The stovepipes that continue to plague government agencies may pose one of the bigger threats to Australia’s national security, according to an Australian security and terrorism expert.
The perils of agency IT systems that are unable to communicate is clear. Nearly six years before the September 11 attacks, the US Senate Judiciary Committee chairman was told by his senior staff that the FBI and other government agencies had missed warning signs about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The staff also warned the agencies were ill-prepared to prevent future domestic terrorist attacks, according to memos disclosed by Australian Associated Press.
"The sharing of intelligence is lacking among federal law enforcement agencies," the December 1995 memo to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, whose committee oversees federal law enforcement, stated, citing intelligence failures eerily reminiscent of those exposed after the September 11, 2001 hijackings.
"We have information that some instances, like the World Trade Center, could have been prevented if the relevant agencies had worked in concert with each other," the investigators wrote. "Simply stated, several different agencies had a small piece of the puzzle.
Now security expert Dr Adam Cobb, director of Stratwise, is warning the Australian Government’s decision to establish a national counter terrorism division within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to provide a whole-of-government response to the threat of terrorism does not go nearly far enough.
Cobb — who says the proposal is similar to the model he first proposed in a series of reports on preventing terrorism starting in 1997 — wants the Government to adopt another Stratwise suggestion that all of Australia’s internal security organisations be rationalised into a new body called the Australian Security Agency (ASA), and that the ASA should sit with defence in a new national security council.
Cobb says problems identified by the US General Accounting Office relating to the IT security of US domestic security agencies and their inability to communicate with one another is very similar to those facing Australia.
“Basically there are about ten different agencies, and if you amalgamated them and got rid of 10 different corporate services areas and all of that, then you would have probably an operational saving of about $100 million which you could apply to the operations budget,” he says.
“But more importantly not only would you have them all in the same building so they could actually talk to one another, you’d force them to all operate on the same system, because currently they don’t. And inability to talk to one another is one of the key inabilities within the Department of Defence, for example, let alone between the various departments that deal with internal security.
“See for external security we have effectively one agency, that’s Defence, and the intelligence agencies. For internal security we’ve got a plethora of them, and for proper functioning coordination they need to rationalise the ten internal ones into one, and then have that sit just with Defence in the national level committee they’ve set up,” he says.
Describing the Prime Minister’s announcement last week as little more than “window dressing” designed to encounter Labor’s rising clamour for a Department of Homeland Security, Cobb said he was concerned that that the new national counter terrorism division would not be adequately staffed or funded, and that the real decision making power would remain with departments rather than at the national, central level.
“This whole thing should be about centralising the decision making at the national central part of government, and they should be centralising the IT systems to reflect that,” Cobb says.
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