How Australian Authorities Respond to Potential Terrorists

Watch the video of how the Australian authorities react when someone—dressed either as an American or Arab tourist—films the Sydney Harbor Bridge and a nuclear reactor.

The synopsis: The Arab is intercepted within three minutes both times, while the U.S. tourist is given instructions on how to get inside the nuclear facility.

Moral for terrorists: dress like an American.

By the way, Lucas Heights is a research reactor. It produces medical isotopes and performs research, and doesn’t produce power.

Posted on April 24, 2007 at 7:12 AM35 Comments


RC April 24, 2007 7:55 AM

In theory, intelligent profiling could increase the odds that a terrorist would be caught. But this is very difficult to institute in practice because of the large number of persons who would have to implement profiling across a nation, and because it is a highly emotional situation.

We are probably better off not profiling.

SteveJ April 24, 2007 8:22 AM

It’s worth noting that the “Arab” was wearing a huge, obviously-fake beard. So we don’t know whether the results indicate racial profiling, or profiling against people who look like they’re involved in some kind of stunt, prank, or other shenanigan.

Furthermore, the American wasn’t actually allowed into the nuclear facility: the “instructions” got him to reception.

So I prefer the moral as stated by the TV presenters, not so much “dress like an American”, as “don’t dress like a comedy stereotype”.

aussie April 24, 2007 8:36 AM

The security at Lucas Heights is dreadful. Back in 2001, sixty members of Greenpeace Australia famously “invaded” the facility by simply scaling the barbed-wire topped fence with some carpet.

greg April 24, 2007 8:43 AM

I’m getting sick of Potential Terrorists. Can we move along to real security threats? How about a little crypto and math every now and then? Like hashes…

Roxanne April 24, 2007 8:48 AM

I have thought more than once that I, or someone like me – middle-aged white woman – could probably do just about anything terrorist-related, and even people watching wouldn’t quite believe it. Go beyond “Dress like an American” to “Dress like a soccer mom.” Little old ladies may be even better.

Meanwhile, those burkhas they have Islamic women wear are fabulous. The mind boggles at what someone could smuggle under one of those. You might alert security, though….

Anonymous April 24, 2007 9:16 AM

Yes dress like a Yank after all our Prime Minister, Little Johnny Howard, is best friends with G.W. In fact Johnny wants to reincarnated as a Yank in his next life.

Recently at the big Sydney easter show (USA people think country fair/exposition) a children’s show bag caused outrage because it was a “Police bag” and bad people could use this to impersonate a policeman. Yes, welcome one of the nanny, high taxing, states of this world.

Fred F. April 24, 2007 9:24 AM

Some of the nastiest reactive crap comes out the medical isotopes materials and they are not usually handled very carefully in particular during shipping. I remember a scare in Brazil in the late 80’s early 90’s where Cesium-137 was disposed together with an old machine. Some of those are as bad as the Polonium used to poison the Russian guy. Probably the easiest way to get material to do a very scary dirty bomb that will not do much more than probably disrupt a big city and create a scare with minimal lose of life.

sooth_sayer April 24, 2007 9:26 AM

If you learn to dress like an american and act like an american .. there is good chance you stopped being a terrorist.

Of course the europeans and other nut jobs are going to jump all over this comment, but isn’t this it’s all about? Democracy, jeans and jazz ok .. may be blues.

And I second the motion to have more hashes than terrorism on this site.

Rich April 24, 2007 9:55 AM


What kind of American does one have to act like, or does it matter? Can one act like a San Francisco liberal and still be a terrorist? Surely not a Houston oilman…

What about one who acted like Timothy McVeigh? Would that erase their terrorist tendencies?

Random Videographer April 24, 2007 10:17 AM

Most of the time, even middle class white American males will get the same treatment as the faux Middle Eastern person — at least here in the USA. It might be an interesting research topic, or at least a fun Web site: Different people standing in public spaces photographing or taking video of “sensitive” objects/areas. How long before they get approached and what happens to them?

RSaunders April 24, 2007 10:52 AM

@ Rich

First thing folks look for in an American is arrogance. That’s why none of the Australian Nuclear Security folks thought it was odd that this guy was taking pictures. American’s often wander around and ask how to get into facilities that are none of their business.

Here’s a more interesting story,
This guy’s laptop is searched and the indicator of guilty-ness used was “he did not become agitated when she pulled him aside for secondary questioning???. Apparently their archetype for detecting Americans is that they “typically become agitated and mad” when confronted by security.

Sounds like spot on profiling to me.


So, terrorists need to dress like Americans (trade those burkhas for bare-midriffs), eat like Americans (pass the pulled-pork sandwiches), and act like Americans (arrogant and angry)? Next thing you know they will be international pariahs.

Jo April 24, 2007 10:53 AM

To be fair, they could have sent a security guy after they saw the “American tourist” filming which is why it only took 3 mins for security to appear when the Arab-looking man was filming.

a April 24, 2007 10:57 AM

They could also have tested a third category – the fundamentalists. Dress up as an American, and carry abortion protest banners and t-shirts.. and then try to get into this location.

mdh April 24, 2007 1:15 PM

The problem is that some of the most radical terrorists, with the highest propensity to commit real violent acts, are not Arab-born at all. A great many are of African descent, and plenty are normal white kids, too. Just recently there was a terror bust in the UK where one of the most radical individuals involved was apparently a Canadian kid who converted to islam as a teenager or young adult.
There’re plenty of terrorists from all over, and plenty of nice folks from the middle east, too.

Richard Steven Hack April 24, 2007 2:53 PM

Racial profiling to stop terrorists works as long as the terrorist groups are dumb enough to send obvious foreign nationals to pull off operations.

As soon as some operations fail because of that, they will learn and racial profiling will stop working.

It’s that simple. It’s not hard to use front people and patsies to pull off terrorist operations. It’s been done by other groups and will be done by all groups – at least those that have an international character – sooner or later.

A similar problem arises with stupid projects like searching people at random in the New York Subway. With the fact that ninety percent of people are carrying some kind of bag these days, how do you pick who to search? Cops know what suspicious people look like – or they think they do. Has that ever been tested scientifically to see whether they really do or that it’s just “I don’t like that guy’s face – or race”.

And what are the odds that any given search will actually turn up someone with a bomb, given the number of people involved and the number of cops involved?

A more interesting question: how many “false flag” operations can you detect with such profiling? Can you tell an Israeli from an Arab with 100% proficiency?

The Israeli Mossad was caught running a “false flag” operation in the Palestinian area by posing as “Al Qaeda” recruiters trying to recruit Palestinians. That operation was exposed by Palestinian security.

How many others weren’t?

In the intelligence community, you never know who is working for whom. Therefore, why assume that any given terrorist operation is performed by any given group, absent some sort of authenticated claim of responsibility (and how do you authenticate a claim?), let alone any given ethnic group?

Another interesting bit related to this is that in all the tests where airport security is found wanting, I think we can assume that the testers were the same ethnicity as the security people. It would be interesting to run the same tests with people of varying ethnicity. This would provide some evidence that ethnic profiling has any validity at all.

Another problem with such tests is that a real terrorist is operating under emotional stress – and a tester is presumably operating with less emotional stress. How much does emotional stress influence the outcome of such tests?

People should read Richard Marcinko’s Red Cell SEAL Team exploits. These guys went everywhere and busted into everything which is supposedly secure – Camp David, Air Force One’s hangar, Navy nuclear weapons lockers, Naval Intelligence HQ, nuclear subs at Groton. They pretty much proved that you can get in anywhere with weapons and explosives if you want to – and if you look like Americans, anyway.

Worst comes to worst, I’m sure the Arab terrorist groups will start hiring Western terrorist mercenaries and criminals to pull off their operations if they have to, even without ideological reasons. As an example, there are still theories that McVeigh and his accomplice had Arab terrorist connections, and that they were either accomplices to Arab terrorists or patsies for same.

mkay422 April 24, 2007 3:03 PM

1) What about Russians? Taken last week, nobody cared –

2) More on Australian security –

3) On departure from Sydney Intl. last Wednesday, I observed a poor beginner surfer struggling with his board and sail and drifting towards the runway. He should have been washed ashore right there about 4 minutes after our takeoff. There is no barbed wire or any other deterrents.

Thomas April 24, 2007 4:13 PM

“””if you learn to dress like an american and act like an american .. there is good chance you stopped being a terrorist.”””

You’ll be a freedom fighter!

Tony April 24, 2007 6:51 PM

None of that is a surprise:

There’s a lot of racism in Australia. Last week when Don Imus got fired for his “Nappy headed Ho’s” comment, much loved Australian Radio Broadcaster Alan Jones got let off with a $1,000 fine for inflaming racist opinion on his radio show in the lead up to the Cronulla Riots (whites vs. non-whites). Jones said “shoot one and the rest will run” and called on white bikers to come down and bash up the Lebanese. More amazing, the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a big fan of George W. Bush, spoke out in support of Jones.,21985,21567923-5000117,00.html

Australian Aborginals live in poverty, alcoholism and poor health. Many Aussies, who declare themselves to be ‘not racists’, will happily prattle away all the Aborginal Jokes. Here’s on: Why do they call Aboriginals ‘Boongs’? Because that’s the sound they make when you hit them with the 4WD. 😐

Given all that, nothing surprises me.

Mr Tourist April 24, 2007 9:18 PM

As an Australian visiting Sydney as a tourist, dressed as an Australian (i.e. – badly) I’ve been stopped by security on the Harbour Bridge who wanted to know what I was taking photos of…. Duh, I don’t know, maybe the biggest goddamn tourist attraction in the country? The weird thing is the images all end up looking like a gulag – warning signs, security cameras, barbed and razor wire everywhere. Lovely!

Colossal Squid April 25, 2007 7:34 AM

“Just recently there was a terror bust in the UK where one of the most radical individuals involved was apparently a Canadian kid who converted to islam as a teenager or young adult.”

Arrest!=Conviction. Innocent until proven guilty, remember. I know it’s a quaint concept these days.

lc April 25, 2007 10:28 AM

I always find it funny that most people don’t consider that Profiling is a tool. Why is it assumed that Profiling would only be limited to law enforcement. If I was intent on malicious activities (just a theoretical exercise of course), I would use Profiling to determine the most useful and functional profiles to accomplish my goal.

Anonymous April 25, 2007 2:00 PM

“If I was intent on malicious activities (just a theoretical exercise of course), I would use Profiling to determine the most useful and functional profiles to accomplish my goal.”

Sure, but one might presume that you’re reasonably intelligent. If, on the other hand, you’ve decided that the best use or your life is to blow yourself up, is it unreasonable to doubt that you’re a smart cookie?

Mark April 25, 2007 7:47 PM

Just wanted to make a brief response in regards to Tony’s comment earlier. That is pretty damn far from anything resembling accuracy. I encourage anyone to actively read about the incidents rather than let such a biased comment sway your opinion.

Tank April 25, 2007 10:04 PM

“Some of those are as bad as the Polonium used to poison the Russian guy.”

By “bad” we assume you mean “completely harmless unless ingested”. And since you were talking about discarded materials the lesson would appear to be not to eat heavy metals you find on the ground. Awesome.

Anonymous April 26, 2007 12:27 AM

“This guy’s laptop is searched and the indicator of guilty-ness used was “he did not become agitated when she pulled him aside for secondary questioning???. Apparently their archetype for detecting Americans is that they “typically become agitated and mad” when confronted by security.”

Bleedin hell. I identify with this. I’m Malaysian and I visited my brother at Monash from Malaysia. I’m a late 20’s guy, dressed neatly. Your incorrigible Customs personnel decided to single me out for a ridiculous search, flipping through every single book I had, including my diary. I asked her, Oh is reading material banned? Her answer?

“Oh, sometimes marijuana smugglers write down deals in books.”

What kind of sad, wishy washy excuse is that? It was my first time to Australia, and from that moment I decided your Customs have some idiots in it.

She proceeded to rudely ruffle through and MESS UP my clothes, leaving me to have to rearrange my things for the next 10 minutes. All the while I was polite, I didn’t do anything to piss her off.


Dom De Vitto April 26, 2007 6:27 AM


None of the advice above applies if you are a terrorist visiting IRAN.

A comedy beard would still be preferable to looking like an American.

Abdillahi November 12, 2007 8:38 AM

I am Somali refugee citizen graduated secondary school, am Mr. Abdillahi Hassan Abukar.In 1991 civil war in Somalia has started and USC militias has attacked us in our home and they killed my father and my brother, because I have born in minority clan, I left the country and I traveled through the eastern side of Somalia to the coastal port of Kismayo till I reached to Kenya.
Here in Kenya I faced a lot of problems specially police harassment or arrestment because I don’t have a legal papers to stay or passport with a valid visa or work permit, even I don’t have any relatives or friends to help me. >I live in a mosque for I sleep nightly and life is very difficulty, there is no any government in my country.

Therefore I am respectably requesting to offer a sponsorship or resettlement.>

Any assistant given to me is highly appreciated.

Thanks a lot,

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