The focus on security and the threats to Australia has gone through an incredible change over the last 15 years. Security issues have undergone a number of critical transformations as a result of transnational terrorism where, prior to September 2001, terrorism was pooled with a number of other competing international issues and there appeared to be no great sense of urgency about dealing with it.
The attacks that occurred on 9/11, however, were significant to the Australian security landscape for a number of important reasons. For myself, the events that took place on that morning in New York City morphed from scenes more suited to a Hollywood movie set to something that suddenly and shockingly become real life. As a young 18-year-old, and well before I embarked on both my academic pursuits and my military career with one of the Australian Army’s most elite units, I still possessed enough situational awareness to understand the follow-on effects that such a catastrophic event would generate and how this would impact the traditional understandings of security.
The sombre mood that resonated from ordinary citizens in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 said it all. I mean, how could these events that occurred halfway around the world so visibly affect the people living in the Sydney suburb that I grew up in? Why, all of a sudden, were there lucid expositions of mournful sorrow that could be ‘felt’ when I stepped out of my house to, say, buy groceries?
The answer to these questions lay in the attacks themselves. The fact that four commercial airliners were hijacked by Islamic extremists so that they could be flown into buildings on U.S. soil in the most spectacular suicide attack in history was unprecedented in both scale and devastation. This single event transformed the security focus of both governments and the private security industry, who were now faced with a threat that had epitomised complexity, unpredictability, and lethality.