The Wheeler report, the Kessing reports, Stratfor’s Marko Primorac’s report, and former Justice Minister Jason Clare have described extensive corruption of Australian airport services. However the Australian Government and major law enforcement agencies have remained abominably silent.The paroled and innocent, Schapelle Corby spent nearly a decade in prison while those who should have come to her defence while holding the highest offices in the Australian nation defiantly hide their shame.
In January I interviewed former senior customs officer Allan Kessing. The content of his interview should have been challenged by the Australian Government and by law enforcement agencies but it has not been challenged. The content of the interview should have been investigated by every major news outlet but nothing within it has been investigated. This is utterly disturbing.
The Australian Crimes Commission must investigate the extensiveness of corruption in Australian airport services. The Australian Crimes Commission must rise to the occasion to investigate who in Government and who among Australia’s law enforcement services had information that they did not present to Schapelle Corby’s legal defence and did not disclose to the Australian public interest.
The Allan Kessing interview transcribed below is damning. Someone is not telling the truth.
If the Australian media wants to dig deep into the truth it should accept my January offer for a chaired panel and live broadcast. The panel should include myself, should include Steve Addison, one of the researchers of the Expendable Project, should include former customs officer and investigator, Allan Kessing, and should invite a high ranking executive officer from the Australian Federal Police, it should invite a director from the NSW Crimes Commission, should invite former Howard minister, Alexander Downer, and should invite the current Attorney-General George Brandis. Then at long last given the first of a balanced national conversation let the Australian people decide. Who in the Australian mainstream media will facilitate this? This should have been facilitated long ago to chase down the truth and the justice.
The must-read interview:
Gerry Georgatos: Allan Kessing thank you for this interview.
Allan Kessing: You’re welcome.
Gerry Georgatos: To begin, what are your views of the predicament that Schapelle Corby is within?
Allan Kessing: Well, when it first arose I could not believe the case was going ahead because it was well known within customs services and most of all the law enforcement that there was a terrible problem with corruption in baggage handling at Sydney Airport. And I thought it would only be a matter of time that everyone would see what the real problem was.
Gerry Georgatos: Why wasn’t it seen?
Allan Kessing: I’m sorry?
Gerry Georgatos: Why wasn’t the problem seen after all this time?
Allan Kessing: There is too much… It is not that nobody knows, it is just that they cannot acknowledge it. It is the elephant in the room problem. To have a clean out, to correct things, would disrupt too many small empires, and there would be too many turf battles.
People tend to forget that QANTAS is the employer of the baggage handlers, and QANTAS is Sydney Airport, and since Sydney Airport has been privatised the last thing they need or want or will allow is any disruption to flow through of traffic. People tend to forget that airports are not about flying, they are not, they’re just giant travelling centres… argh, they they’re giant shopping centres with a few airlines attached. Sydney airport has 50,000 people come in, 50,000 people go out each day, plus all the ‘meeters and greeters’. Now any shopping centre would give their… you know they pay very high rents for that sort of passing traffic, and that’s why nothing will ever be done to correct the problems because they don’t want to disrupt that traffic. It’s a commercial imperative, there are too many people with too much to lose.
Gerry Georgatos: Allan you were a former customs officer, at one point you were appointed to do a review of airport services Am I correct that it was in terms of corruption within airport services and in reference to the trafficking of illicit drugs?
Allan Kessing: Specifically on security aspects of traffic in and out of Sydney Airport at the time, yes. I did two reports. One of them specifically on the so-called security staff and another larger one on employees in general and the corruption which is pretty prevalent there. I did those reports in 2002 and 2003 and which were rejected, or suppressed would be a better way of putting it and were never acted on. Although, I did find out many years later in my trial in 2007 that in fact my reports had been updated into the Australian Federal Police intelligence database in November, December 2004. So that when Mick Keelty claimed during Schapelle Corbby’s trial that there was no evidence of corruption that information was already in the Federal Police database.
Gerry Georgatos: So whether former Commissioner Keelty was aware of that report or not, and he may not have been, the report did exist therefore with the AFP and could have been presented therefore to Schapelle Corby’s lawyers and then therefore to the Indonesian Court.
Allan Kessing: Well, as I say it was in their database because it emerged in my trial in 2007 that two seconded customs officers, that is two custom officers had been seconded to the Australian Federal Police on a long-term basis had put my report into the AFP system. Whether Keelty personally knew of it is less relevant to the fact that the information was already there and therefore his statements were untrue.
Gerry Georgatos: In terms of your reports what are you basically able to tell us? Are you able to tell us the extent of what you found? For instance the corruption among baggage handlers and the movement of for instance illicit drugs?
Allan Kessing: Well, corruption is endemic, it is the price that we pay for the smooth movement of traffic that is passengers and goods through airports. It’s the same on the wharves. In retail shops it’s called shrinkage – what they basically mean is staff pilfering, a certain amount of corruption is considered the price of doing smooth business. It’s a wink and a nod and as long as it does not get too outrageous everybody just ignores it.
Gerry Georgatos: Were there incidences reported in your report for instance of similar circumstances to Schapelle Corby’s, of people being used as unwitting drug mules by corrupted baggage handlers?
Allan Kessing: Well the point is there is any number of cases come to light where people have got home to find unknown substances, unknown items in their baggage, and when they reported it to the authorities and it’s always, always, always that they’ve been used as unwitting, simply as unwitting mules. The point is that we don’t hear about it because mostly they are very efficient at it. People put locks and things on their bags but it’s the work of a few seconds to open a bag no matter how securely sealed and then they reseal it and most passengers would never know they’ve been unwitting mules.
Gerry Georgatos: But whether passengers know it or not, airport authorities obviously know it otherwise you would not have been appointed or selected to investigate, the AFP knows, obviously Government authorities and other agencies must know, should they not have had an obligation to produce your reports which were 2002 and 2003 to the 2005 trial of Schapelle Corby?
Allan Kessing: Well you’d think they had both a moral and ethical obligation but as I say the commercial imperative always tops such considerations. To admit that there is a problem will surely leave them open to the public demanding that something should be done and as I say the distraction would really have root and branch reform as Jason Calre, the ex-minister for Justice put it, um, will basically see the airports shut down and there’s no way that’s going to happen.
Gerry Georgatos: Are you saying that this foundational reform cannot happen because of cost benefit issues?
Allan Kessing: Yes, exactly that. Yes, in fact that was the reason we were given for my reports being suppressed, that the enforcement of customs to act would have cost the privatised airport corporation too much money and that’s why my reports were suppressed and the recommendations therein… And even after they were leaked by persons unknown, in 2005 John Howard commissioned Sir John Wheeler, the British aviation expert (to conduct an investigation). He looked at my reports and endorsed every one of my recommendation and made the same recommendations. Howard promised $200 million to rectify the situation. Seven years later we still had Jason Clare and (Brendan) O’Connor talking about the root and branch reform and a broken customs system and they were the last comments just before the election. (Clare) is saying that we cannot reform the customs system, we need to totally rebuild it from the ground up, which is the last comment he made and that was endorsed by the current CEO of customs.
Gerry Georgatos: So then therefore 7 years later, 8 years later, passengers should fear that what occurred to Schapelle Corby many happen to anyone. Nothing has changed is what you’re saying?
Allan Kessing: Nothing has changed. Ex-colleagues who are still in the service tell me there has not been a blind bit of difference.
Gerry Georgatos: If we can go back to your reports, and the leaks of the reports were attributed wrongly to you in terms of the person who must have leaked it. Why did they take you to Court and on what premise?
Allan Kessing: Because I was the person who wrote them, I guess they just saw me as the easiest target because I had already resigned, I had retired in fact. I had largely stayed on beyond retirement age specifically to do these reports as a special request from my senior officer. So as I was retired I no longer had the protection and representation of the CPSU – so I guess they figured I was the easy target.
Gerry Georgatos: What were you charged with?
Allan Kessing: Well, I was charged under Section 70 of the Crimes Act sub section 2 which is the disclosure of information acquired while in service. The actual indictment said that I had given the report to two named journalists at The Australian, although that was changed two-thirds of the way through the trial. (During) the 2nd or 3rd trial, the indictment was changed which is almost unheard of, to disclosure of information to persons unknown. Now, the Crown was basically obliged by the Judge at the time at the opening of the trial to subpoena the two named journalists. When they did not respond to the subpoenas the Judge asked the Crown, to seek enforcement now and the Crown said ‘no’, ‘I have been ordered by my superior not to seek enforcement of the subpoenas’. Now a subpoena is the most powerful judicial instrument we have and I defy anybody with an interest in jurisprudence to find an example of a Crown issuing a subpoena and not seeking enforcement of it. And considering those two journalists were mentioned in the indictment, they didn’t call them, they subpoenaed them and then they did not enforce the subpoena and I would suggest that this has never occurred in Australian court procedure.
Gerry Georgatos: For the benefit of listeners could you tell us the outcome?
Allan Kessing: It was a three week trial. The jury sat for three and a half days, they could not reach a verdict. On the 24th day they came back in with 20 different questions that they put back to the Judge and said we cannot reach a verdict. The Judge said I want a verdict, I’ll arrange an evening meal for you. They went away and came back 20 minutes later and said we find the defendant guilty. I was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for nine months at my own recognisance. Even at the sentencing the opening statement of the Judge was something my barrister said he had never heard before. As soon as he walked in and we all sat down the first thing he said was ‘I will be releasing you immediately these proceedings are finished’. My barrister’s jaw dropped open and the Judge then read out the verdict and the sentence and that was the end of that, and then I walked out, relatively free and $100,000 poorer.
Gerry Georgatos: Allan, it’s actually an extraordinary situation… it’s not often that we hear in this country of a whistleblower, which you weren’t but even if you had been, that someone is charged for whistleblowing.
Allan Kessing: Well, there have been other cases where the Government has thought to prosecute people who have leaked information embarrassing to the Government. But let us not imagine that leaks are only from individuals – Governments leak all the time. You only have to look at the Dr Haneef affair, the leaks in that case by Kevin Andrews who was the Minister at the time, they were actually untrue the things he was leaking. There is the well-known case of Andrew Wilkie. Andrew Bolt wrote ‘I have read the only report that Andrew Wilkie ever wrote for ONA and it is a worthless document’. So the question you have to ask is how did Andrew Bolt come to read Andrew Wilkie’s report which is a top secret document. Eventually, the Australian Federal Police lumbered into action and it took them 18 months and they could not find out how Andrew Bolt got that report even though only one copy of that report had been signed out at the time and that copy was signed out to (Alexander) Downer.
Gerry Georgatos: It is still amazing to fathom the extraordinary predicament that you finished up in Court… Obviously it will have hit you financially.
Allan Kessing: It cost me my entire superannuation.
Gerry Georgatos: That’s disastrous and that’s shocking. I just wonder what you feel… You’ve said the reason you’ve imputed the suppression of your reports is because it was to not voice anything embarrassing to the Government despite it being the truth?
Allan Kessing: Yes, truth is no defence in these cases. It is merely a matter of embarrassing those in power. The old phrase is that those who speak truth to power better have a big shield and hard head.
Gerry Georgatos: In terms of your reports did they cover all Australian airports?
Allan Kessing: No, I only examined the situation at Sydney airport but I wouldn’t imagine it is any different – from what I have heard from ex-colleagues – that it is very similar in Melbourne and elsewhere.
Gerry Georgatos: The claims of the cannabis being planted in Schapelle Corby’s luggage at Brisbane Domestic to be retrieved at Sydney domestic by baggage handlers and passed on, is that a likely scenario?
Allan Kessing: Very, very possible, very probable in fact. We do know that on the day she made the flight, flying out from Brisbane, changing at the airport in Sydney for the International, we do know at the time that there was a delayed cocaine shipment coming in from Argentina. The baggage handler team that was meant to be working at the Domestic that day had changed the roster and they were waiting for the cocaine to come in. Customs was well aware of this and all the customs surveillance and observation were concentrated on the cocaine shipment.
Gerry Georgatos: So because of that the airport baggage handlers who were intended to retrieve the cannabis from Schappelle’s bag were spooked and did not retrieve it?
Allan Kessing: I think more likely if you think of the relative values they just went for the bigger prize. Incidentally, that cocaine shipment got through, for all the surveillance! It was ineffective!
Gerry Georgatos: How do you know that?
Allan Kessing: We do know that, I can’t tell you how. But I do know that.
Gerry Georgatos: I won’t ask you… In your experience is cannabis trafficked from Australia to countries such as Indonesia – to Bali?
Allan Kessing: Ha ha ha, I think the phrase, ‘is coals to Newcastle’…
Gerry Georgatos: You’ve made the analogy of coals to Newcastle. Is there any other known incident of anybody trafficking cannabis to Indonesia?
Allan Kessing: Out of Australia I have never ever heard of it. In the 15 years I have worked with Customs I have never heard of such a thing. We are a drug importing country and not a drug exporting country.
Gerry Georgatos: And certainly we would not be exporting cannabis to Bali when it would sell at a higher value on Australian streets?
Allan Kessing: By a factor of about 100 I would have thought.
Gerry Georgatos: That’s the question I would have thought a very foundational question but it does not get a play in the media or with Government authorities.
Allan Kessing: Yeah, well in all legal matters you always have to look for a motive. Now, what possible motive would there have been to do such a strange thing and that alone should have set the authorities wondering what the mechanism was. Taking cannabis to Bali is a very strange thing to do given the disparity of price.
Gerry Georgatos: Another question is the movement of cannabis, even if irregular, of whether it does occur through Australian airports domestically?
Allan Kessing: There have been any number of reports of innocent passengers getting home and finding unknown items in their baggage. Yes, it is a well-known phenomena and it crops up a couple of times a year in the media. Yes it is not unknown, but the only point is that the times we hear about it is only a fraction of the number of times it occurs because normally they’re efficient in placing it in and taking it out. People go to all the trouble of locking their bags but people would be shocked to find out how easy it is to unlock a bag.
Gerry Georgatos: On October 8, in reference to the surveillance that was Operation Mocha, the NSW Crime Commission’s Operation Mocha, was it Operation Mocha that was in place on the day?
Allan Kessing: I can’t say that.
Gerry Georgatos: Can you say anything about Operation Mocha?
Allan Kessing: No.
Gerry Georgatos: Fair enough… Are you still surprised after all the awareness raising in the last couple of years, and the work of the Expendable Project and their meticulous research, of their testimonies and published interviews, that none of this has filtered into commercial media and to Government and hence into the light of day?
Allan Kessing: Well, I am of course astounded at the inaction but when you think when there are so many people with so much to lose with reputation in politics and in law enforcement or even in the media, where in fact journalists did not cover the story more assiduously and with more attention to detail, I think there are too many people too embarrassed over their whole failure to act at the time. Now it is seven years later and they certainly don’t want it raised again.
Gerry Georgatos: I have read your reports and the Wheeler report, and your reports describe pernicious corruption. However there is also the WikiLeaks released email from a cache of Stratfor emails, where a Stratfor analyst, Marko Primorac describes rife corruption of airport services and the extensive movement of cannabis through Australian airports and of drugs mules, and in reference to Schapelle Corby he describes her as innocent. Stratfor is an organisation that provides robust information to the world’s most powerful organisations such as the Pentagon, so how do you feel that Stratfor has come out and said what you’ve been saying?
Allan Kessing: Well, as I’ve often said those in law enforcement know what the truth of the situation is but to get the political masters to act upon it is the real problem. They have so often built their careers on being strong on law and order but in fact they are always for the commercial considerations – truly effective interdiction of drugs or other criminal activities basically would disrupt so many commercial passengers. (Earlier) I was talking about the movement of passengers to and fro and the high rents of the various commercial enterprises that pay to have their shops in those areas. The same thing applies on the wharves with shipping. The largest amount of hard drugs, that is the heroin and cocaine, cocaine tends to come in by the airport but only because of geographical considerations but heroine comes in 100 and 200 kilo lots by sea cargo and to effectively stop it would mean examining the shipping cargo in a much more examined way and that simply won’t happen because of the commercial disruption. It has been pointed out over and over that customs is in the business of facilitation and interdiction but facilitation is 99 per cent of our mission statement. I hate that sort of PR-speak but that is actually customs’ aim; facilitation, that is 99 per cent resource allocation to facilitation and one per cent to interdiction – so if you’ve got that sort of resource allocation then you can expect illegal activity to flourish.
Gerry Georgatos: In closing Allan, and I am not here to sensationalise, only to get the facts of the reality of what does and does not occur at our airports but in light of the Primorac, Wheeler and your reports we have to draw some lessons. By 2020 we will probably have double the number of flights and passengers and then therefore double the demands on our airport services – will it only get easier for the movement of illicit substances?
Allan Kessing: Well, I think so. Especially, because of the terrorism focus that we have. All the so called security measures of you know making you take off your shoes, your belt, and passing through the metal detectors, all that is just theatre. There has never been in the history of air travel, ever, a terrorist stopped at boarding anywhere in the world – it is a simple fact. All that is purely to reassure the public and to make it look that they’re doing something – all that costs money and the money and the resources are being devoted to that purely for theatre and PR. Effective interdiction is not occurring.
Gerry Georgatos: Allan Kessing, thank you.
Allan Kessing: Thank you.
A Royal Commission is long overdue, the national interest is in fact being swept under the carpet. Allan Kessing is not just someone having a say, he is a credible voice from the ‘inside’ – 15 years as senior customs officer. He was selected by customs to investigate airport security. His reports and his testimony should forefront the interest of the Australian media. The testimonies of far too many should not have been dismissed by the Australian media – a media which has carried on as if akin to an organ of the State. Without a just and fair media, without the striving for a free press, without a focus on core issues and foundational premises and questions, the truth can never be chased down.
It is up to the Australian Crimes Commission to fulfill its duty to the Australian people and address burning questions but also expose wrongs and wrongdoing so that common good is best served.