From Sydney Morning Herald today (Thursday)
For decades the Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition and other peace groups have argued that Pine Gap is a US facility and that Australia does not know everything that goes on there, cannot control its activities, and does not have full access to its intelligence gathering.
We were told we were alarmist, misinformed, dishonest, foolish … but now it seems we were right all along and the Governor of WA Beazley is a liar.
An old US diplomatic cable uncovered by Privacy International has confirmed the existence of a secret room at America’s Pine Gap spy base that Australians were not allowed to enter — except for one time when Bill Hayden had a look.
It calls into question a claim made at the time in March, 1985, by then defence minister Kim Beazley, who said the government was fully aware of everything that takes place at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
The cable was released to PI by the US State Department after a lawsuit seeking access to details of the scope of intelligence gathering across the globe.
PI said it was a “case study” of how intelligence sharing arrangements are “typically confidential and not subject to parliamentary scrutiny” and could be used to circumvent a country’s laws.
Beazley had appeared on Channel 9’s Sunday program responding to reports that US bases in Australia were intercepting telephone and other electronic information in friendly countries and within Australia.
“We say emphatically that the facilities do not spy on Australia,” Beazley said. Pine Gap’s role was to help verify arms control agreements and provide adequate early warning of missile launches, he said.
On April 1, 1985, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Kim Beazley’s claim that the government knew everything that happened at the US Pine Gap spy base near Alice Springs.
But the Australian National University’s defence expert Des Ball, who died in 2016 and was one of the country’s leading public researchers into what really went on at Pine Gap, said at the time that Beazley’s claim was “silly”.
The cable, written on April 1, 1985 from the US embassy in Canberra to the Secretary of State in Washington, gives the details of Beazley’s TV appearance and Ball’s comments.
It reports, without comment, that Beazley said the Australian government “is fully aware of everything that takes place at the joint facilities and that [government] approval is required for any specific activity”.
It also carries a handwritten addition by an unknown person, presumably at the US State Department, commenting on Ball’s claims.
A mysterious addendum to a US diplomatic cable from April 1, 1985, confirms the existence of a secret room at the Pine Gap spy base near Alice Springs — a room Australians are not permitted to enter.
Ball was reported saying “there were at least two areas of the facility where Australian nationals are not permitted entry — the US ‘national communication and cypher room’ and the ‘key room where they [Americans] do the final analysis of all incoming intelligence’ “.
Next to the description of the first room the handwritten addendum says “CORRECT, but Hayden, when Shadow PM, did enter area once”.
Next to the description of the second room the handwriting says “NO SUCH AREA”.
Ball had written in 1984 that Pine Gap was administered by the CIA and “originally established as part of Project Rhyolite”, which involved a satellite “sucking up like a vacuum cleaner a wide spectrum of Soviet and Chinese military communications” including telephone calls as well as radar and other signals associated with missile launches.
He said later he learned about the Rhyolite program in 1977 but “I was uncertain about whether the Rhyolite program was Pine Gap’s only function until Hayden confirmed it for me in April 1981, after he returned from a tour of the facility”.
It seems likely this is the visit referred to in the cable.
The cable came at the height of the “ban the bomb” campaign in Australia, a day after more than 300,000 people marched across Australia in Palm Sunday anti-nuclear rallies, and the People for Nuclear Disarmament had claimed their membership had grown by 100,000 on the previous year.
Then foreign minister Bill Hayden was on the back foot, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on April 1, saying the marchers’ concern about the arms race was entirely justified but Australia could not “pull up the drawbridge and tell the world to go away… the objective must be no less than the elimination of nuclear weapons and of war itself”.
On April 1, 1985, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Kim Beazley’s claim the day before that the government knew everything that happened at the US Pine Gap spy base near Alice Springs. It also carried a report on a huge ‘ban the bomb’ march.
In 1984 Bob Hawke had partly lifted the lid on Pine Gap, in a statement to Parliament saying it was not a military base and did not store or produce any weapons.
“Among the functions performed are the provision of early warning by receiving from space satellites information about missile launches, and the provision of information about the occurrence of nuclear explosions,” he said.
In 2013, it was revealed that Pine Gap played a key role in the US’ controversial drone strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, tracking the precise geolocation of radio signals including hand-held radios and mobile phones across the eastern hemisphere from the Middle East across Asia to China, North Korea and Russia.
A defence white paper released in 2016 said Pine Gap delivered “information on intelligence priorities such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and military and weapons developments, while contributing to the verification of arms control and disarmament agreements”.
In the report titled Secret Global Surveillance Networks PI said the “new scope and scale of intelligence gathering has given rise to a new scope and scale of the sharing of that intelligence between governments, particularly in response to threats to national security.
“Despite these dramatic changes, in many countries around the world, the public remains in the dark regarding state surveillance powers and capabilities.”
Though intelligence sharing was important and effective in preventing acts of terrorism and other threats to national security “it does interfere with fundamental human rights including the right to privacy,” the report said.
“Non-transparent, unfettered and unaccountable intelligence sharing… poses substantive risks to human rights and the democratic rule of law.”