Contrary to countless conspiracy
theories, what we have to regard as an informed source tells Crikey that there
is indeed a clear and present danger of a terror attack on Australia. That doesn’t mean we have to back the
way the Howard Government has decided to handle the issue.

This message we received yesterday makes
sense:


For the past 20 years I have been
directly involved in security… My particular area of expertise is terrorism. I
have interviewed, recruited and run terrorists, written articles about them and
spoken at conferences about them.

I therefore become a little edgy when I
hear announcements like today’s from the PM. The new legislation must be passed
because we have received information about a new and credible and imminent
threat. I suspect that information was sourced from overseas, and I suspect
further that the US was the most likely source. It may well relate to increased
telecommunication traffic between identified terrorist cells/suspects somewhere
in Asia, and persons in Australia. Those persons – and the organisation of which they are part – has
probably come to the attention of security agencies, but nothing much is known
about it. The new legislation should enable some pre-emptive action. All very
well and good, and the country is safe.

US
identifications of terrorist planning is OK; they simply have to state that
Islamic extremists are plotting attacks on American interests and they are
right 100% of the time. They do have some problems with the specifics though –
wasn’t public transport in NYC shut down for 24 hours recently?

But this is the crucial bit:

My main concern though is with the
attitude that ‘We know, you don’t, and telling you anything may cruel sensitive
operations we are planning/undertaking.’ I have spoken to a couple of audiences
about the 11
September, 2001 WTC/Washington attacks, which
are probably the best documented terrorist attacks in history. As an
exercise, I divide a whiteboard in two and write ‘Government’ on one side, and ‘Private’
on the other. Underneath each heading, I note any contacts the individual
hijackers had with either government or private enterprises in the time they
were in the US planning and executing the attacks. I occasionally will be able to write
down three or four contacts under government, yet I can always write down at
least thirty under private.

Terrorists are trained to avoid any
contact with government agencies but cannot avoid contact with a whole range of
individuals and businesses, from real estate agents to corner shops. Had US
agencies based their investigations on this simple fact, 9/11 may not have
occurred.

I think I probably support the ‘Alert,
not alarmed’ approach and the National Hotline. But, and it is an important but,
the frontline in Australia is more in the public than the government domain. It is simply not good
enough to adopt the traditional patronising attitude of ‘We know best and will
only tell you what you should know when you should know it.’

The government, and the security
agencies, need to engage the public rather than continuing to adopt the
Mushroom principle on national security. Until that happens, and until we have
a meaningful debate on terrorism, I suspect we will have these scares on an increasingly
frequent basis.

Exactly. The Government is asking us to
trust them. So why don’t they trust us with more detail? Does the Prime
Minister know the story of Chicken Little?

Keep us in the dark and patronise us and
intelligent and decent Australians – like Independent MP Peter Andren –
are going to respond by saying “kids overboard”, “Tampa”, “Rau” or
“Solon.”