Joan Coxsedge: Why Australia is important to the Pentagon

  • Posted on: 7 September 2016
  • By: Staff Writers

Road sign warning motorists not to enter the top secret Pine Gap facility, a joint CIA-NSA spy base near Alice Springs, in Australia's Northern Territory. According to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the base is one of four Australian bases involved in the NSA's telecommunciations data collection programme XKEYSCORE. It also forms a key part of the ECHELON electronic spy network. (Photo: Open Street Map, CC-BY-SA.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Counterspy) — Why is Australia important to the Pentagon and for US business interests? Joan Coxsedge, former MP in the Victorian State Parliament, explains why.

Firstly, we have very important mineral resources, and roughly 20 percent of the world's uranium reserves. And the US needs Australia as a stable land base in the South Pacific. Our subservient position in security matters is probably best illustrated by the chain of U.S. bases and military support facilities dotted across the country, including the highly sophisticated electronic monitoring station near Alice Springs, a joint project of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA); Nurrungar, which is one of the two ground stations for the American satellite early warning system; and North West Cape, another vital link in US military strategy because its Very Low Frequency system is the largest and most powerful in its global marine communications system.

Australia would become a prime target in a war situation because of these vital bases, without most Australians knowing why. Australia has no say in US war strategy.

How the government agreed to host US bases

You have to go back to World War II. When Japan entered the war, Australia was threatened by Japan militarily. As you will know, the United States was deeply involved in that war and used Australia as a base; after the war was over it continued to do so. Australian governments always claim we cannot survive militarily without a "big brother" of some sort. What happened at the end of the war was that we exchanged our client status with Britain for that of the United States.

Then came the cold war. The CIA was founded in 1947, and the US and Britain demanded that Australia should establish a security agency. So the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was set up in 1949. A British security chief came to Australia to establish the agency.

In the early 1950s, we had the establishment of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), an outfit that is supposed to be concerned with Australia's external security, like the CIA in the United States. The Australian Labor Party wasn't told of the existence of ASIS until it came into office in 1972. ASIS played a role in aiding the CIA in "destabilising" the Sihanouk government in Cambodia, and the government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

As well as all that, we have treaties that lock us into US war games. Open treaties like ANZUS, and other treaties with secret details like the Quadripartite Pact of 1947, involving the interchange of military hardware information between the US, Britain, Canada and Australia.

But more significantly, the same countries are also signatories to the highly secret, and vastly more important, UKUSA Treaty or SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) Pact, which links the western world's intelligence agencies under the umbrella of the NSA. Australia is "responsible" for South East Asia and parts of the Indian Ocean.

The contents of secret treaties are not known to Australian governments. For instance, the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD), the agency the US relies on most, signed the UKUSA Treaty on behalf of Australia, without the government even knowing about the existence of the DSD, let alone the existence of UKUSA.

Australia has just gone along the US coattails. We sent troops into Korea and Vietnam. But the Vietnam war was a painful learning experience for many AUstralians. Opposition to that war was very deep, and some of the largest demonstrations ever seen in Australia took place at that time.

State Department flexes muscle in defence of US business establishment

The US leadership regarded the mildly reformist Labor government of Gough Whitlam, elected in 1972, with deep-seated hostility. Nixon was in the White House, and he had a personal hatred of Whitlam, shared by Henry Kissinger.

The first real indication that Nixon was concerned about the new Labor government was his appointment of Marshall Green as ambassador in March 1973. Green was quite blatant about his role. A senior Labor minister reported how, in the Minister's own office, Green threatened that if Labor handed over control of US multinational subsidiaries to the Australian people, "we would move in".

The Federal Minister for Minerals and Energy, R. F. Connor (ALP, ACT) wanted to "buy back the farm" — that is, take back the control of our minerals — which was a very reasonable thing to do. To do that, he was seeking loans outside the traditional borrowing areas such as Wall Street. He looked to the Arab world.

This caused great ripples in the US business establishment. But the minister had money brokers who were highly suspicious characters, who were unreliable and later proved to have CIA connections, so that showed ineptitude on his part. But what he was trying to do was right. He was attacked most bitterly, and lost his portfolio. Whitlam should have defended him, and explained to the Australian people why he was doing what he was doing.

To be continued.

Joan Coxsedge (ALP, VIC) is a former MP in the Victorian State Parliament. She is the founder of the Committee for the Abolition of Political Police, and is the co-author of the book Rooted in Secrecy: The Clandestine Element in Australian Politics.

Next week: Joan Coxsedge on the CIA's role in the Constitutional Coup against Whitlam

With reporting by Konrad Ege and John Kelly
From the Counterspy archives, Vol. 8, No. 2