Indonesian spies had tapped phone calls of Australian politicians and military officials during the 1999 East Timor crisis and also made unsuccessful attempts to enlist Australian officials as double agents. This was revealed in 2004 by a then retired Indonesian spy General Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono. What makes this old story relevant now, according to NewsCorp Australia is the response of the Australian Prime Minister then, John Howard who refused to comment of the scandal and affirmed that Australia's relations with Indonesia remained "very strong."

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono looks at his wife Ani Yudhoyono as they wait for the arrival of Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in this September 30, 2013 file photograph. The leaders of Indonesia and Australia traded punches on November 19, 2013 in a row over alleged spying by Canberra, with both sides refusing to back down in a growing rift between the two often uneasy neighbours. The latest flare-up followed Australian media reports, quoting documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, that Australian spy agencies had tried to tap the mobile phones of Yudhoyono, his wife and senior officials.(REUTERS/Beawiharta/Files)

As the diplomatic war of words between Indonesia and Australia surges, NewsCorp Australia reveals how Mr Howard reacted to revelations made by the Indonesian spymaster.

"Indonesia's former spymaster openly boasted about spying on Australian politicians and officials and said that Australia would be "silly" if it didn't do the same thing," wrote Ian McPhedran in NewsCorp Australia publication The Australian on Wednesday.

"I am not going to talk about any aspect (of) something like that,'' was Mr Howard's response at that time.

"I neither confirm nor deny stories about those sorts of security things,'' the then Australian prime minister had said.

In contrast, Indonesia has gone public with its anger and demanded an explanation and apology from Australia.

In a volley of angry tweets on Tuesday, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono decried as deplorable "the statement of Australian Prime Minister who underestimates the wiretapping of Indonesia, without sense of guilt."

Reacting to the news of the spying, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had said he regretted the embarrassment that the spying reports had caused President Yudhoyono, but refused to give an explanation or apology.

"Australia has deep respect for Indonesia, for its government and for its people," he said.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, meanwhile on Tuesday said in response to Mr Abbott's comments that Australia and not Indonesia should be embarrassed following the disclosure.

"I don't get it. Why would the President of Indonesia be embarrassed?" Mr Marty said in an exclusive interview with Channel News Asia.

"I believe the embarrassment should belong to the government of Australia. They are the ones ... the intelligence community in Australia ... who have committed this unacceptable practice," the Indonesian foreign minister said.