Almost 22 years ago at the NSW Police Academy in Goulburn intelligence officers researching a new threat of a lone terrorist arrived at recommendations similar to those arising from the Lindt Cafe siege inquest last week.
They wanted to make more use of intelligence to target individuals, and bring in other agencies like health to stay ahead of a potential threat.
More recently, police have conceded they should have acted earlier to avoid the deaths of Tori Johnson, Katrina Dawson and gunman Man Haron Monis in December, 2014.
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Last week Coroner Michael Barnes raised concerns about how the Australian Federal Police and NSW police shared information and called for a review of their existing arrangements.
“Current arrangements for identifying and assessing the risks posed by self-radicalised and isolated or fixated individuals who are not necessarily committing crimes tend to be fragmented rather than holistic, piecemeal rather than coordinated, and not presently focused on fixated persons,’’ Mr Barnes said.
“The recent announcement of the NSW Police Commissioner, Mr Fuller, that he intends to create a unit to attempt to identify lone-actor terrorists is commendable. In my view, this unit should work collaboratively with NSW Health and have access to all necessary data.
“I recommend NSW Police Force in conjunction with NSW Health establish a Fixated Threat Assessment Centre to identify and gather information about fixated persons, assess the risks they pose and attempt to mitigate such risks through early intervention,’’ the Coroner said in his findings.
More than two decades ago 16 NSW police in the school of intelligence at Goulburn, focussed on using intelligence to turn hindsight into foresight to counter a new and more dangerous loner.
They had the Sydney 2000 Olympics in mind, and using intelligence to prevent violence “currently deemed unforeseeable.’’
The police wrote in November 1995, the latest generation of terrorist would likely strike in someone’s own street, or where they worked.
“Most often the perpetrator is an unhappy and partly crazed individual whose isolation is part of the reason for their dissatisfaction with life,” the officers wrote.
“Intelligence has traditionally been viewed within the police service as an aid to investigation. This approach in our view limits the value of the intelligence process considerably. It is our belief the major value of intelligence lies in its ability to predict likely future events.’’
From Sydney, Maitland, Lismore, Deniliquin, a royal commission and Olympics planning group, the police read extensive crime reports from New York, United Kingdom and Canada, mental health research and Royal Commission documents. They called for a line to be drawn so that when it was crossed they could use intelligence to target an individual.
“It is time that we change our way of thinking as well as our software. We should begin to work as one team, and not as individual groups who are inclined to hoard information.’’
Talks with national crime fighters revealed they were focussed on groups rather than individuals.
Twenty two years later, in the aftermath of Australia’s first terrorist hostage crisis their lecturer, who posed the lone terrorist scenario and role of intelligence to forecast potential danger, says their recommendations were noted, and that’s about it. “Time, motion, political imperatives take over the daily running of organisations,’’ the former detective sergeant said. “The ‘here and now’ issues become more important, rather than having your ‘head in the clouds and telling us what may happen’.”
Caption: NSW Police Academy in Goulburn. Photo: John Thistleton.