For forty years tucked just 18 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory operated a secretive military base, jointly run by the governments of the United States of America and Australia.
Protected by under ground road sensors, armed private security contractors, hidden motion detectors and surveillance cameras camouflage in its rocky and sandy surrounds, and blanketed by restricted area signs warning against unauthorised entry lays Pine Gape base, or as it is officially known Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap (JDFPG).
Despite rumors, and stories told and shared through the grape vine over a few schooners at taverns across the territory not many questions were asked about the military base which began conducting operations during the 1970s until former National Security Agency (NSA) Contractor Edward Snowden exposed some of the operations that were being conducted at the base during the release of his leaked Highly Classified documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill from a Hong Kong hotel room in 2013.
WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT JDFPG
Prior to the release of what has become known as the Edward Snowden files not a lot was previously known about the military base that is jointly operated by the United States of America and Commonwealth of Australia.
The base is primarily run by U.S Central Intellegence Agency (CIA), U.S National Security Agency (NSA), U.S National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) with an estimated 800-strong personnel on base including military, private contractors, and administrative support staff.
In late 1966 a treaty was signed between the two countries which called for the creation of the Joint Defence Space Research Facility whose primary operation was reported to the public as being for “space research” with operations at the base starting in mid-1970 shortly after the arrival of 400 United States staff and their families to Central Australia.
Professor Des Ball, from the Australian National University, told an Australian Senate committee on treaties in 1999 that the base had four main objectives that it was actively carrying out. These objectives included:
- telemetry from advanced weapons development, such as ballistic missiles, used for arms control verification;
- signals from anti-missile and anti-aircraft radars;
- transmissions intended for communications satellites; and
- microwave emissions, such as long-distance telephone calls.
Also in 1999 the closing of the Nurrungar base saw land inside the restricted Pine Gap facility set aside for the United States Air Force’s control station for Defense Support Program satellites that monitor heat emissions from missiles.
It is said that under Pine Gap is the deepest drilling hole in Australia – about 8000 meters (roughly 5 miles).
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Since the 2013 release of the Snowden Files it has been revealed that Australia is part of a previously unknown list of countries which includes the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand and Canada known at the Five Eye Alliance – or shortened to FVEY – aimed at a joint cooperation for ‘signal intelligence’.
While the history of the Five Eye Alliance can effectively be traced back to Post World War II era, where the Five Eye countries used their alliance to spy during the Cold War on Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. following the end of the Cold War the FVEY stepped up their powers through surveillance program named ECHELON.
It was the release of the 2013 files by Edward Snowden that indicated that the secretive Australian base was being used on a much larger scale with the use of unmanned U.S drones allowing them to spy on each others citizens, including but not limited to listening to phone calls made between private citizens, to collecting data by citizens sending electronic mail (E-Mail) to each other, before the information collected was fed into the highly controversial xKEYSCORE program.
The xKEYSCORE program is a computer program developed between the U.S Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and U.S National Security Agency (NSA) that allows those with the access level to search any term, name, place – similar to how regular people use search engines such as Google – and a complete list of any person with the name, who has mentioned the place, or the term in both private telecommunications and electronic e-mail will be generated.
An estimated 38 visible radar dishes point skywards, all receiving signals from satellites best described as “geosynchronous” and located an estimated 20 000 miles above the earths surface.
They are equipped with powerful surveillance technology used to monitor wireless communications on the ground, such as those sent and received by cellphones, radios, and satellite uplinks. They gather “strategic and tactical military, scientific, political, and economic communications signals,” according to the documents released by Snowden, and also keep tabs on missile or weapons tests in targeted countries, sweep up intelligence from foreign military data systems, and provide surveillance support to U.S. forces.
The spy satellites are operated by the U.S National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).
The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap (JDFPG), according to a top secret U.S National Security Agency (NSA) report dated from April 2013, “plays a significant role in supporting both intelligence activities and military operations”.
With Australia’s partnership with the United States through the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap it has meant that other neighbouring countries have become a target by Australia’s Defence Signals Directive (DSD) who share operations at the facility, as the same NSA report states “the Australians solely responsible for reporting on multiple targets in the Pacific area, including Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, based on their unique language capabilities and geographic accesses.”
Professor Richard Tanter, from the University of Melbourne, who has studied Pine Gap for many years, says that the documents released by Edward Snowden showed “provide authoritative confirmation that Pine Gap is involved, for example, in the geolocation of cellphones used by people throughout the world, from the Pacific to the edge of Africa,”
“It shows us that Pine Gap knows the geolocations — it derives the phone numbers, it often derives the content of any communications, it provides the ability for the American military to identify and place in real-time the location of targets of interest.” Tanter said.
It has also been widely accepted that Pine Gap has played a key role in controversial U.S Drone Strikes, mostly outside of declared war zones, such as Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan which have unfortunately claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians.
Following one such attack, which left a wedding flattened by the strike, it was revealed that the NSA often locates drone strike targets by analyzing the activity of a cellphone’s SIM Card rather than the content of the call – something it admits could lead to the wrong person being killed by the strike.
A former drone operator told website The Intercept in 2014 “We’re not going after people — we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.”
SO THEY SPY? ANYTHING ELSE?
Residents report a large number of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) around the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap region.
The British Ministry of Defence was asked by a UK Citizen to investigate a claim in which Unidentified Flying Objects were seen over the Pine Gap region by the US Space Shuttle Discovery.
NASA said it was debris illuminated by the sun, but the MOD admitted it could only offer a “disappointing” reply because “there are some aspects which, for reasons of national security, are just not open for discussion”.
However, local residents back the calls for a proper investigation into the unexplained and Unidentified Flying Objects around the region.
Much like its American counterpart – Area 51 in the Nevada Desert – as recently as 2016 the United States Government will not acknowledge the base in any formal documents with Freedom of Information requests made declined due to the interest of “national security”.
It has also been reported that no Australian Prime Minister since Gough Whitlam in 1975 has been permitted by base commanders to enter the restricted boundaries of which the base is confined.
With one researcher claiming “as strange as it may seem, even Australian Federal Parliament members do not know. Among the Cabinet members, only a small number of ‘initiates’ have a vague idea of what this is all about.”
Are there alien bodies, and crashed aircraft being reverse engineered in Central Australia? The truthful answer is probably not, however with the high level of secrecy surrounding the base, and the fact the operations that are being conducted there are far beyond the scope of what has been ‘sold’ to the public, as evident in the files released by Edward Snowden, questions will forever be asked.
There are claims that in the foothills of the Southern Slopes of the nearby MacDonnell Range there are entries to the rest of the base which is rumored to be underground. Some claims in nearby communities include people claiming they were contractors who helped dig the entries.
Is it true – do we have an underground base? It seems with the high level of secrecy no one apart from those who work there will actually know.
We will leave it to your mind, and your own investigations, to determine what role you believe the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap plays in the world.