October 31st 2009

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY / EDITORIAL: Australia's asylum-seeker policy unravels

CANBERRA OBSERVED: The toughest job in Australian politics

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: How the human rights consultation was hijacked

TAX INQUIRY: Treasury push to get more mothers into paid work

CLIMATE CHANGE: Temperature readings in rural Australia show no increase in 100 years

ENERGY: New gas resources explode "peak oil" alarmism

NATIONAL SECURITY: How much longer can Australia's luck hold?

CHINA: How the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wields absolute power in China

ECONOMICS: The taming of unbridled free market capitalism

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Women not warned about abortion breast-cancer risk

VICTORIA: Protesting on behalf of the unborn

OBITUARY: Last surviving leader of 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising dies: Marek Edelman (1919-2009)

CINEMA: "Deeply troubling" rags-to-riches story: Mao's Last Dancer (rated PG)

BOOK REVIEW: BEERSHEBA: A Journey Through Australia's Forgotten War, by Paul Daley

BOOK REVIEW: REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN EUROPE: Immigration, Islam and the West, by Christopher Caldwell

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How much longer can Australia's luck hold?

by John Miller

News Weekly, October 31, 2009

"The angel of death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings." - John Bright (1811-1889), speech in the House of Commons denouncing Britain's participation in the Crimean War.

Five individuals have been convicted in a Sydney court of conspiracy to "commit acts in preparation for a terrorist act or acts", as defined under Australia's anti-terrorist legislation.

The statistics bear repetition: at around $36 million dollars, this was one of Australia's longest and most expensive trials. The jury sat through 10 months of evidence (171 sitting days in a special court), heard testimony from over 300 witnesses and examined more than 3,000 exhibits. In addition, they spend 30 days watching and listening to surveillance tapes and reviewing 18 hours of telephone intercept material. They deliberated for 23 days before unanimously convicting the five men.

The Crown argued that the men had been pursuing violent jihad, and the evidence revealed the stockpiling of chemicals and detailed instructions for bomb-making. In one search, a cache of weapons was found in southwest Sydney, along with 28,000 rounds of ammunition. A newspaper reported that was enough for 37 hours' continuous firing.

The accused also attended paramilitary style training camps, used false names and night-vision cameras, and spoke in code, obviously aware that they were under surveillance.

The defence case rested on claims that the five were supposedly men of good character and that they were keen hunters. But they also possessed extremist material on home computers, including footage of the 9/11 attacks on America and ritual beheadings.

However, prosecutor Richard Maidment SC was extremely candid in his closing address to the jury, conceding that the Crown could not prove what the men were planning to do.

He said, in part: "The Crown does not suggest that the evidence reveals that they had reached any firm conclusion as to what precise action was to be carried out, what targets were to be selected, who was actually to carry the bomb, where it was to be placed, how it was to be placed, how big it was going to be, whether it was going to be in a vehicle or in a backpack or how it was going to be taken to the relevant target."

As might be expected, reactions to the guilty verdict were mixed. Relatives and friends of the convicted were angry and spoke intemperately, with a brother of one of the convicted stating that the case was "bull***t" and adding, more ominously, "If they think this will stop terrorism, imprisoning these people, I don't think it will stop terrorism. I think it will increase the threat on Australia." He went on to state he expected a reaction "when the people overseas" learned of the verdict. A sister of one of the guilty echoed those sentiments.

The last opinion poll I saw revealed that Australians are not especially worried about domestic terrorism. Indeed, for the individual, economic matters probably predominate and a good percentage of the population is preoccupied with the issue of climate change. They also worry about violence in the streets and the future, all of which are understandable. However, it is significant that the pollsters, in their questionnaire, used the term national security rather than terrorist threat.

To date, Australia has been extraordinarily lucky. Not for us the "shock and awe" of spectacular terrorist attacks that have taken place overseas. Although we have held trials of individuals suspected of being involved in terrorist activity or planning attacks, the cases have somehow lost their novelty value for the average Australian.

Only by diligently monitoring foreign press services and news outlets can intelligence officers and analysts begin to comprehend the scope of global jihad.

As you might expect, the US has been the major target of terrorists, usually affiliated with al Qa'eda. The UK has been the subject of special attention from the Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). That is hardly surprising, given the large Pakistani community in the UK.

The past few weeks alone have seen a string of terrorist plots uncovered in America. Neighbouring Canada has commenced the sentencing of 17 jihadists involved in plotting terrorism, and there have been similar arrests in Germany, France Belgium and the UK.

To date, Australia has been lucky in intercepting terrorist plots; but surely the Angel of Death has brushed us with his wing.

John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.

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