Since its formation in 2002, the [police] unit has put a premium on clandestine intelligence gathering. Now much of that intelligence work is done online, by infiltrating and monitoring chat rooms, social media and messaging apps popular with militants.
Few details about Densus 88 are publicly available.
“We built our organization to learn from the enemy,” said a senior counter-terrorism officer who provided some insight into the working of the unit but spoke on condition of anonymity.
Created in the aftermath of the deadly 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, Densus 88 has about 400 to 500 members, state-of-the-art weaponry and training, said another official. It has received more than $200 million of funding from Western allies such as Australia and the United States.
Far more personnel are dedicated to gathering intelligence in the field and monitoring communications and online activity. There is also a large team of investigators analyzing that intelligence and forensically examining explosives and other evidence.
Sidney Jones, the director of Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said the key to Densus 88’s success lies in its intelligence gathering.
“They know the radical networks and have a good set of informers,” she said. “It is unparalleled in terms of its ability to understand the sources of possible threats.”
Photo via AK Rockefeller