29 July 2013
LAST week, it was revealed that the Australian research facility Pine Gap might be indirectly responsible for US drone strikes which have killed Pakistani citizens.
How did that happen? And what exactly is Pine Gap? Here's a quick cheat sheet for those of you who've vaguely heard of Pine Gap but never bothered to find out much more.
SHHHH! IT'S A SECRET!
Pine Gap is a secretive facility nearly 20km south-west of Alice Springs which has been there since 1970. Run by both Australia and the United States, its official name is the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, even though our government really hates to admit it exists.
As for persuading the government to describe what it's there for, forget it. We contacted the national office of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and none of the three lines answered. So we rang two state offices, both of which told us to ring the national lines that weren't answering.
"It is fair to say that Pine Gap has some fairly awesome capabilities when it comes to intelligence gathering," said a former worker at Pine Gap, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about his work. "It's hard to imagine, but I suppose that's the nature of the game. It's secretive."
YES, BUT WHAT IS IT THERE FOR?
Pine Gap is essentially a satellite tracking station, situated in the middle of nowhere because that makes it hard for other countries to intercept the signals emitted from within. It is thought that the US controls all of its spy satellites from Pine Gap, and that the US and Australia "listen to Asia" from the 14 antennae concealed beneath white domes at Pine Gap. Put it this way, those white domelike structures aren't a cat boarding facility.
WHAT'S THE EDWARD SNOWDEN CONNECTION?
Renegade American intelligence guy Edward Snowden revealed just recently that Pine Gap is one of the key facilities used in US surveillance.
WHICH IS WHY PINE GAP IS IMPLICATED IN DRONE STRIKES
Yes. A Pakistani lawyer went on record this week saying Pine Gap tracks the communications of al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. This, he says, enables the US to target those militants with its drone strikes. Sadly, these strikes kill civilians in addition to killing military targets.
IT BASICALLY RUNS THE ALICE SPRINGS ECONOMY
Pine Gap employs up to 1000 people. When you think about it, 1000 jobs in a town of 25,000 people is like 160,000 people working at one company in a city of four million people such as Melbourne. So basically, it's the biggest employer in town. Not that anyone admits that. Meet one of the Americans who seem to be everywhere in The Alice and they'll tell you they work as a "gardener", when they're probably some sort of high-level intelligence operative. Because of the American influence, festivals such as Halloween and Thanksgiving are huge in Alice Springs.
MANY PEOPLE ARE OPPOSED TO IT
There have been numerous protests on site over the years, although Pine Gap's remote location has the effect of making mobilised opposition difficult. The excellent '80s rock band Midnight Oil sang several songs in opposition to US military presence in Australia, and Pine Gap bobbed up in the famous song Power and the Passion in the line:
Flat chat, Pine Gap, in every home a Big Mac
That lyric appeared to be referring to an insidious American incursion into our lives at all levels - cultural, military and so on.
These days Peter Garrett works for the same government that won't pick up its phone to acknowledge Pine Gap's existence.
Several groups believe Pine Gap is a secret facility investigating UFOs and
aliens. According to one particularly imaginative website, three UFOs are being
dissected at Pine Gap as we speak - complete with frazzled bodies. The UFO guys
didn't answer the phone either.