanging in his office for unexpected meetings! It just happens that we were exactly the same size–height and all!!! I looked great at the briefing as his suit fit perfectly!!! God works in many miraculous ways!

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