NCA SECURITY REPORT
© Commonwealth of Australia 2006
1. In one of the worst attacks on an Australian law enforcement agency,
on 2 March 1994 a letter bomb exploded in the Adelaide office
of the National Crime Authority, killing Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen
and leading to the loss of an eye by NCA lawyer Mr Peter Wallis.
The Committee noted in its Annual Report 1996-97, tabled in September 1997,
that it was a matter of disappointment to the Committee that there had
not been a prosecution of the perpetrator of this vicious crime.
2. While the investigation of the crime is a matter for South Australia
Police, the Committee is nonetheless required by its statutory duties
to monitor and review the performance by the Authority of its functions.
3. It is clearly a function of the Authority to provide its personnel
with an appropriate level of physical security so that they can pursue
their important yet personally hazardous work in safety.
4. Only one member of the current Committee, Mr Paul Filing MP, was a
member in March 1994. Thus, when in early 1996 the Committee received
representations that security at the NCA's Adelaide office at the time
of the bombing might have been deficient, the members of the current Committee
felt that it was incumbent on them to examine the validity and integrity
of the representations.
5. This report sets out details of advice received from the Authority
in this respect.
Evidence taken in 1994
6. The then Committee held a public briefing with representatives of
the NCA in Sydney on 22 April 1994. The then NCA Chairperson, Mr
Tom Sherman, was naturally circumspect about what he was prepared to say
in public, not only because of concerns about discussing matters which
he expected would be raised in future criminal proceedings but also because
of the possible responses by aggrieved persons if deficiencies in NCA
security were publicised.
7. Mr Sherman discussed the state of security preparedness in the NCA's
Adelaide office and he indicated that the incident had prompted considerably
increased attention to be paid to physical security of NCA offices throughout
Australia. On the basis of Mr Sherman's evidence the then Committee and
the general public would have been left with the impression that:
- the NCA's security system was roughly in line with similar law enforcement
agencies at that time;
- that such attacks were previously unknown in Australia;
- that accordingly the security system that had been in place was now
recognised as inadequate as it had failed to detect the bomb despite
the following out of all procedures; and
- that a high priority would henceforth be given to security issues,
subject to an assessment of the costs of different levels of protection
against the levels of perceived threat.
Advice received in 1996
8. The current Committee was informed early in 1996 by a source other
than the NCA that, in general, the NCA had less than satisfactory security
arrangements in place prior to the bombing, despite the existence of both
an ASIO report and internal security reports, the knowledge of which had
been the source of concern to NCA personnel about their security.
9. The Committee sought comment on these claims from current NCA Chairperson,
Mr John Broome. In advice provided to the Committee in October
1996 Mr Broome indicated that there had been no comprehensive security
reports or risk reviews undertaken prior to the bombing. Mr Broome indicated
that, apart from the engagement of ASIO to provide protective security
advice in Melbourne in 1988, ASIO's involvement with the Authority had
been in officer to officer level discussions on an ad hoc basis on such
matters as approved equipment. Ironically, ASIO officers were visiting
the NCA's Melbourne office on the day of the bombing in Adelaide to discuss
the undertaking of a protective security review.
10. The only pre-bombing internal security report was said to relate
to consideration of x-ray screening equipment. The equipment was not purchased
as its overall dimensions restricted its strategic placement and, at $63,000
per unit, its cost was prohibitive.
11. Mr Broome confirmed that the Adelaide office had available for the
inspection of mail a Postal Protection Unit, as used widely by Commonwealth
agencies undertaking mail screening. Mr Broome added that the NCA was
not aware prior to the bombing of any Commonwealth agency which passed
mail through x-ray scanners.
Advice received in 1997
12. Articles in The Australian on 11 and 14 October 1997 discussed
the events of 2 March 1994 and the level of the NCA's security
preparedness, based on interviews with Peter Wallis and other former NCA
personnel. The articles did not disclose information about the level of
security at the time of the bombing of which the Committee was unaware.
The second article did, however, reveal that NCA investigators had been
required to leave their office cars in open public parking areas, a matter
not previously raised by the Committee with the NCA.
13. Following the revelations in the media, Mr Broome provided the Committee
with supplementary advice to his October 1996 advice based on an examination
of the files.
14. The current advice contained a number of significant corrections
to that provided previously. The thrust of the corrected advice was to
the effect that there had in fact been several protective security reviews
undertaken of the NCA's Adelaide office in the five-year period prior
to the bombing.
15. It transpires that as early as 1990 a review by NCA security staff
had recommended, inter alia, that a cost-effective screening device or
x-ray equipment should be purchased. On that occasion, however, a staff
committee appointed to discuss the report chose to take up one of the
lower cost options mooted in the report. The later reviews also drew attention
to the need for improved physical security measures, including the purchase
of a new Postal Protection Unit at a cost of about $5500, to replace the
1989 model which was rarely used, with scanning being undertaken by a
hand-held metal detector.
16. It appears that, mainly for funding reasons, no such purchase was
made, although Mr Broome did note that at no stage prior to the bombing
was there a perception of heightened risk.
17. The NCA's advice suggests that the bomb was unlikely to have been
detected by any equipment which relied on metal detection and that both
the Postal Protection Unit and hand-held metal detectors in use at the
time of the bombing were not capable of detecting explosive devices which
did not contain a reasonable amount of metal.
18. It will be a matter for the Coroner, if a coronial inquiry is held,
to determine whether the precautions taken by the NCA in relation to physical
security were appropriate in the light of the circumstances prevailing
at the time.
19. The Committee notes that all incoming mail and deliveries to the
NCA's offices are now x-rayed.
20. The purpose of this report is not for the Committee, with the benefit
of perfect hindsight, to be critical of the state of physical security
in the NCA's Adelaide office prior to March 1994. It will properly
be the role of the Coroner to examine the matter and to make any appropriate
comments and recommendations.
21. The Committee is reporting to the Parliament its concern about the
failure of the NCA to provide it with a fully reliable explanation of
the state of security prior to the bombing. Given its statutory role as
the body that monitors and reviews the NCA on the Parliament's behalf,
the Committee was entitled to expect that the advice received from the
NCA in October 1996 was reliable. Committee members are embarrassed
to now learn that advice which they had specifically sought and on which
they had relied was fundamentally flawed.
22. It is also a matter of concern that the revised advice was only prompted
by revelations in the media, which suggests that there are recording or
reporting problems in the NCA's Adelaide office.
23. The Parliament is informed that the Committee will be pursuing in
detail with the Authority its explanation as to how this incident and
such a gross misleading of the Committee could have occurred.
John Bradford MP
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