Lindt Café fiasco has exposed police incompetence from the top down
Remove the cowboys – commission the experts
Missed opportunities that could have ended fatal Lindt cafe siege
Fifteen hours later, as a police team that had none of the real-life experience of TAG East would storm the Lindt cafe, the special forces soldiers were still on standby. TAG East — the Tactical Assault Group based on the east coast — has commandos who have worked in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If, for example, 18 Australians were taken hostage by Islamic State in Iraq, this is the team the Australian government would dispatch to rescue them. Yet here they were — 30 minutes drive from the Lindt Cafe — and they were never called.
The moment it was clear on December 15, 2014, that the hostage-taker, Man Haron Monis, was engaged in an act of terrorism, the then prime minister Tony Abbott offered full support.
Had the NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione or the head of counter-terrorism, Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn, requested that they take over the operation, TAG East could have taken over immediately. And even though TAG East had quickly set up a mock cafe and begun drilling a possible storming of the Lindt, they were not even asked to help draw up a plan for such an event, known as “A Deliberate Action Plan.”
In fact, when both Burn and Scipione went home that night — 12 hours into the siege — a Deliberate Action Plan had not even been approved.
In contrast, given some of the situations TAG East’s personnel had dealt with in the Middle East, having to deal with only one gunman in one location would have been one of the less difficult missions they had been asked to do. All it would have taken was one phone call from the NSW Premier Mike Baird to Abbott and TAG East could have been on site.
Yesterday, Baird would not answer the following question from Inquirer: did you know that TAG East was available within an hour of the siege beginning? Baird’s office replied: “The government will comment on the matters canvassed at the inquest after receiving the Coroner’s report and recommendations.”
While TAG East sat at Holsworthy, the NSW Police trying to do the job — the Tactical Operations Unit — were having all sorts of problems. First, they had never had to execute an operation related to terrorism — most of the sieges they deal with involve domestic situations.
On top of this, their radios were not working properly; the listening device in the cafe was not working; visual surveillance equipment was faulty; the phone lines they had established for the hostages were not getting through; there was no command truck available; and, when they finally stormed the cafe, their night-vision goggles were not effective because of the flares they let off in front of them. For the TAG East team, a faulty radio or listening device can mean one of them dies.
While there would still have been a risk to the TAG team going in — Monis was crazed and armed — it would have been an operation by people whose entire expertise was in that area.
It was clear from evidence this week that the strategy of the NSW Police was to wait out Monis. The second viable option available to police an hour after the siege began was to resolve the crisis using Australia’s most senior Islamic cleric. On 10.45 that morning, Nick Kaldas received a phone call from the Grand Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, who wanted to help.
At that time, Kaldas was the deputy police commissioner, a title he shared with Burn. Kaldas and the mufti, who lives in western Sydney, knew each other well — both are from the same part of Egypt and they both speak Arabic. The mufti had seen on the news that a man — presumed to be a Muslim terrorist — had taken hostages.
“You tell us what to do,” the mufti told Kaldas, offering to join the negotiations to try to free the hostages. Given the clear obsession Monis had with Islam, the mufti felt he might have been able to coax Monis from the cafe. He said he was prepared to tell Monis: “You should not do this — this is not to be done in Allah’s name.” Kaldas had had years of experience in the Middle East and realised the value someone such as the mufti could play. At the very least, Kaldas thought the mufti would give the negotiators another option.
Kaldas telephoned Jeffrey Loy, the acting deputy commissioner. Loy clearly passed on the offer, but in evidence this week both Scipione and Burn said they could not recall ever hearing the mufti’s name mentioned. The mufti’s offer was never taken up and Kaldas has left the police. He is now working in The Hague as the UN’s chief investigator into chemical weapons in Syria.
This week, in the Lindt inquest, serious dysfunction in the NSW Police Force was revealed. The great irony is that NSW will soon be looking for someone to replace Scipione, who has signalled his retirement. Burn, an ally of Scipione, is widely seen as having been fatally wounded by both the siege inquest and her long-time feud with Kaldas.
That war began in 2001 when Scipione and Burn — who were working together in the internal affairs unit — oversaw the largest bugging operation in the state’s history. One of the key targets of “Operation Mascot” was Kaldas.
Over the next three years, 80 warrants against Kaldas would be secretly issued for listening devices and telephone intercepts. Each warrant only lasted three weeks — every three weeks for four years the internal affairs unit convinced various judges in NSW to renew the warrant.
It is believed that Kaldas’s office was bugged, a “wired” person was sent to talk to him, and his home phone was tapped, capturing conversations with his family.
At that point Kaldas was commander of the homicide squad. “I do not think Neddy Smith has ever been the subject of 80 warrants,” Kaldas told a parliamentary inquiry, a reference to the notorious murderer, rapist and armed robber.
Burn said in a statement: “I deny that … I directed Internal Affairs police to use illegal warrants to secretly record conversations of my rivals in the police force and in particular Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas.” Placing Kaldas — along with 100 other police and veteran crime reporter Steve Barrett — on to such warrants has divided the force.
Barrett says today: “This bugging operation has damaged good law-abiding citizens’ reputations and in some cases police have attempted suicide or actually committed suicide.
“The NSW government promised a full, open public inquiry via the NSW Ombudsman’s office to get to the bottom of the scandal. I was only aware that I was on two warrants but I now find out that I was on 52 warrants.
“To this day no one has received any apology. It is time for the key players involved — Andrew Scipione and Cath Burn — to tell the full extent of the largest bugging operation in the state’s history.”
The internal affairs unit never uncovered any impropriety by Kaldas. He and others want to know how many of the warrants could have been signed without the required affidavits. The issue is likely to erupt again.
This week, Inquirer asked both Scipione and Burn whether they had any regrets from their time in internal affairs over bugging Kaldas. In response, a police spokesman said: “Given the Ombudsman’s ongoing inquiry into these matters, it is inappropriate to comment.”
After several years of being a rival of Burn to succeed Scipione, Kaldas resigned in March. Before he became the subject of the Internal Affairs unit’s bugging operation, he publicly took them on. Kaldas was a key figure in the police union — he was on the executive of the Police Association. Through letters to the editors of newspapers and letters to the police management, he complained that too many police were being targeted, in his view, because they were not liked rather than corrupt.
In 2004 — before he even knew that he was a target of the unit — Kaldas famously held a press conference outside the Sydney Police Centre to complain about what was seen as the unit’s power and unaccountability.
At the time Scipione and Burn ran the unit, they used a policeman known as “M5” to try to catch targeted police saying things they should not. “M5” would turn up to police parties and functions, a packet of Winfield cigarettes always in his top pocket. What those talking to him — including Kaldas — did not realise was that inside that cigarette packet was a listening device. Years later, when it emerged that “M5” had been working for internal affairs, Kaldas recalled that he used to be mystified as to why “M5” would always want to chat.
If the NSW government were now to engage a headhunter to find a replacement for Scipione, they might well zero in on Kaldas. In an age of terrorism, his qualifications are clear: he speaks Arabic, he has a network of connections throughout the Middle Eastern community in Sydney and he has worked three times in Iraq, including helping to set up the trial of Saddam Hussein. He was also chief investigator in the tribunal which identified four members of Hezbollah as key suspects for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri.
Strangely, however, in Baird’s NSW this experience was not enough to be the next NSW police commissioner. It was made clear to Kaldas he was not going to be the next police commissioner — based on that, and disillusioned with the infighting, he resigned.
One issue the Coroner, Michael Barnes, may examine is why Kaldas’s suggestion of the mufti was ignored. Burn told the inquest she could not remember the suggestion but that she did not think “amateurs” should join negotiations.
There are never easy answers in something like a siege. But there would seem to be a strong case to say there was one central mistake on the night: not calling in the TAG East. As for the key players, the verdict on their roles seems clear.
The then prime minister Abbott did what he should have by offering whatever support was needed. For Burn, leaving work at 10pm while hostages and her officers were in danger is difficult to comprehend. For Scipione, to apparently never have asked how negotiations were going takes “hands off” to a new level.
And for Premier Baird, to apparently have never asked his commissioner why there was no “deliberate action plan” or why TAG East were not being called in is remarkable.
We will never know whether the deaths of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson were avoidable. But what we do know is that Sydney was tragically unprepared for the new world in which we find ourselves.
Posted on August 24, 2016, in Corporate Government, corruption, Military, New World Order, People Control, Police, Politicians and tagged Catherine Burn, coroner, cowboy cops, incompentance, Kaldas, Lindt cafe, Lindt inquiry, Michael Barnes, parliament of fools, terrorist control. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.