Wednesday, November 14, 2007

COMMENT: Yet another terrorism intelligence bungle ...

Izhar al-Haque is an exception to the rule. He willingly handed his jihadi training documents to the authorities. He did this years before any prosecution or ASIO interrogation were on the horizon.

Most terror suspects find themselves in the dock thanks to information provided to the authorities from external sources. Well, not quite external sources. Generally the information comes from people within their congregations. People who attend their mosques. Muslim people.

Ordinary citizens who just happen to observe the requirements of their faith to some extent. And who regard it as their religious duty to ensure their families and neighbours and nation are secure from "fitna" and "fasad" (words used in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and other languages commonly spoken by huge chunks of the Islamic world to describe chaos and terror).

I wonder whether they’ll be so willing after reading for months about the Haneef investigation that revealed AFP investigators having little or no understanding of basic aspects of South Asian cultures. AFP investigators who didn’t realise that Urdu (not "Udo" as they put it) was the name of a language. And now they find the prosecution of the future-Dr Haque has been thrown out after ASIO agents were accused of engaging in kidnapping and the evidence they gathered largely inadmissible.

Add to this revelations that AFP agents were directed to charge as many people as possible with a view to testing the new beefed-up anti-terrorism laws. Sally Neighbour writes in The Australian on 13 November 2007:
A SENIOR counter-terrorism officer with the Australian Federal Police has testified that police were directed to charge "as many suspects as possible" with terrorism offences in order to test the new anti-terrorism laws introduced in 2003.
The admission was made by federal agent Kemuel Lam Paktsun, the senior case officer on the Operation Newport investigation that led to the arrest of Sydney medical student Izhar Ul-Haque, whose trial was sensationally dismissed in the NSW Supreme Court yesterday.
Mr Lam Paktsun's startling testimony came during a pre-trial hearing on October 24 that has not previously been reported, when he was questioned about the circumstances of Mr Ul-Haque's arrest in April 2004.
"At the time, we were directed, we were informed, to lay as many charges under the new terrorist legislation against as many suspects as possible because we wanted to use the new legislation," he testified.
"So regardless of the assistance that Mr Ul-Haque could give, he was going to be prosecuted, charged, because we wanted to test the legislation and lay new charges, in our eagerness to use the legislation."
The frank admission was made under cross-examination during a hearing to test the admissibility of two AFP interviews conducted with Mr Ul-Haque, who was charged with receiving training from the terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba in January and February 2003.
I’ll bet many ordinary Aussies who tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms are feeling very alarmed. So will many of their neighbours and friends who tick other boxes or no box in particular.

Millions have been spent to "beef up" security. And what has been achieved? Failed prosecution after failed prosecution. And a bunch of ABC comics getting through APEC security barricades worth millions.

But heck, why should the Federal Government care? After all, it’s not their money that’s being spent. It’s our money.

And it’s our security being compromised as our intelligence services don’t behave in an intelligent fashion. The only thing standing in the way of botched-up intelligence is an independent judiciary. We can thank God/G-d/Allah/ Khudah/etc for that. But when it comes to our counter-terrorism services, we should be very alarmed.

I hope that, in the event of a real terrorist plot, they are far more alert.

First published on the Crikey daily alert for 13 November 2007.