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Pine Gap
Pine Gap.jpg
Coordinates: 23°47′56″N 133°44′13″E / 23.799°N 133.737°E / 23.799; 133.737

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 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]



Warning sign on the road to Pine Gap

The facility consists of a large computer complex with 14 radomes protecting antennae[2] and has over 800 employees.[3] A long-term NSA employee at Pine Gap, David Rosenberg, has suggested that the CIA runs the facility.[4]:pp 45–46[5]

The location is strategically significant because it controls America's spy satellites as they pass over the one third of the globe which includes China, parts of Russia and Middle East oil fields.[2] Central Australia was chosen because it was too remote for spy ships passing in international waters to intercept the signal.[4]:p xxi

The facility has become a key part of the local economy.[6]


Operations started in 1970 when about 400 American families moved to Central Australia.[6] 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 antennae 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.[2]

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.[7]

On 11 July 2013, ex-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.[8]

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.[9]


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 Remembrance Day and the arrival of Pershing missiles at Greenham Common in Britain. This was the beginning of a two-week, women-only peace camp, organised under the auspices of Women For Survival. While the protest was non-violent, women trespassed on to the military space and on one day 111[10] were arrested and gave their names as Karen Silkwood, an American activist who campaigned for nuclear safety. There were allegations of police brutality and a Human Rights Commission Inquiry ensued.[11]
  • 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.[12] In June 2007 the four were fined $3250 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".[citation needed] The Pine Gap four cross-appealed to have their convictions quashed. In February 2008 the four members successfully appealed their convictions and were acquitted. 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.[13]

See also[]


  1. Hamlin, Karen (2007). "Pine Gap celebrates 40 years". pp. 28–31. ISSN 1446-229X. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Middleton, Hannah (2009). "The Campaign against US military bases in Australia". In Blanchard, Lynda-ann; Chan, Leah. Ending War, Building Peace. Sydney University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 192089943X. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  3. [1], 21 July 2013. Accessed 21 July 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rosenberg, David (2011). Inside Pine Gap: The Spy who Came in from the Desert. Prahran, Victoria: Hardie Grant Books. ISBN 9781742701738. 
  5. Harris, Reg Legendary Territorians, Harris Nominees, Alice Springs, 2007, p 93, ISBN 9780646483719.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Stanton, Jenny (2000). The Australian Geographic Book of the Red Centre. Terrey Hills, New South Wales: Australian Geographic. p. 57. ISBN 1-86276-013-6. 
  7. 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.
  8. [2]
  9. Taylor, Josh Australian Government to Assess Prism Impact ZDNet, 11 June 2013. Accessed 11 June 2013
  10. Pine Gap Protests - historical and Kelham, Megg Waltz in P-Flat: The Pine Gap Women's Peace Protest in Hecate January 1, 2010 available on-line at
  11. The Anti-Nuclear Campaign
  12. Donna Mulhearn and Jessica Morrison Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£ (6 October 2006). "Christian Pacifists Challenge Pine Gap In Court". Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  13. Mike Head Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Australian court quashes convictions of protesters for entering US spy base". 

External links[]

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