John Howard
wants us to “be alert but not alarmed” on terrorism. But if evidence of a
Melbourne
detective is any guide, we should be just plain alarmed.

Yesterday, AAP reported evidence given under cross-examination by Detective Senior
Constable Mark Thomas in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court during preliminary
hearings of 13 terror suspects. The Constable
admitted his knowledge of terrorism and religious extremism was limited to
“perusing websites” and doing some “courses in counter-terrorism”.

“The witness said he had used
internet resources like Google and Wikipedia to research terrorism and Muslim
extremists.”

Naturally I
can’t comment on the merits of the case as it is still before the court. But
this startling admission by a senior detective raises important questions about
whether our security agencies are equipped to protect us from
terrorism. While Mr
Howard provides fridge magnets and a hotline few seem to remember, detectives
are relying on al-Jazeera and Wikipedia to identify extremism.

Our
intelligence and law enforcement agencies are finding it difficult to recruit
people with the requisite language and cultural skills and background in various
forms of extremist religion.

In July or
August last year, Brian Toohey reported in the Weekend Fin
Review
on ASIO’s budget for informants in the Muslim communities
blowing out. Toohey wrote that Australia’s Islamic community is
“riven by religious, political and personal rivalries, which often prompt
informers to take advantage of ASIO’s cash to make up damaging accusations
against their opponents”.

The result?
Former ASIS chief Allan Taylor was called in “to crack down on the amount of
money wasted by ASIO on agents receiving payment for concocted
information”. Worse still,
false leads are generated as informants “dob in” people from an opposing
faction, who might be subjected to continuous control orders restraining their
liberty. Meanwhile real terrorists operate freely.

Intelligence ceases to be intelligent when it’s based on
inaccurate amateurish information and reports from informants with axes to
grind. Be very alarmed!

Peter Fray

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