Australia blames France for terror alert delay

16th February 2004, Comments 0 comments

CANBERRA, Feb 16 (AFP) - Australia's intelligence agency ASIO blamed an oversight by its French counterparts Monday for a delay in authorities here learning that terror suspect Willie Brigitte was in Australia.

CANBERRA, Feb 16 (AFP) - Australia's intelligence agency ASIO blamed an oversight by its French counterparts Monday for a delay in authorities here learning that terror suspect Willie Brigitte was in Australia.

Brigitte spent five months in Sydney before being arrested for immigration breaches and deported on October 17 to France where he remains in jail under judicial investigation for terrorist-related offences.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) director-general Dennis Richardson told a Senate committee French authorities sent a message to ASIO on September 22 warning that Brigitte may be in Australia and another on October 3 warning he could be dangerous.

The second message, which was not marked urgent, although its text stated it was urgent, was not read until October 7 when the ASIO office reopened after a long weekend.

ASIO, he said, never received urgent communications from foreign agencies without direct alerts.

"We're not aware of the last time any organisation from anywhere around the world has communicated to us something which they consider to be urgent and important without first letting us know," Richardson told the hearing.

"It is just possible - and this may not be the case - that there might have been some bureaucratic oversights on one side which wasn't ours."

Richardson said the communications had since been discussed with the French, but he said he did not want to "play the blame game".

He rejected the suggestion that ASIO had not picked up earlier on the October 3 warning because it was a nine o'clock to five o'clock organisation.

"The suggestion that some people have made that ASIO is a nine to five operation is just damn insulting to the people in ASIO who are on call 24 hours a day by seven," he added.

"They are available for work at any time and they get called out at any time. But we're not mind readers.

"If someone has information which they deem to be urgent and important, if they do not let us know that they are sending that and they do not send it in a way that is consistent with it being urgent and important, then there's not much we can do about that."

Richardson denied an opposition allegation that there had been a cover-up on ASIO's handling of the communication.

© AFP

                                                              Subject: France news

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