September 29th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

FEDERAL ELECTION 2007: NCC policy initiatives on biofuels and Internet safety

EDITORIAL: Horse flu outbreak: time to face hard facts

CANBERRA OBSERVED: John Howard's risky succession strategy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Will we learn from our quarantine debacle?

DEFENCE: Emerging nuclear challenges for Australia

NATIONAL SECURITY: Another triumph for the ABC or potential calamity?

EMPLOYMENT: Offshore assets most Australians never see

SCHOOLS: How much should we pay teachers who don't deliver?

LIFE ISSUES: 'Rosita', poster-child for pro-abortion lobby

UNITED STATES: Questions over Republican nomination

OPINION: Disgrace of the West's 'cognitive dissonance'

AS THE WORLD TURNS: libertarianism, lesbian's twins, Chinese toys, anti-Americanism

Kevin Rudd's motherhood statements (letter)

Kevinism or a Ruddism? (letter)

Facility with languages (letter)

Australia needs American help with defence (letter)


BOOKS: FAITH THROUGH REASON, by Janne Haaland Matláry

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Another triumph for the ABC or potential calamity?

by John Miller

News Weekly, September 29, 2007
A full damage assessment should be carried out into the inadequate security at APEC, and a number of heads should roll, writes John Miller.

In the week of the recent APEC conference in Sydney, the crew of ABC television's The Chaser's War on Everything pulled a stunt to end all stunts. A mock cavalcade, bearing the Canadian flag, managed to pass through three checkpoints in the "ring of steel" around the conference area, before surrendering.

One of the comedians, Chas Licciardello - wearing a fake beard and a mismatch of pseudo-Islamic clothing, and claiming to be Osama bin Laden - emerged from a limousine and was arrested along with his entourage. Most, if not all, had fake "misidentification" passes with their photographs and the word "Insecurity" on the documents.

Very funny and very clever, but was it?

The senior New South Wales police officer in charge of APEC security, Commissioner Andrew Scipione, said guardedly: "I'm very, very annoyed."

I think, had I been in charge of security, my language would have been searing stuff, sufficient to melt the road surface.

The fact remains that the Chaser comedy team got through several levels of security. That in itself was a worry, as was the mistake in issuing police passes to three ALP staffers. Fortunately, no great harm was done in either case.

I invite News Weekly readers to turn aside from the fun and take a closer look at the incidents, especially the Chaser's cavalcade.

The rooftops overlooking the roads leading to the secured area, and inside, were known to be manned by police marksman or snipers. Pictures of them were shown on TV and in newspapers before the escapade, so the ABC could scarcely claim that they did not know that their comedians were in rifle sights.

Without casting aspersions on any of the nations represented at the APEC conference, it is a fairly reasonable bet that under some circumstances an order to fire could have been given. Snipers shoot to kill.

Three newspapers ran interactive opinion-polling on the great escapade. The Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald both asked its readers if they found the Chaser stunt funny. No less than 86 per cent of the 40,000 respondents answered yes.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph did a better job. It showed on its web site a map of the route the cavalcade took and the two checkpoints where it was waved through by police. Then it asked the more sophisticated question: "Do you think the Chaser boys took the joke too far by posing as bin Laden?"

The last figures I saw reported 59 per cent saying, "Yes, somebody could have been injured or killed", while 40 per cent said, "No, it exposed the flaws in the summit's security system." And indeed it did! Both answers were correct, and no prizes were on offer.

Some time later, the ABC issued a statement claiming that the Chaser team "had no knowledge that they had entered a restricted zone", and that when they "reached the perimeter of what they thought was the APEC restricted zone, they voluntarily turned around", and that was where and when the police acted.

Sometime later, one of the Chaser team, Julian Morrow, appeared to be somewhat contrite; but the fact remains that an event, billed as the biggest security operation (and certainly the most expensive ever) in Australia, had been compromised by comedians.

As the map published by the Sydney Daily Telegraph showed, the fake Canadian delegation passed the hotel where US President George W. Bush - surely the number one target for terrorists - was staying.

This is a matter for grave concern. Despite the local and international media's generally light-hearted treatment of the episode, the fact remains that the Chaser comedians got through massive security, and left security officials with egg on their faces.

Somewhat ominously, a New York Times blogger remarked that US comedians wouldn't dare risk their lives in such a way.

Under many circumstances, I would laugh at the joke. However, I also know that nine stolen army rocket-launchers are still being sought by Australian authorities.

The Chaser team might legitimately have been mistaken for more sinister people with lethal intent. Rather than evoking a great deal of laughter, the situation could have been the subject of tragic headlines, with accompanying images of covered corpses.

In the crosshairs

It does not appear to have crossed their minds that they were - under the circumstances, certain to have been - literally in the crosshairs.

This event could lead to a prosecution with the possible sentence of imprisonment for the perpetrators. The claqueurs of the legal system will predictably raise their voices loudly and decry any punishment. However, it is time they took a firm grip on reality.

When a review of security is carried out at the end of APEC, a full damage assessment should be carried out, and a number of heads should roll.

- John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.

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