TERRORISM: by John MillerNews Weekly
After APEC: security review urgently needed
, October 13, 2007
Australians have a right to know whether an internal inquiry was carried out on the lapses of security at the recent APEC conference, writes John Miller.Whichever party wins the forthcoming federal election will face a series of extremely difficult issues to resolve, policies to review and actions to be taken in reorganising the counter-terrorism effort in this country.
No doubt many News Weekly
readers will regard the Coalition's stewardship in this area as reasonably satisfactory, or even well handled, leaving the country in the state of being alert but not alarmed, and perhaps even comfortable.
After all, the Government has successfully hosted the APEC conference and leaders' meeting in Sydney.
Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock defended the expenditure of $32.4 million on this exercise, and an additional $26.8 million on an "APEC Accreditation Security Access Control System" (The Australian
, September 25).Large outlay
It is surprising that the media gave little prominence to these sums of money. Nearly $60 million is a lot of money, and we can expect the usual suspects to question the justification for this outlay.
In some respects the Government cannot win. If everything goes perfectly, then the Government can rightfully claim that the system works; but that is hardly likely to be news!
On the other hand, had there been casualties from a terrorist attack, some people would decry the government for spending too little, and demand any number of inquiries to establish whom to blame for the failure.
I have previously written about the furore over ABC television's The Chaser's War on Everything
inserting a mock cavalcade, purporting to be Canadian, into the traffic stream inside the APEC security's so-called ring of steel around Sydney (News Weekly
, September 29).
Leaving aside the question of humour and pending court cases, it can be said quite unequivocally that the Chaser
's art will now feature in terrorist-training manuals. Their penetration of security was quite brilliant in its own way.
If people appear to belong in a place, the chances are that they will be almost invisible. When we cross long bridges and see maintenance crews on gantries, complete with yellow jackets, do we ever stop to consider whether they are anything other than the genuine article?
There has been no report as yet of the wash-up of the APEC conference security. You will note that I have assumed that one has taken place. Not to do so would be criminal or stupid, given the known and published lapses in security.
Looking at the Federal Government's counter-terrorism mechanism as set out on various internet pages, it is quite clear that, in the event of a terrorist incident, the first line of defence is with state police, until the heavies from the Australian Federal Police (AFP), ASIO and other departments arrive.
Some state governments have published their reaction plans on websites; others have not. As a professional, I do not believe in letting Australia's enemies learn about our order of battle.
To date, the AFP has been successful, in conjunction with ASIO and state police forces, in rounding up terrorism suspects. In November 2005 and later, some 29 people were taken into custody under the anti-terrorism legislation (Operation Pendennis), and are due to face the courts. However, only a fool would believe that there are no more terrorist suspects or cells biding their time, waiting for the right moment to strike.
In the Federal Government's plan, all responsibility finally devolves to the Prime Minister's Department, and presumably the buck stops in the office itself. All well and good.
By contrast, the ALP has promised to establish a new Department of Homeland Security, presumably headed by what the media would dub a "Tsar" - a journalistic and truly deplorable description. There is no candidate for this position who readily springs to mind.
However, despite the Government's harsh clampdown on what the public is entitled to know - or what the media consider the public's right to know, as evidenced on SBS television's Insight
program on whistleblowers (September 26) - we do
have the right to know whether an internal inquiry was carried out on the lapses of security at the APEC conference.Disciplinary action
Furthermore, we have the right to know what subsequent disciplinary action was taken (comedy acts are not an excuse for failure), and whether the rumours circulating about high-level interference in security procedures are accurate.
Finally, there needs to be a strong, independent and thorough examination of the counter-terrorism apparatus. Experience in the United States and Britain has shown many different weaknesses in the counter-terrorist effort following successful bombings, especially 9/11 (US) and 7/7 (UK).
It would be refreshing to know how those weaknesses have been remedied. The problem is that we just do not know how effective the Australian response to a bombing will be until it happens on our soil.
The incoming government of 2007 owes it to the Australian people to ensure that the top levels of counter-terrorism, be they police or the intelligence organisations, are not to be regarded as "jobs for the boys", sinecures for faithful service or career opportunities for pensioned-off military officers.
These are the types of jobs that literally require fresh, active and inquiring minds. An infusion of fresh blood regularly, including the hiring of experts from overseas, rather than hacks from our campuses, will do much to make sure we all sleep safer at night.- John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.