Sydney Airport did its best to gloss over the security fiasco at its T2 domestic terminal yesterday afternoon by claiming it had to evacuate the entire terminal, including jets that were about to depart, because, to quote  GM for corporate affairs Rod Gilmour,  “You can’t cut corners on security.”

In fact, the rules Sydney Airport was compelled to enforce, and that dislocated thousands of travellers and caused knock-on disruptions that will be felt around Australia until later today, involved deliberate officially sanctioned  short cuts that rendered the resulting chaos a useless act of security theatrics that would never have defeated a determined terrorist attack.

Sydney Airport did not recheck or fully evacuate, in some cases, the security contractors, airside airline employees, baggage handlers or police  based in the terminal, which is shared by Virgin Blue, Jetstar, Qantaslink, REX and Tiger.

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The airport did not check their ASIC security passes, nor their persons, and nor did it unload and recheck the luggage and cargo stowed under the passenger floors of jets docked at the terminal or awaiting loading onto later flights.

A Jetstar spokesman said that company will seek damages from the airport for the security lapse.”We will be having discussions with Sydney Airport to seek damages for what happened. We will be looking for some form of compensation as there has been a huge disruption to our service.”

To start at the beginning. A walk-through security metal detector (or similar) was apparently briefly unplugged, which raised doubts that up to 16 people who had passed through it  might not have been adequately screened.

The exact circumstances are to be confirmed by an inquiry now under way.

But whatever the details, tracing these people proved totally beyond the capabilities of the massive Sydney Airport investment in security, which is so enormously important that it is contracted out to private companies chosen on lowest price.

Hence, the ensuing fiasco.  The airlines had to pay for hotel rooms for up to 2000 suspected terrorists in Sydney and other strandings of passengers en route to Sydney.  Thousands of others were forced to go home and wait until later today in the worst cases to continue their journeys.

A similar, less-publicised terminal evacuation occurred at the Gold Coast airport earlier this week, but the knock-on effects to airlines were not as severe as they are when the country’s largest airport is disrupted.

The rule — that all passengers and anyone not holding an ASIC card and in a terminal when a security breach occurs, must be rescreened, even if they are inside jets about to be pushed back — deliberately ignores the gaping flaws in airport security  if one accepts that the authorities are genuinely serious about preventing terrorist attacks.

ASIC cards are essentially issued on the basis of background checks including by ASIO.

That is, they are out-of-date the moment they are minted, since no one can assume that the holder isn’t a “sleeper” or a later convert to a radical terrorist cause, or indeed, a home-grown terrorist.

ASIC card holders such as airline terminal employees use them to freely access otherwise forbidden areas of the terminals on a multidaily basis as well as cross the security screening divide between landside and airside.

If the rules were “serious”, they would recognise the need to recheck ASIC holders because of the abundant opportunities for the terrorists who snuck through the unplugged scanner with devices of mass destruction like, say, a cocktail of chicken droppings and acetone, stuck up their rectums, to pass them to ASIC holding co-conspirators among the airline terminal employees who could pass them onto co-conspirators in the baggage loading area and put them on board a jet.

This is, of course, an outrageously silly scenario, but so was the action to totally cosmetically unload T2 yesterday, while leaving the bellies of the jets loaded with luggage and freight.

Sydney Airport insists that there was no evidence yesterday that the luggage loading areas ofT2 had been breached. To which the obvious answer is that it wouldn’t know. It has no idea at any given moment who is really accessing what non-public areas of the terminal, or whether or not they are who they claim to be on their ASIC card, nor what sort of person they have become since getting an ASIC card.

In short, if any of the 16 unscreened untraceable passengers yesterday had been part of a determined plot, the logic of a terminal evacuation should have applied to every single person in the terminal they could have come into contact with, and every jet belly that any of those persons could have loaded up with an explosive device.

Of course, the rules don’t require that because they are only for show, and for creating the impression that those ultimately responsible for airport security in government, in the airport operators, and in the relevant authorities, can be seen to be appearing to do everything to prevent an attack.

Crikey spoke to Sydney Airport and the office of the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, as well as some very well-connected sources concerning the T2 event.

On the record, the airport and the minister are adamant that the rules had to be followed and refused to comment on the premise that many corners were cut in the evacuation of the terminal, rendering the actions more theatrical than useful.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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