The spy who came in from the void

The first time most of us heard about the secret spy agency operating alongside other Malaysian government bodies was soon after GE14. The news reports about the former spy chief, Hasanah Ab Hamid, who headed a unit called the Malaysian External Intelligence Organisation (MEIO), shocked many. Even some who worked in enforcement agencies had no idea that MEIO existed.

Hasanah’s story reads like a spy thriller. There was money, and lots of it. Intrigue. International collaboration. Political skullduggery. Even the CIA was dragged in. The only things lacking were a femme fatale, honeytraps, car chases and gaming tables.

On Thursday, Hasanah was charged with committing criminal breach of trust (CBT) over US$12 million worth of government funds. The offence was alleged to have taken place between April 30 and May 9.

Although the lead prosecutor, Gopal Sri Ram, suggested bail of RM1 million, the judge set bail at RM500,000 with two sureties and ordered that she surrender her passport to the authorities.

Hasanah’s lawyer, Shaharudin Ali, argued that his client’s bank account and pension had been frozen, and that she could only afford RM300,000. He also said she was not a flight risk and that she had contributed to national security. Was he joking?

Under Najib Razak’s administration, many of the men and women who led government organisations lacked integrity. There was one rule for those in power, and another for the peasantry. Taxpayers’ money was used for nefarious reasons including allegedly funding the ostentatious lifestyles of the upper echelons. The lack of integrity damaged our society and turned us against each other. Worse, the people’s money was said to have been used to influence the results of a general election – abuse of power at the highest level.

Instead of realising the consequences of their actions, they allowed themselves to be part of a corrupt system and conned the public in the false belief that they were safeguarding the nation’s security.

When things went awry, they hid behind the Official Secrets Act in an effort to discredit whistleblowers and to save their own hides. These men and women were only protecting their financial security and power.

How did so many people fail in serving the public? When did they lose their morals? Did religion and a strong code of ethical conduct not play any part in their lives?

In May, Hasanah, her deputy and six administrative and diplomatic staff were arrested and charged with CBT. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said around US$12 million or RM50 million in cash had been brought into Malaysia through KLIA for use in GE14.

MACC also arrested more than 17 security personnel who had allegedly stolen some RM3.5 million in cash on the night of May 9.

It is hard to imagine Hasanah as a gun-toting spy chief like “M” in the James Bond books. But she was in charged of 1,000 operatives who were allegedly spying on Malaysians overseas. Why waste taxpayers’ money like this?

Hasanah’s lawyer was wrong to say that she contributed to national security. On the contrary, she compromised our nation, as did the letter she wrote to the CIA director, urging Washington to support Najib if he “secured a narrow victory in GE14”.

What was the significance of this letter? Why should the CIA, or any foreign power, take part in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state? Was a disturbance expected in the event of a “narrow victory”, or was one going to be manufactured, and would the CIA advise the US president to support Najib’s administration? If so, this was an act of treason.

Despite the millions of ringgit used to fund operations to spy on fellow nationals, one Malaysian seems to have escaped Hasanah’s net: Jho Low, the mastermind and main protagonist behind 1MDB; the source of our many troubles and, ironically, the one who made a major contribution to Najib’s downfall.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.