Pine Gap: Secretive spy base’s role in drone strikes putting Australia in danger, expert warns
An expert on Pine Gap has raised concerns about the spy base’s role in supporting drone attacks on suspected terrorists overseas.
Officially called The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, the site is jointly run by the Australian and United States governments and is one of Australia’s most secret sites.
The facility has been in operation since 1970 and is located half-an-hour’s drive south-west of Alice Springs.
Professor Richard Tanter, from the University of Melbourne, says Pine Gap contributes targeting data to American drone operations, including assassinations.
“One of Pine Gap’s two key functions is as a control station and a downlink station for signal intelligence satellites 36,000 kilometres up in space,” he said.
“They are picking up a very wide array of radio transmissions, including cell phones, satellite phones and so forth.
“And that provides the data, both the contents and the geolocation data for targets of interest through the United States military.”
He said Pine Gap was also used for counter-terrorism and wider intelligence programs, as the site was able to contribute data “pretty directly — for example into drone targeting operations.”
Professor Tanter acknowledged that those type of programs were part of the alliance between the US and Australia, and Australia’s interest in the global fight against terrorism
But he said the question was whether it could be considered a good idea on a political level, seeing the potential for creating “further terrorism” if a strike were to go wrong.
“At a legal and moral level do we really want to be involved in operations which are frankly illegal under international law. In countries where we’re not at war, such as Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen, these are simply assassinations.”
“We won’t like it very much when it’s done back to us I suspect.”
Base also a likely target for nuclear missiles
Professor Tanter said the site continued to be a “pretty high priority nuclear missile target” in the event of a major conflict between the United States and Russia or China.
“It would be, as they say in the military, a lucrative target of many benefits,” Professor Tanter said.
“Secondly it is itself involved in nuclear war planning. I think that’s a totally awful thing for us to contemplate — you can’t use nuclear weapons except in a fairly genocidal way.”
The Defence Department said that “the facility makes an important contribution to national security.”
A spokesperson said: “It provides intelligence on priorities such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and foreign military capability and weapons developments.
“It also supports monitoring of compliance with arms control and disarmament agreements, and provides ballistic missile early warning information.”