Museum getting spooky for virus

Analyst nod to Scomo

AUSTRALIA’S response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been “world class”, says an analyst and author who examined it through the prism of his experiences in military intelligence.

Hidden away behind Fremantle’s army museum in the old Officer’s Mess, a group of ex-military officers, civilians and students from the Royal United Services Institute met last Thursday as the highly decorated former ‘spook’ compared Australia’s response against the failure of other countries to act on reports of a novel virus emerging in Wuhan, China. 


Held under strict ‘Chatham House’ rules which prevent the Herald going into specifics, Afghanistan veteran and current WA government employee Ben Stark presented for around 40 minutes about employing intelligence-gathering concepts to the current pandemic.

He noted intelligence failures are caused by not a) processing and analysing information correctly, b) disseminating and sharing relevant information, and c) acting on intelligence.

Mr Stark said despite Chinese attempts to downplay the severity of the looming health crisis and the limited information available, Australia had responded quickly and effectively.

He revealed that Western intelligence agencies had determined the scale of the epidemic by counting the number of mobile phones that suddenly went quiet on the Chinese mainland.

Mr Stark says there’s a silver lining to the outbreak, with a golden opportunity to attack the illicit drug trade as lockdowns force dealers and syndicates into new and untested tactics. 

This disruption creates avenues to infiltrate criminal gangs who can’t rely on face-to-face meetings to vet prospective accomplices.

Phones quiet

Monitoring the gangs is also easier because they have been forced onto the internet and social media to communicate. 

As the ability to import drugs and their precursor chemicals is hindered, domestic production will rise, meaning “old cooks and professionals will come back into the kitchen as ingredients are harder to source”, Mr Stark says, while warning that the increasingly-abused and deadly opioid Fentanyl is the “methamphetamine of 2020”.

Typically held monthly and open to the public, coronavirus concerns meant this was RUSI’s first meeting since February of this year when Herald editor Steve Grant spoke on the rapidly changing role and outlook of traditional media in a digital world.

Disclosure: Justin Stahl is a member of the RUSI Council.


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