THE latest move by Singapore to fly a giant spy balloon high up in its sky to gaze way over its perimeter fence has inevitably left Malaysians to repeat this oft-asked question: what is the island republic up to now?
According to reports a fortnight ago, the 55-metre long aerostat, a Zeppelin-like eye-in-the-sky, is to provide a round-the-clock surveillance and add extra might to the already sophisticated Singapore military arsenal. Which is fine on the face of it. It is their money if they want to be kiasu or nosy or to show off, as many are used to saying on this side of the Johor Straits. Right, it looks as if it is none of our business.
But the dimension takes a different twist if we consider that it comes barely a year after a diplomatic row erupted following raging allegations of Singapore’s spying activities over Malaysia. This aerostat will, therefore, add fuel to the fire since it could easily provide Singapore the opportunity to peer over yonder, way beyond Malacca.
In November last year, a lot of turbulence was raised when it was exposed that Singapore was engaged in espionage activities in Malaysia. Top secret documents leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the city state had aided the “5-Eyes”, the intelligence group behind a controversial spying activity in Malaysia. News reports also disclosed that Singapore was a key “third party” to provide access to Malaysia’s communications channels to nations accused of the tapping of telephone lines and monitoring communications networks in Malaysia.
Other things exposed included the fact that since the 1970s, Malaysia and Indonesia have been targeted by Australian and Singaporean intelligence, since most of their telecommunications and Internet traffic goes through the island city-state. It was reported that Singaporean intelligence partnered with the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s electronic espionage agency, to tap a key international cable that runs from Japan, passing through Singapore, Djibouti, Suez and the Straits of Gibraltar to northern Germany. This was allegedly facilitated by Singapore Telecommunications Limited (SingTel), the city-state’s government-owned telecommunications giant.
In the heat of the controversy, Wisma Putra even summoned a top Singaporean envoy to express Malaysia’s displeasure.
“If those allegations are eventually proven, it is certainly a serious matter that the government of Malaysia strongly rejects and abhors,” Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman had remarked. He said spying against a good friend and neighbour was unacceptable.
Indeed it is. What if it is the other way around? What if it was Malaysia that was putting up high-powered surveillance equipment that had the capacity to peer into what is going on in Changi and the seas around the Singapore port? And what if it was Malaysia that was tapping telephone lines?
But that is Singapore for you.
Singapore’s military assets and capabilities are disconsonant in an era and area of relative peace and stability. Its defence budget, according to globalfirepower.com, is almost US$10 billion (RM30 billion), more than twice that of Malaysia.