Airport departure hall, with several unidentifiable people pushing luggage trolleys and waiting in lounge areas
Case study /
Keeping Australians safe

Anonymous: counter terrorism

Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Brooke James* developed strong communication and interpersonal skills over years working with children with special needs. She is now utilising those skills as a Counter Terrorism Unit Officer dealing with national security threats at Australia’s border.

Brooke, a Sydney-sider, moved from a career in childcare to join the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service after becoming interested in the national security agenda. ‘I was so pleased when the opportunity came up. There were different avenues that I could follow and the opportunity to interact with people in different ways and apply legislation appealed to me.’ With her children grown, and motivated by her university studies in security, terrorism and counter-terrorism, she moved to her current role at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in 2015.

Now she’s stationed at Sydney International Airport where she assesses the security risk that travellers may pose to Australia. Somewhere between the arriving plane and baggage carousels, Brooke and her team interact with the passengers. ‘Our job is to do real time assessments; we walk up to people and just speak with them. We examine people, their luggage, and we try and understand how they feel about certain things in the world’, she says.

Our presence at the airports, real time assessments and detection of persons of interest are keeping Australia more secure.

The backs of two Australian Border Force operatives walking in an airport

Counter Terrorism Unit Officers. Image credit: Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Brooke and her team keep intelligence agencies up to date on the types of people who are travelling. They provide ‘a snapshot of what you see on a flight and assess whether that changes over time’. Brooke enjoys applying knowledge acquired through her degree and further studies. ‘We have to make decisions quickly, so it’s important that we are aware of what is happening in the outside world’, she says.

Strong communication skills are crucial for Brooke’s work. ‘Although we have weapons and are trained, our job is actually about communication. You need to be smart and able to develop rapport very quickly. It’s pretty intimidating for people to be examined, so you need to make them feel as relaxed as possible’, she says.

Brooke says her ability to establish relationships with people who are part of the local community is one of her key successes. ‘Real counter-terrorism is about engaging with the community. It’s important to engage with people, not just as a public relations exercise, but also for the other serious side of trying to assess whether someone is trying to cause us harm.'

Brooke is pleased to be part of the Government’s efforts to keep Australians safe and secure. ‘Our presence at the airports, real time assessments and detection of persons of interest are keeping Australia more secure.’

Although it’s challenging and potentially dangerous work, it looks like Brooke made the right career move, using her people skills and knowledge of international affairs to help keep Australia safe.

*names have been changed