It took less than two minutes for one of Australia’s most notorious terrorists, Khaled Sharrouf, to fake his way through airport checks and evade Australian authorities.
The finding is contained in the Customs review of the security lapse, obtained by Lateline through Freedom of Information.
Sharrouf’s journey from Sydney criminal to Islamic State fighter began in December 2013 when he left Australia for the group’s battlefront.
Despite being on a watch list, Sharrouf was able to escape detection by using his brother’s passport.
While the final report into the incident has been heavily censored, it has confirmed Sharrouf was processed at Sydney Airport at 9:11am on December 6, 2013.
The report found Sharrouf’s face was checked against the photo in his brother’s passport twice, but that the Customs officer hesitated before letting him through.
It noted Customs officers were under “significant time pressures”, revealing it took 1 minute 40 seconds for Sharrouf to be assessed before he boarded a plane.
There was “inconsistent compliance with policy and procedure, particularly records management” and “there was no apparent leadership or command structure” in the control room.
However, the failure to detect Sharrouf as an imposter was “within reasonable tolerances” of the passport checking system.
National security expert Clarke Jones from Australian National University said the security lapse was a significant mistake.
“Maybe we need to reassess the risk assessment processes,” he said.
“Maybe they need to take longer at those Customs points and slow the processes down.”
The Customs service redacted seven key findings, a section on intelligence liaison and photos of Sharrouf and his brother, arguing their release was “not in the public interest”.
The review was ordered by the head of Customs at the time, Mike Pezzullo, under then-immigration minister Scott Morrison.
A spokesman for current Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the review’s recommendations had led to strengthened airport arrangements.
“These include new counter-terrorism units at Australia’s international airports, installation of the latest biometric technology such as SmartGates for outbound traveller checks and enhanced interaction between both domestic and overseas law enforcement, security and border agencies,” he said.
Counter-terrorism expert Nick O’Brien from Charles Sturt University said the SmartGate facial recognition technology would probably have stopped Sharrouf.
“The system wouldn’t have let him through the gates,” he said.
“It would have flagged him as being suspicious.”