Tag Archives: security-intelligence

Weekly salon 9/6

1. Race is not a thing

Race is a social construct, largely based on culture and language. In biological and genetic terms it simply does not exist. Looking at the genes, scientists simply cannot form racial categories. Angela Saini, of Indian heritage and living in England, has been investigating the issue in her recently published book Superior: The return of race science. See her New Scientist article and in The Guardian Why race science is on the rise again.

In the 19th century there was a common assumption that a hierarchy existed with the European male at the pinnacle. Yet modern science shows that:

    There is no gene that exists in all the members of one racial group and not another. We are all a product of ancient and recent migration.

Continue reading Weekly salon 9/6

Saturday salon 22/7

1. Turnbull’s Kim Jong-un moment

One of two big stories this week, from the SMH, Peter Dutton to head merged ASIO, AFP and Border Force super security department. However, Paula Matthewson at The New Daily captured the spirit of the thing by focussing on the optics in Hilarious and menacing at the same time: Turnbull’s Kim Jong-un moment. When Abbott made a national security announcement, this is what we got:

Continue reading Saturday salon 22/7

Sydney siege

By my count we are now going to have four inquiries into the Lindt Cafe siege – a coroner’s inquiry, internal incident reviews by the NSW and Commonwealth police and a federal-state review undertaken by the Prime Minister’s department and the NSW Premier’s Department.

The latter will include an an investigation of how gunman Man Haron Monis slipped through state and federal security and legal nets, at his arrival in Australia, the decision to grant him of asylum, permanent residency and citizenship, as well as the social security support he received. I can’t see what social security support has to do with anything. I’m more interested in how he came by a pump-action shotgun.

Greg Barns believes bail laws are already an infringement on our liberty. The possession of personal freedom and the presumption of innocence are important principles in our society. New laws in NSW appear to contain a presumption against bail.

It is inappropriate for us to be second guessing what the magistrates had before them and we tend to be wise after the event about the risk that Monis constituted.

New Matilda details what we know officially. Listening to media reports there is a fair bit we know beyond that, but I’m happy to wait for the official reports.

I’ve yet to get a clear idea of what the gunman’s motivation was. What demands was he making to police, or was he just creating an incident and waiting to be shot one way or another? It’s possibly significant that the cafe was opposite Channel 7. There is a suggestion this morning that he wanted to talk to the Prime Minister. What were we supposed to make of the banner held up to the window?


Rachel Kohn discusses the inadequacy of the lone wolf theory. Monis was bad as well as mad and had a record that should have given concern. It does seem as though Monis may have written off as a harmless fruitcake when he was dropped from the watch list. It has been pointed out that resources to monitor individuals are always limited, so judgements need to be made.

Randa Abdel-Fattah asks whether we take crimes against women seriously enough. I gather here she is referring to the fact that he got bail for being an accessory to his wife’s murder and, separately, 40 sexual assault cases. Others have pointed out the weakness of the prosecution case for accessory to murder, also that both charges can vary from the relatively trivial to the extremely grave, depending on the specifics. We are in no position to know.

Also from Abdel-Fattah:

There is another issue though, too. And that is whether Australian Muslims will be entitled to grieve the deaths of the two hostages and the trauma suffered by the survivors in a way that does not make their empathy and grief contingent on condemning, apologizing and distancing themselves from the gunman.

David Connery reviews security aspects of the case:

While it’s still early to be analysing a situation that’s just concluded with two of our compatriots dead, the Martin Place siege this week shows that Australia’s high-level arrangements for responding to a terrorist attack are largely effective.

Still, we can expect to see a few near-term changes to our counter-terrorism arrangements in areas like public alerts and compensation for victims.

If the attack had occurred overseas, and was declared a terrorist attack, the Commonwealth government would offer compensation payments to victims and their relatives.

There is a need to resolve the long-running negotiations between the Commonwealth and the states over the allocation of dedicated broadband spectrum for emergency services.

The incident highlights how vulnerable we are to a lone actor.

Elsewhere Rachel Jacobs tells how #illridewithyou began.

Yes, I know that #illridewithyou is not enough in itself but I think it indicates how far we’ve come from the general islamophobia that was rife after the Twin Towers event in 2001.

Terrorism deaths in perspective

Bernard Keane has been tracking the numbers at Crikey. Since the Hilton Hotel bombing in Sydney in 1978 a total of 113 Australians, at home and abroad, have died from terrorism.

In a New Matilda exclusive Chris Graham brings us the shocking death toll of Australians on Australian soil at the hands of Muslim terrorists – zero!

In the 10 years from 2003 to 2012 a total of 417 people in Australia died from falling out of bed, 230 from falling off ladders and 198 from falling off chairs. Rational analysis tells us that we are more at risk from ourselves and our loved ones than from terrorists. Suicides come in at 22,800 and homicides at 2,617. Somewhere between 700 and 1000 women and children have been killed by their parents or partners.

The toll from car accidents (excluding pedestrians and other vehicles) was 8,500 in the 10 years.

Now Keane has had a look at workplace safety:

As of mid-September, 129 Australians have been killed at work, compared to 125 people killed to the equivalent point in 2013, Safe Work Australia statistics show. The mining sector has already exceeded the death toll for the whole of 2013, with 12 people killed, and the construction industry has already claimed 18 lives, already one more than for the whole of 2013. Transport, the biggest sector for workplace deaths, is also performing worse than 2013, while agriculture, second biggest, is tracking around the same as last year.

The rise in workplace deaths this year defies years of improved workplace safety data: the incidence of workplace deaths rose from 2003-04, peaked in 2007-08 and has fallen dramatically since then, with an overall incidence rate in 2011-12 nearly half of what it was in 2002. Even so, 186 Australians went to work in 2013 and didn’t come home…

Here’s a graphic of select causes of death in 2003-12:


There are some preventable health and social justice issues that jump out of the statistics. Indigenous Australians, for example, are seven times more likely to die from diabetes than are other Australians. Keane questions our resource allocation priorities.

Problem is that many causes of death are ‘normal’ in terms of our emotional reaction, unless someone near to us is involved or there is emotional engagement for some other reason. Terrorism is, of course, designed to strike fear.

Our spooks have used this fear to gain ‘improvements’ to the security laws. Matthew Knott has an excellent explainer at the SMH:

So what’s in the new laws? They cover four main areas:

  • greater protection for intelligence officers who commit crimes while conducting operations;
  • cracking down on the leaking and publication of information about secret operations;
  • expanding ASIO’s access to computer networks;
  • making it easier for Australia’s spying agencies to work together.

The second is likely to have a chilling effect on reporting. For example, if a reporter was tipped off that surveillance equipment was being installed in the East Timor cabinet room under an Australian aid project, he or she would be reluctant to report it and risk up to 10 years jail.

On the third, it seems the spooks will be able to go anywhere they choose on the internet.

Labor has waved these laws through in the Senate, leaving critique to the Greens and some of the cross-bench:

The bill passed the Senate, 44 votes to 12. The Government, Opposition and Palmer United Party voted for the legislation, along with the Motoring Enthusiasts Party Senator Ricky Muir, and Family First’s Bob Day.

The Greens, Senators Xenophon, Leyonhjelm, and Senator John Madigan were all opposed.

This spineless approach from Labor bespeaks political pragmatism rather than principle.

Indonesian spying affair

Indonesia has recalled its ambassador after leaked documents reveal Australia spied on president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife, amongst others. Dr Natalegawa:

“It’s impossible for an ambassador in foreign country to do their duty in the midst of an unfortunate situation like this,” he said.

“The summoning of the ambassador is not considered a light step, but it’s a minimum step we can do to consolidate situation, and to show our firm but measured act.”

You have to wonder what the endgame is in this matter. Seasoned foreign affairs commenters seem to think these matters can be managed, everyone knows that everyone spies on everyone else. Behind the scenes all can be settled down and we continue as before.

Well that hasn’t worked so far for the US when Angela Merkel found that her cell phone was not off limits. The issue is still very much alive, though it’s not clear that the US will agree to a legally binding ‘no spy’ agreement.

It seems to me that Indonesia has all the leverage it needs to get whatever it wants, especially as Crikey’s editorial suggests, Abbott is pursuing an asylum seeker-based foreign policy.

Nevertheless the US may not allow us to enter a ‘no-spy’ agreement. Against that, the Chinese are taking an interest.

There’s more at The Guardian and The Conversation. Continue reading Indonesian spying affair