Event: The role of Pine Gap in US militarism

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

Aboriginal elder Chris Tomlins speaks about attempts by indigenous tribes in Alice Springs to develop self-sufficiency and self-determination.

This month marks 50 years since the establishment of the Joint Defense Space Research Facility at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs in the Australian Northern Territory. As one of the most important US bases in the world, this joint project of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) plays a key role in mass surveillance of both military and civilian telecommunications worldwide.

Leaders from the indigenous Arrernte tribe, whose land was confiscated in order to build the facility in 1970, have invited peace activists to a two-week, non-violent protest against the US operations there this month. The event forms part of a nationwide calendar of events organised to mark the anniversary.

Under the UKUSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) treaty, Australia is responsible for supplying the Five Eyes alliance (FVEY) with information from the South East Asian territories, and part of the Indian Ocean.

The base was originally opened to serve as the ground base for the US National Reconnaissance Office, which controls SIGINT satellites that eavesdrop on microwave telecommunications and intercept telemetry from ballistic missile tests. This continues to be its major contribution to US intelligence operations. The site also relays signals from the Space-Based Infrared System, a series of missile launch detection and early warning satellites.

Today it also plays a role in the mass surveillance of all kinds of electronic telegraphic signals as part of the ECHELON spy network. Radio stations at the facility control geostationary satellites designed to intercept radio, radar and microwave signals. Such eavesdropping allows bulk collection of radio, telephone and computer communications, the basis for computerised spying databases such as XKEYSCORE and ICREACH.

According to Prof Des Ball, intelligence researcher at the Australian National University, navigational intelligence collected by the facility is sent directly to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also known as drones) operated by the US military. The US has undertaken thousands of deadly drone strikes against enemy targets, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

The Defence Signals Directorate, the head SIGINT agency in Australia, also collaborates with National Security Agency efforts to infiltrate private computer networks operated by target individuals or organisations, in addition to joint human intelligence operations (such as surveillance by human agents, room bugging and infiltration of organisations).

Melbourne event, sponsored by CICD: