The All-Seeing Intelligence Agency
PRESIDENT Joko Widodo needs to explain more clearly what he meant when at the beginning of March he ordered the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) to take measures in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
PRESIDENT Joko Widodo needs to explain more clearly what he meant when at the beginning of March he ordered the National Intelligence Agency (BIN) to take measures in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Without clear guidelines, BIN’s missteps in trying to contain the pandemic not only have the potential to be in breach of its mandate and authority as laid down by the law, but could also lead to confusion and uncertainty.
Just look at the chaos caused by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests carried out by BIN in a number of regions in order to identify patients positive with Covid-19. Almost all these tests were inaccurate.
In the middle of July, 17 employees, including the leader, of the State Administrative Agency were declared positive with Covid-19 by BIN only to be declared negative by another laboratory. The same happened with dozens of employees of MNC News and TvOne who were tested by BIN two weeks ago. Most of tested employees in the two media were initially declared Covid-19 positive, but a day later were found to be negative following tests by another hospital.
The cause of this inaccuracy is fairly simple. All of the PCR tests carried out by BIN used mobile laboratories that are not recommended for the storage of patient samples. Contamination of these samples led to the test results being invalid. On top of this, the BIN tests were mostly carried out by volunteers who had been recruited less than six months ago. They did not have sufficient training to carry out PCR tests in line with laboratory standards. The equipment and methodology of the PCR tests carried out by BIN did not meet health ministry standards.
The victims of the inaccurate been tests were not only patients and their families, who were on the verge of panic after these mistaken diagnoses. The credibility of the government as a whole in dealing with the pandemic was also put at risk.
BIN’s activities were not limited to Covid-19 swab tests in various provinces. It also actively contacted university medical and pharmaceutical facilities and molecular biology research institutes to persuade them to study vaccines and Covid-19 prevention treatments. This initiative ended with the release of an anti-Covid-19 remedy by Airlangga University that it was claimed could cure patients of the virus. Subsequently, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency ruled that this medicine did not meet medical acceptability standards.
The role of BIN in many of the activities concerned with the handling of the pandemic is not in line with Law No. 17/2011 on national intelligence, which states that the task of the State Intelligence Agency is to detect, identify, assess, analyze, interpret and study intelligence information. Its aim is to give advanced warnings to anticipate possible threats to national security. The involvement of BIN in carrying out mass PCR tests, distributing masks and encouraging research into vaccines and medical treatment is far outside the scope of its duties mandated by law.
In addition to this, BIN’s activities during this pandemic show the current weakness of the government’s management. Dangerous overlaps of authority are being allowed to continue. Without a control mechanism to constrain standard procedures for intelligence operations in the field of healthcare, BIN could become a super body free to ignore the rules. Without competency and satisfactory resources, rather than helping deal with the pandemic, the dominant role of BIN could throw the endeavor off course.
It is important to realize that the involvement of BIN began with the policy of President Jokowi at the beginning of the pandemic in March, when he underlined the importance of the role of intelligence agencies, the police and the military in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. In other words, it was the president himself that prioritized the security rather than health approach to handling Covid-19. The proof of this is that in all the teams that Jokowi has established to deal with the pandemic, not one of them has included a respected medical professional.
It is time this confusion was ended. This nation has been in the grip of the pandemic for six months and things are not getting better. The spread of the virus continues to increase, there are more and more red zones and the death rate is still rising. President Jokowi must not hesitate to change direction and return to the fundamental formula for dealing with the pandemic: testing, tracing and treatment.
This change could begin with bringing an end to BIN’s inappropriate participation in the response to Covid-19. Neither the intelligence agency nor the military should be given a blank check to deal with Covid-19 patients as this is the job and the responsibility of the medical authorities.