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Issue #1773      April 12, 2017

Six reasons to close Pine Gap

Pine Gap, 20 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs, was established in 1968 in conditions of great secrecy. Local people were told it was a space research facility. In fact it is a facility dedicated to spying and warfare. It now consists of around 20 radomes working as satellite receiving and transmitting stations.

Every branch of the US military as well as the National Reconnaissance Office, National Security Agency and the CIA are stationed at Pine Gap. It employs over 1,000 US and Australian personnel.

Pine Gap is one of the largest and most important United States war fighting and intelligence bases in the world.

Pine Gap’s original and still most important function is to serve as the ground control station for US satellites which cover a strategically important third of the globe, encompassing China, southern Russia and the Middle East oil fields.

US satellites transmitting through Pine Gap monitor missile launches and military, economic, political and domestic telephone, microwave and VHF radio communications from allies and enemies alike. They provide photographic surveillance of terrain, buildings, troop movements, the results of bombing raids, etc. The satellites can also intercept radar emanations, allowing mapping of air defences, anti-ballistic missile radars and early-warning radars.

Pine Gap was established in the hysteria of the cold war and was part of the United States nuclear war fighting strategy. With the end of the cold war the United States did not downgrade Pine Gap. Instead it intensified its use of the base, adding more and more functions as the years went on.

US bases on Australia’s soil contribute to the US war fighting strategy. The bases assist the US to prosecute wars against countries in our region and beyond and help swell the list of Australia’s enemies.

50 years is too long

The treaty to set up Pine Gap was signed by the US and Australian governments on September 12, 1966.

Data processed by Pine Gap provides targets for United States missiles and bombs, intelligence for United States economic and military activities, military command and control functions and early warning of missile launches.

For 50 years the US military facility has contributed to making Australia less secure and incorporated Australia into its war activities. It is time to close Pine Gap, for the following reasons.

1. Aboriginal land

Pine Gap sits on Aboriginal land. The Arrente people were never asked their opinion, let alone their permission, for a huge war making facility to be located on their traditional lands.

It is time this prior Aboriginal ownership was acknowledged.

It is time the traditional owners were given back their right to decide what is done on their land.

2. Drones

Pine Gap contributes crucial tracking and targeting information for US drone strikes across the globe.

Thousands of civilians have been killed by US drone strikes. The claim that drone strikes are “surgically precise” and that “collateral damage” is minimal is false.

In one instance, leaked intelligence documents showed that Obama-led drone strikes launched in Afghanistan killed innocents 90 percent of the time.

A Stanford University and New York School of Law investigation into drone strikes in Pakistan found that they killed, maimed and traumatised hundreds of civilians, violated international human rights law and generally “terrorised” men, women and children.

Far from helping to defend us, drone strikes foster anti-western sentiment and facilitate the recruitment to terrorist organisations.

The Pine Gap drone program makes Australia complicit in war crimes.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his senior ministers welcomed the reported assassinations of two young Australians in Iraq and Syria and declared that Australia was directly involved in targeting them.

These remarks amount to sanctioning extra-judicial killings as a matter of government policy, without the pretence of any legal process. Officially, the death penalty has been banned by Australian law for more than four decades, but these young people were summarily executed, without trial.

Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar has said that Australia must end its complicity in US drone attacks on civilians in Pakistan or face war crime accusations at the International Criminal Court.

3. Surveillance/spying

Australia is a crucial part of the US-led “Five-Eyes” intelligence club (US, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ) who work together to gather intelligence material across the entire globe. For years Australian governments have argued that the intelligence provided by Pine Gap to Australia is essential for our security.

However, leaked documents provided by CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden reveal that the US-led global surveillance network – of which Pine Gap is an important part – consists overwhelmingly of indiscriminate, bulk collection of the phone and internet communications of millions of civilians around the globe. The targets are not merely individuals under suspicion for planning crimes, but everyone.

Although Australian governments justify in terms of its so-called defence value, much of the intelligence collected by Pine Gap is used for political, economic and diplomatic purposes.

Pine Gap is supported by satellite interception facilities including those operated by the Australian Signals Directorate at Kojarena, near Geraldton in Western Australia, and Shoal Bay, near Darwin.

4. Star Wars

In 1992, then US Defence Secretary Dick Cheney confirmed that Pine Gap has a role in the US National Missile Defence (NMD, also called Star Wars) program.

NMD involves a system to intercept in flight a limited number of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads.

NMD is a controversial space battle system which aims to allow the US to attack other countries without fear of retaliation. NMD is concerned mainly with offence – with using space to establish domination over the world below. NMD is about trying to be invulnerable. It is not a benign, defensive nuclear umbrella.

Pine Gap supplies targeting information to air warfare warships in the Asia-Pacific region. These ships carry the Aegis Combat System. This is an advanced command and control and weapon control system that uses powerful computer and radar technology to track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets.

NMD has the potential to trigger a nuclear arms race and to seriously undermine global disarmament and non-proliferation agreements. Australia’s security will not be advanced by such developments.

The corporate presence at Pine Gap has expanded substantially since the 1990s. It includes some of the major US aerospace and defence companies, such as Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, as well as major computer companies, such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Raytheon is by far the largest contractor at Pine Gap.

Almost three-quarters of the approximately 1,000 personnel at Pine Gap are employees of private US corporations and their sub-contractors. Less than one in ten are Australian government employees.

The corporations are primarily interested in making profits. They are less committed to Australian security and intelligence priorities or Australia’s national interests. This again compromises Australia’s sovereignty and independence.

5. Sovereignty and independence

Pine Gap clearly expresses Australia’s lack of independence for it involves our country, without permission, agreement or even notification, in US foreign policy disasters and crimes. For example, the key role that Pine Gap plays in targeting both drone strikes and battlefield air strikes ties Australia directly into the enormous human and environmental damage that such warfare has wrought on the Middle East over the past two decades.

Despite this, Australian governments support its existence.

The Australian parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has in the past complained that MPs are kept in the dark about Pine Gap. Although members of the US Congress have visited Pine Gap and received classified briefings about its functions, the Treaties Committee is “entrusted with less information than can be found in a public library”.

Pine Gap is a US base and not a “joint-facility” as successive Australian governments have falsely asserted. Although Australia has some access, Pine Gap was built by the US, its core facilities are paid for and maintained by the US and it would not exist but for American strategic purposes.

Pine Gap is so central to the US military that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Canberra to disentangle itself from any future US conflict, including a US-China war.

Because of US military installations in Australia, especially Pine Gap, if America goes to war in the Pacific, it will take us to war as well – without an independent decision by Australia. In any major contest in the Pacific, our relationship with the US would make Australia a strategic target for America’s enemies. It is not in Australia’s interest to be in that position.

Instead of a military alliance, including hosting Pine Gap, Australia needs an independent and non-aligned foreign policy and friendly and mutually beneficial relations with all countries. Militarising Australia and delivering unfaltering support for US aggression and threats against other countries cannot ensure security for Australians.

6. A dangerous Alliance

Pine Gap functions within the larger context of Australia’s long-standing subservience to US foreign policy interests. In return for US protection “insurance” (the ANZUS Treaty), Australia must pay a “premium” in the form of support for American foreign policy objectives, even when they do not directly contribute to Australia’s interests. In fact, the insurance policy is far from a guarantee of American defence aid. Moreover, the major security threats to Australia in the post-WW2 era have, paradoxically, resulted from Australia’s alliance with the US.

During the Cold War, Australia was a high priority nuclear target for the Soviet Union because of the existence of Pine Gap. In the event of global nuclear war, Australian and American intelligence officials secretly estimated that Sydney would suffer one million instant deaths and 750,000 radiation deaths, and you would not have wanted to live in Alice Springs, Woomera, Exmouth or Adelaide. Today, Pine Gap remains integral to America’s global nuclear war fighting capacity and therefore a high priority target. This is particularly concerning given rising tensions between the US and China in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia is the only nation to have joined the US in every one of its major military interventions in the past century, including Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. With rare exceptions, Canberra has enthusiastically supported Washington’s efforts to extend its dominance to every corner of the globe, defending and downplaying atrocities committed by notorious American-allied dictators from Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, and a host of repressive states across the Middle East today.

The costs of American militarism are enormous. The US has intervened in more than 70 nations since WW2, deploying the CIA in clandestine operations to overthrow democratically elected governments, arm repressive military regimes and export torture. The illegal US invasion of Iraq, eagerly supported by Australia, was a catastrophic strategic failure and a human rights disaster, resulting in mass civilian casualties and the destabilisation of the wider region – a major factor contributing to the rise and success of jihadi terrorist groups such as ISIS. The threat of a terrorist attack in Australia has increased greatly because of the US alliance.

Successive Labor and Liberal governments have surrendered to Washington Australia’s sovereign decision-making power of when to go to war. At present, Pine Gap is central to America’s ability to conduct extra-judicial killings via drone strikes across the Middle East, including in countries that Australia is not officially at war. What would be the consequences if Washington decides to send its strategically-positioned Marines in Darwin to engage in hostilities against a country with which Australia has friendly relations?

A majority of Australians are opposed to supporting the US in any future war in Asia, recognising Australia’s regional relationships are key to the nation’s future security and prosperity.

And yet, Pine Gap is so integrated into America’s military and intelligence infrastructure that Australian governments would find it difficult, if not impossible, to refuse to support the US in a war with China.

* Written for the Independent Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN). IPAN is a network of organisations from all regions of Australia, united by support for an independent Australian foreign policy based on the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

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