Fiddling While It Burns

Bikies and national security | 25/03/2009

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Cartoon: Sydney Morning Herald.

It didn’t take long for the conflicts between rival outlaw motorcycle gangs to be couched in national security terms. Right-wing provocateur and former National Crime Authority chairman Peter Faris QC had this to say at The Australian:

Could have been terrorists

THE Australian Federal Police and its Commissioner Mick Keelty have once again demonstrated that they cannot manage security issues. First it was the fiasco of the Haneef affair and now it is the bikie riot and alleged murder at the Sydney airport terminal. Security at airports is the responsibility of the AFP, yet it was nowhere to be seen when a bikie was bashed to death in the terminal in front of the travelling public.

Faris goes on to advocate the removal of anti-terrorist responsibilities from the AFP and the dismissal of Mick Keelty.

This is a fascinating example of an opinion piece getting published when it is not only clearly pushing the writer’s own cart (Faris is essentially taking down the organisation that took down the notoriously corrupt National Crime Authority,which he headed, while calling for that body’s successor, the Australian Crime Commission, to be better funded), it is also based on a non-sequitur. More from the article:

After Mumbai and Lahore, what is even more frightening to consider is that jihadist terrorists could arrive at Sydney airport by taxi, shoot hundreds of people in the terminal, and escape by taxi. It seems there would be no intervention by AFP security or anti-terrorist police. This, of course, is much more attractive to the jihadists, because they would not need to die in suicide bomb attacks.

We can immediately dismiss this in three ways. Firstly, the attacks on Mumbai and Lahore were conducted by externally trained terrorists who used commando tactics and an amphibious insertion from a foreign nation.  That degree of access to weapons and training, and close access to support outside national borders are not available to any potential Australian terrorist cells. Perhaps Mr Faris is suggesting that New Zealand is funding terrorist organisations, who will travel across the Tasman by tinnie?

Secondly, this complaint seems to imply that the AFP, whose numbers are hardly enormous, should have tactical response teams at every airport in the nation. This immediately implies that there should be similar teams at every other major public space which would be a likely target for such an attack. Australia has two military units capable of fielding anti-terrorist response teams, SASR in Perth and 4 RAR (Cdo) in Sydney, who could between them put out around three teams each capable of responding to a relatively minor incident. Perhaps every police constable in Australia should have specialised anti-terrorist combat training?

Thirdly, anyone who has ever been through Sydney airport knows it doesn’t take much to foul up the traffic there. Imagine half a dozen heavily armed men firing hundreds of bullets at a few thousand travellers. There’s hardly going to be any hire car touts lurking around the taxi stand ready to get them safely away to their boat back to New Zealand. No, in fact the road would be clogged with a couple of hundred abandoned vehicles, and the terrorists either fleeing on foot or waiting around for the arrival of the Sydney Tactical Assault Group, who no doubt would be glad of the excitement. This opinion piece is clearly alarmism towards a different goal.

It is the nature of airports that they are designed for maximum egress, and in the case of the murder at Sydney Airport this worked in the gangsters’ favour. While there may be some reason for concern, for example that security staff and police were not notified of the potential threat while the flight was still in the air, blaming this on the AFP and Mick Keelty is drawing a bow of quite impressive dimensions.

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