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Testing ... one, two ... April Fools!

Because of the date on the story, I thought it was this year's April Fools' Joke. Remember the you-beaut terrorist-attack loudspeakers that were installed for APEC?

More than a third of the speakers installed in Sydney's CBD to warn people about emergencies would have been rendered useless by yesterday's power shortage, police said this afternoon.

Deputy Police Commissioner Dave Owens defended his decision not to use the Emergency Warning System yesterday, but admitted that a large number of the speakers, which are located at 49 sites throughout the city, may not have worked anyway and would have had to have been replaced by police officers shouting into bullhorns.

"On the initial inquiries I have made, 17 of the 49 sites may not have worked," he said.

The way the communication system was presented to the public was farcical enough. To the casual observer the implementation seemed about as coincidental in timing as the acquisition of Sydney's new water cannon. The fact that the system was not trusted to be operational may well belie a truth that nobody cared about it after Bush left. Anyway, we were assured that, like the cannon, the communications system was part of long term strategy. Has anyone heard of the water cannon of late, by the way? Has it been of use since APEC? So now I'm wondering if the "ghetto blasters" were ever working in first place, or likely to fail through neglect at a time of a dire crisis?

A couple of things to consider:

  • In the run up to the conference, a US counterterrorism expert had been quoted in the Australian press as calculating a sixty-percent probability of simultaneous al Qaeda bomb-strikes on Australian capital cities during the weekend of the APEC conference.
  • Because of the Bush Administration's early release of Osama's September 11 pep-talk of that year, US Intel had reportedly lost the ability to monitor al Qaeda's electronic communications network, the Rendonesquely-labelled "Obelisk". As Bush flew into Iraq and Sydney, the US's cybereyes and ears (we were later told) were useless. Had a plan to "dirty bomb" Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra been near implementation, it seems they would have had no idea what was going to happen.

Let's say, for argument, that something did. Around this time the New York City Council were disseminating information about the effects of a dirty bomb attack, how the majority of resulting chaos would be because of community fear and ignorance of the comparatively harmless radiation levels. Sydney Council, on the other hand, were sending out information on preparing Go-Bags, informing the public what to have ready-prepared to take with them if an attack occurred. It's a pity that the New York information wasn't spread around, here, but never mind, they could be told through the loudspeaker system, couldn’t they?


Picture this: It's a sunny Sydney Saturday Arvo. The AFP are busy at Hyde Park, merrily clearing camera-unfriendly protesters before the Chinese APEC contingent arrives at the nearby Sheraton. As the helicopters whir overhead, and Keelty's boys bang their riot shields and march on the post-APEC-march partyers, the boom of an explosion rocks the world, and a gigantic plume of smoke arises from the Opera House. The attack, carried out by adding a payload of low-level radioactives to one of the rockets previously stolen from the Australian army, has succeeded because of the intel blackout created by the Bush's Osama publicity bungle. Speaking of blackouts, guess what has happened to the electricity in this hypothetical?

The AFP and NSW police, envisaging a riot/looting situation if they leave the protesters unattended, gas and club all and sundry for luck before turning to head towards the explosive flashpoint.

How long before the obedient Go-Bag clutching public, gathering around the emergency information speakers, waiting for the words of wisdom (or at least a calming chorus of We Are Australian) that never come, disband in panic and clamber over each other in their haste to run away? How long before the first terror-caused heart attacks, the cars crashing through barriers at 150k in their desperation to escape?

Meanwhile, 20 operatives with suicide bombs are pulling up in taxis at Sydney Airport's departure lounge, reckoning that their combined blast force might impact Air Force One, or at the very least cause Dick Cheney to change his trousers......


It's a loose scenario, but quite feasible. My point is that if the Emergency Warning System was genuinely intended to be used in both short and long term, as part of a planned dissemination of vital information to the public in times of vital need, surely it would have been made foolproof?

Between the counterterrorist’s Achilles Heel exposed at Sydney Airport last week by the biker brawl, and the failure of the communications system installed at Sydney's most-ever likely time to face a terrorist attack, is it possible to maintain faith that other counterterrorism systems and practices are going to work as and when they're supposed to?

At the other end of things ... all these new CCTVs that we've had shoved in front of us over the last few years: are the rest of Sydney's systems as bad as Sydney Airport's? Five kinds of system and nobody able to do an emergency (or even within 24 hours) download from them makes you wonder about the system-compatibility across the city. What about the country?

What if, as was feared at Sydney on the APEC weekend, an identically-timed attack had occurred in Melbourne, perpetrated by members of the same al Qaeda cell who'd done the Sydney job, and faces needed to be identified before they slipped through the airports, travelling home on false passports? Would anyone have been able to pull the necessary CCTV facial recognition footage together on time? Sadly it's a possibility that it have been quicker to send the negatives to Kodak.

At any rate, I lost faith in the Australian counterterrorism system around September 11 2005. That was when the AFP, in yet another of their bungles, surrounded a holidaying US activist in a Melbourne coffee shop, locked him in solitary confinement while ASIO "leaked " vilification. Scott Parkin was deported on the basis of a file containing nothing more substantial than the improper distribution of peanut butter sandwiches. You could read about it in the US version of Newsweek, but neither the AFP nor ASIO could (thanks to the non-divulgence agreements between international intels) ever tell you even if they wanted to.

Many Australians, given that the arrest appeared in the September 11 Sunday papers, would have believed that the AFP had been successful in capturing an international terrorist, and in my opinion this was all that mattered. However in the long-term the result of Parkin's treatment and deportation has been a publicity failure, like the many Federal Police counterterrorism operations that have followed.

Say, weren't the AFP involved in interviewing Australian prisoners in the pre-Guantanamo torture camps? David Hicks? Mamdou Habib? I read a report to the UN a couple of days ago (Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights development, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on Feb 3 of this year) in which I particularly liked point 25:

In the course of his mandate the Special Rapporteur has noticed that lack of oversight and political and legal accountability has facilitated illegal activities by intelligence agencies. Such unlawful conduct may have been condoned or even secretly directed by government officials.

I wonder how this sort of statement, from such a respected authority, will be received in a court of law? Now to point 37:

In some countries intelligence agencies have legally acquired the power to arrest and detain people who are expected to have information about terrorist activities. Preventive detention for public security reasons, including that of interrogating persons for intelligence purposes, may in exceptional circumstances be a proportionate interference with the right to liberty, provided the detention has clear and accessible basis in the law, information on the reasons for detention have been given and the detention is subject to judicial review.

Do I hear the ka-ching of compensatory cash for David Hicks? Habib's claimed AFP visits in Pakistan? Possibly, and maybe even a couple of commiseratory jars of Vegemite for Scott Parkin, even if we can't tell him why. Let's go to point 40:

The Special Rapporteur is gravely concerned about situations, for instance in Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan, where the detention and interrogation powers of the intelligence services in counter-terrorism operations and investigations have no clear statutory basis. The arrest and detention of persons on grounds which are not clearly established in domestic law is a violation of article 9, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Without such a legal framework there is a danger that intelligence services arrest people on the basis of sheer assumptions, which might be based only on a “guilt by association” pattern.

Of course, Australian intelligence gatherers wouldn’t be involved in such practices, would they? Bear with me, this might be going somewhere. A salient remark (an early Easter present for SA Attorney-General Atkinson?) in point 55:

Therefore, the Special Rapporteur believes that the active or passive participation by States in the interrogation of persons held by another State constitutes an internationally wrongful act if the State knew or ought to have known that the person was facing a real risk of torture or other prohibited treatment, including arbitrary detention

There's a good one here, too, covering the AFP/ASIO handling of both Scott Parkin and Hicks in point 56:

States also claim that in practice it is difficult to assess under what conditions the information has been gathered: intelligence is usually not shared as raw intelligence, but as a refined product. While the Special Rapporteur recognizes that this is done as a matter of convenience, he is concerned that this practice also is maintained in order to give intelligence services the possibility of denying responsibility for the use of information that has been obtained in breach of international law.

Hmm, would that cover illegally-retained Pentagon files handed over by the White House to tarnish the reputation of Cheney's most active "business enemy" ? Or use of rendition-gathered evidence to incarcerate someone in a South Australian prison?

Pardon the rambling, and have a look at this little show-stopper in footnote 68:

Evidence proves that Australian, British and United States intelligence personnel have themselves interviewed detainees who were held incommunicado by the Pakistani ISI in so-called safe houses, where they were being tortured

Compare such a sentiment with AFP Chief Mick Keelty's assessment of Habib in 2005, based on interviews with the Pakistani prisoner by AFP and ASIO

Mr Keelty said Australian officers who interviewed Mr Habib in Pakistan believed he made up a claim that he had been kidnapped and tortured by "people in yellow uniforms" to create an alibi for the time he spent with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan

Keelty has admitted that he did not follow up Habib's claims of Pakistani torture

I wonder if Mick's read the UN report? If Keelty has heard as little about it from the Australian media as I, it's a fair bet he's looked it over, if you know what I mean. It makes his performance appear, at the least, extremely negligent policing.

Look, I know the Sydney Emergency Communication system wasn't under AFP control, but the situation portrays the sad ineptitude of our counterterrorism methodology as a whole. This from The Australian:

"The (Deputy) Police Commissioner Dave Owen and the state emergency operations controller made a conscious decision that it was not the appropriate sort of mechanism to be used,'' Mr Whan said.

But he could not say if it would have operated if a different decision had been made.

"I don't know whether it has a battery backup or not,'' he told Fairfax Radio network.

Asked if it would still operate if a terrorist attack knocked out power to the city, he replied, "I can't answer that question''.

Have any of the anti-bad-guys devices and "Deputy Sherriff" tactics introduced into Australia since September 2001 truly been effective at anything other than a media portrayal of successful Border Security? If you answer yes, need I tell you what I consider you?

And now that everyone's awake to the fraud, how long before a letter appears on Keelty's desk requesting his resignation? Perhaps Mick's reading it this morning, wondering if someone's trying to be funny, even though all around him have long since stopped laughing.

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the oscar winning rabbit

Well, it makes you wonder how seriously they took the notion of a terrorist threat, if its been the best they could do.

Seriously, so much of these rubbish laws, from the ASIO laws that banged up Haneef, to the currently pursued Conroy internet laws, are so much more about confected issues for a sideshow for imposing public order, except that they give an unintended glance as to what they really think about the child's night-terrors they dream up to scare us with, in the form of the flop their tacky systems in the arena of reality.

I'm presuming above from the basis that if there was any genuine threat the system would not have failed as it has.

Or they are bunglers.

Time will tell....


A couple of points, Paul, about the system’s efficiencies. Firstly: given that the emergency broadcast system doesn't have battery backup now, it's highly unlikely that such a safeguard was previously in place and had been removed. So the most likely scenario has to be that if a terrorism-induced blackout occurred during APEC the communications network would have failed.

As for Sydney airport ... had the misfortune of being there three times on the APEC weekend.. The police presence at Adelaide airport, monitoring interstate travellers, was considerably higher than Sydney's arrival hall. I saw very few police on Sunday and Monday afternoons, and am guessing that after Bush flew out everything returned to a "normal" level.

As for unauthorised personnel not being in areas where they could take photos of Air Force One, the photographs in my possession suggest that happy-snappers were able to get much closer to the plane than the Secret Service would have preferred.

The land, air and marine security that enmeshed Bush as he went from his hotel to meetings.. now, that was security!


The main thing is, Craig Reucassel and the suits had a precise motorcade for the Prime Minister of Canada.

Same shit, different day


It affected 50 sets of traffic lights, and the fire brigade was again called out to rescue people who were trapped in lifts.

Energy Australia spokeswoman Kylie Yates says the fault occurred in a city substation while essential fire protection work was carried out.

She says the backup power supply also crashed, in the same way it did last Monday.

In other words, the emergency communication system was inoperable again? Luvverly

Hu knows?

Funnily enough, Eliot, in the long chat following my visit to Sydney as an APEC Human Rights Monitor, I don't think we touched on this area, even with the last line of my report dangling such bait in front of you.

When the AFP and NSW Police lined up and advanced on the protesters it hadn’t occurred to me that this particular manoeuvre (as opposed to the expanding circle that earlier dispersed the marchers) was carried out to avoid negative footage for the arrival of the Chinese motorcade. That came later, sitting in the coffee shop across the road, watching the police depart.

However, point taken.

Out of curiosity, what did you think of my notion of how the police would've handled a pre-incited crowd if a dirty bomb had gone off while they were playing "storm troopers". Close to the mark?

In your dreams

"The AFP are busy at Hyde Park, merrily clearing camera-unfriendly protesters before the Chinese APEC contingent arrives at the nearby Sheraton."

Anti-APEC protesters confronting a Chinese contingent?

Clearly, this was an April Fools Day joke.

They'd more likely confront the contingent of a robust, reform-oriented, post-capitalist social democracy like the USA, than the rabid, environmentally reckless, super-capitalist Chinese Community Party and its lackeys and running dogs.

After all, they know which side their bread is buttered on.

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