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Pine Gap

Pine Gap
Northern Territory
Pine Gap is located in Northern Territory
Pine Gap
Pine Gap

Pine Gap is the commonly used name for a satellite tracking station approximately 18 kilometres (11 mi) south-west of the town of Alice Springs, Northern Territory in the centre of Australia which is operated by both Australia and the United States. Since 1988, it has been officially called the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap; previously, it was known as Joint Defence Space Research Facility.[1]

Partly run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the station is a key contributor to the global surveillance network ECHELON.[2][3][4][5]


  • Facility 1
  • Operations 2
    • Global surveillance 2.1
    • United States drone strikes 2.2
  • Protests 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Warning sign on the road to Pine Gap

The facility consists of a large computer complex with 14 radomes protecting antennas[6] and has over 800 employees.[7] A long-term NSA employee at Pine Gap, David Rosenberg, has suggested that the CIA runs the facility.[8]:p 45–46[9]

The location is strategically significant because it controls United States spy satellites as they pass over the one third of the globe which includes China, the Asian parts of Russia and the Middle East.[6] Central Australia was chosen because it was too remote for spy ships passing in international waters to intercept the signal.[8]:p xxi

The facility has become a key part of the local economy.[10]


Operations started in 1970 when about 400 American families moved to Central Australia.[10] In 1999, with the Australian Government refusing to give details to an Australian Senate committee on treaties, intelligence expert Professor Des Ball from the Australian National University was called to give an outline of Pine Gap. According to Professor Ball, since 9 December 1966 when the Australian and United States governments signed the Pine Gap treaty, Pine Gap had grown from the original two antennas to about eighteen in 1999. The number of staff had increased from around 400 in the early 1980s to 600 in the early 1990s and then to an expected 1,000. The biggest expansion occurred after the end of the Cold War.

Ball described the facility as the ground control and processing station for geosynchronous satellites engaged in signals intelligence collection, outlining four categories of signals collected:

Ball described the operational area as containing three sections: Satellite Station Keeping Section, Signals Processing Station and the Signals Analysis Section, from which Australians were barred until 1980. Australians are now officially barred only from the National Cryptographic Room (similarly, Americans are barred from the Australian Cryptographic Room). Each morning the Joint Reconnaissance Schedule Committee meets to determine what the satellites will monitor over the next 24 hours.

With the closing of the Nurrungar base in 1999, an area in Pine Gap was set aside for the United States Air Force's control station for Defense Support Program satellites that monitor heat emissions from missiles, giving first warning of ballistic missile launches. In 2004, the base began operating a new satellite system known as the Space-Based Infrared System, which is a vital element of US missile defense.[6]

Since the end of the Cold War, the station has mainly been employed with intercepting and recording weapons and communications signals from countries in Asia, such as China and North Korea. The station was active in supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks.[11]

Global surveillance

On 11 July 2013, former CIA contractor and CIA employee Edward Snowden revealed documents which showed Pine Gap, amongst three other locations in Australia and one in New Zealand, are amongst those used in the PRISM surveillance program conducted by various United States intelligence agencies.[12]

The Australian Government announced it would investigate the impact of PRISM and the use of the Pine Gap facility on the privacy of Australian citizens.[13]

United States drone strikes

One of the station's primary functions is to locate radio signals in the world's Eastern Hemisphere, with the collected information fed into the controversial U.S. drone programme.[14][15]


As a US military installation, Pine Gap has been targeted for protests.

  • On 11 November 1983, Aboriginal women led 700 women activists to the Pine Gap gates where they fell silent for 11 minutes to mark [17], an American activist who campaigned for nuclear safety. There were allegations of police brutality and a Human Rights Commission Inquiry ensued.Karen Silkwood were arrested and gave their names as [16]
  • In 1986 the base was issued with an eviction notice to be "closed by the people" in a Close the Gap campaign; there was a protest by both women and men in which bicycles featured strongly.
  • In 2002 about 500 people protested at the gates of Pine Gap, including some politicians. They were objecting to its use in the then impending Iraq war and missile defence, with a massive police presence. A few were arrested after a scuffle with police.
  • In December 2005 six members of the Christians Against All Terrorism group staged a protest outside Pine Gap. Four of them subsequently broke into the facility and were arrested. Their trial began on 3 October 2006 and was the first time that Australia's Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 was used.[18] In June 2007 the four were fined $3,250 in the Northern Territory Supreme Court with the possibility of a seven-year jail term. The Commonwealth prosecutor appealed the decision saying that the sentence was "manifestly inadequate". The Pine Gap four cross-appealed to have their convictions quashed. In February 2008 the four members successfully appealed their convictions and were acquitted.[19] Judges who worked on the case stated that a "miscarriage of justice" had taken place because the four were not allowed to argue before a jury that Pine Gap was not a "defence facility" for Australia.[20]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c
  7. ^ [1], 21 July 2013. Accessed 21 July 2013
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ Harris, Reg Legendary Territorians, Harris Nominees, Alice Springs, 2007, p 93, ISBN 9780646483719.
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ Coopes, Amy, Agence France-Presse/Jiji Press, "US eyes Asia from secret Australian base", Yahoo! News, 19 September 2011; Japan Times, 19 September 2011, p. 1.
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ Taylor, Josh Australian Government to Assess Prism Impact ZDNet, 11 June 2013. Accessed 11 June 2013
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Pine Gap Protests - historical and Kelham, Megg Waltz in P-Flat: The Pine Gap Women's Peace Protest in Hecate 1 January 2010 available on-line at
  17. ^ The Anti-Nuclear Campaign
  18. ^
  19. ^ The Queen v Law & Ors Appeal judgment, 19 March 2008, at AustLII
  20. ^
  • 1999 Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. An Agreement to extend the period of operation of the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap. Report 26. Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, October 1999.
  • 2002 Craig Skehan, "Pine Gap gears for war with eye on Iraq". Sydney Morning Herald, 30 September 2002.
  • 2002 MR: Australian Anti Bases Coalition
  • 2003 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Pine Gap. Retranscription of program broadcast on 4 August 2003.
  • 2007 Pine Gap 6
  • 2007 "Judge rejects Pine Gap house arrest bid" The Australian, 29 May.
  • 2007 "Aussies eye BMD role" United Press International, 11 Jun.
  • 2007 "Pine Gap protest linked to Iraq war, pacifists tell court" ABC, Australia, 5 Jun.
  • 2007 Protesters get a wrist slap

External links

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