Five years after 9/11 – and one week after London intelligence foiled a planned liquid bomb attack
on Britain’s
airways, while also admitting they were still hunting two
dozen terror cells in Britain – is the Federal Government doing
enough to protect Australians from organised

According to the Attorney-General’s department, the Howard Government
has committed $8.3 billion over the ten years from 2001 to 2011 to
enhancing Australia’s national security – including $1.6 billion
in this year’s Budget – and has implemented more than 100 measures to fight
terrorism and improve national security.

High up among these, according to Australian Federal Police
Commissioner Mick Keelty, are measures aimed at countering liquid explosives – although
someone should tell this to the PM, who last week called them a
“menacing” new element in
the war on terror. In fact, authorities have developed many ways to detect
potential dangers to aircraft, Keelty told reporters last Friday, but most of
them are not in the public domain.

Then there is next month’s Safeguarding Australia Summit,
which this year cracked fourth place on the security budget’s list of
priorities. Starting 21 September, it will feature a one day conference
showcasing the latest science, engineering, technology and social sciences
developments designed to enhance national security.

But has any of this really made us any safer? Well, yes and no. Investment
in security agencies (intelligence) has probably been the most effective
measure, says Wayne Snell, Coordinator Investigations, Intelligence &
Forensic Science at Edith Cowan

And while there’s lots of “fairly diverse” research going on
in counter-terrorism technology and social sciences, intelligence remains the
principal tool for fighting organised terror attacks – as we saw in London last week, Snell told Crikey yesterday.

Screening technology and systems at the entrance points of
our transport systems are “what you call the final barrier,” says Snell. These
things, along with the presence of armed police, etc, are more aimed at
thwarting the “disorganised, opportunistic …unsophisticated

So should we take Keelty’s advice and keep flying,
training and bussing with confidence? “Australians should not have
security-related concerns about travel,” says Clive Williams, former director
of security in the Defence Department, now at the ANU.

“There have been significant advances in protective security
for the transport sector in Australia
since 9/11,” Williams told Crikey yesterday. And, despite some technological
weaknesses in screening of mass passenger flows onto trains and baggage in air travel,
“the level of risk from terrorism is much lower than the risk from other
sources, such as accidents.”

However, he added, “I would like to see more use made of
consultants from outside the government ‘goldfish bowl’ to review security

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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