Air Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)

Why Pine Gap?

May 2, 2016

A joint US-Australian military base, Pine Gap is an essential component of the US war machine. Signals, including intelligence and commands directing both drone and manned air-strikes that drop bombs on targeted people and civilians, are relayed through Pine Gap between US commands in the US and in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. In fact, these strikes kill many more civilians than the people originally targeted. The US relies on the satellite & communications infrastructure at Pine Gap, and would not possess the same deadly capability it has now without it.

US military and intelligence operates overtly and covertly on many fronts globally. The Australian government is complicit in the deaths, injuries and displacement of many people through its involvement in US-led coalitions in war zones, and in the facilitation of execution-style drone strikes. The US military, along with its private war industry contractors, has been permitted to embed on Australian soil – land that was never ceded by the traditional custodians – with no consultation of the people of Australia.

Aboriginal land

Sitting on land stolen from the Arrente peoples, the Pine Gap base is a continuation of the violent colonisation of Australia that began over 200 years ago. From the arrival of Captain Cook to the Northern Territory Intervention of 2007, the rights of Aboriginal people have been in conflict with Australian military policies. In both World War I and World War II Aboriginal people enlisted in the military and were subject to discriminatory policies and practices.

Between 1956 and 1963 the British army tested nuclear weapons at Maralinga, resulting in the contamination of Aboriginal land, forced relocation from traditional lands and about 1,200 Aboriginal people suffering sickness and death as a result of exposure to radiation. The nuclear industry continues to stalk Aboriginal people, with the Federal Government currently pushing for a nuclear waste dump on Adnyamathanha land in the Flinders Rangers.

The Australian military were also used to implement the Northern Territory Intervention, resulting in Aboriginal communities being subject to yet another invasion that stripped them of both democratic and cultural rights. Disarm stands with Indigenous people in the fight for land rights, self-determination and sovereignty, and is working closely with the Arrente people in the campaign to remove the US war machine of Pine Gap from their land.

Drone targeting

At the 2010 White House Correspondents dinner, President Barrack Obama made the now infamous joke; “The Jonas brothers are there, my daughters are huge fans. But don’t get any ideas- 2 words- ‘Predator Drones’- you will never see it coming- you think I’m joking?” At the time, the USA was involved the largest assassination campaign in human history. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and possibly others, Obama was signing off on a record number of drone strikes. Between 2004 and 2010 at least 400 and as many as 800 children under 18 were killed in drone strikes in Pakistan alone.

The legality of killing suspected terrorists with drone strikes is at the very least highly suspect, with most commentators arguing that killing someone, not in a battle and without a fair trial to weigh the evidence constitutes, at least, a severe human rights violation, with the deaths of innocent civilians around those suspected militants tantamount to a war crime, or a crime against humanity.

Australia has played a key role in supporting the USA’s drone murder programs. Pine Gap’s tracking system and geographical location allow for targeting and tracking of suspects. Without Pine Gap, the USA would be unable to strike in Pakistan, nor use its drones in a future war in our region. This makes Australia an accomplice in the crimes against humanity that USA’s use of drones represent, meaning if the Australian government won’t shut Pine Gap down, the people have a responsibility to the international community, to the many innocent victims of the strikes and to future generations to shut Pine Gap down.

The Australia-US Alliance

Pine Gap is a central component of the military relationship with the United States.
Sold to the Australian public as a cast iron promise that we will be defended by our powerful ally, in reality the the ANZUS Treaty which underpins our relationship with the USA, signed in 1951, only agrees to ‘consultation’ in the event of being invaded; [Vietnam].

In 1963 the Status of US Forces in Australia Treaty was signed which basically exempts all US citizens, whether they be military, private contractors, or anyone else invited by the military to Australia from paying taxes, abiding by many laws or being prosecuted for just about anything. In 1969, the Pine Gap Treaty created the lynch pin of the Australian-US military alliance, with the largest military/intelligence base outside the USA. Our close subservient relationship with the USA has come with heavy costs; (Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria).

Australia’s policy of working unquestioningly with the US has led to our militaries becoming intertwined by compatible weapons platforms and supply chains to the extent that we are now incapable of acting independently. And with reliance on satellite communications and remotely operated drones to execute war, Australia is now implicated in each and every action of the US military. The so-called alliance is an alliance in name only: it is a master-servant form of military feudalism which does not make Australia safer and has outlived its time.

Mass surveillance

Snowdon’s revelations helped us understand the extent of Pine Gap’s utility in the Five Eyes Surveillance network between the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, the US and UK Governments.

The thing about civil rights and freedoms is that they’re very hard to win. Australia was one of the first countries to win the vote for all white men, regardless of their property ownership status. Australia was also the second country to give women the vote. Both of these acts were hard won, by the population, starting with the Eureka Stockade, where women and men organised against brutal oppression and many paid the price with their lives. That was the price of the vote for all people. The right to privacy, for me to talk intimately with a loved one or tell my Mum I’m coming to visit soon, or pursue my online obsession with star trek: voyager facts- without anyone snooping on my trail. That privacy is now extinct.

The fact that you have viewed this webpage about Pine Gap is now stored somewhere. Who you emailed about coffee on Saturday morning, who you’re contacting and how often is being stored away on a US computer. Think of it as large vacuum system, sucking up all data across all networks, phone and internet, in the whole world.

The dominant argument, that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear, conveniently gives those with political power, or the financial means, free, unfettered access to all of your personal communications information and records. That information is pouring into the governments hands now. Anyone who tries to expose the system is mercilessly persecuted, such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or the Wikileaks organisation.

What might happen in the future if people try to organise against any other government policy with all of the communications information in the hands of the powerful? What price will have to be paid in the future to win those rights back?

Please see the links provided below for more detailed information on Pine Gap’s role in the global surveillance network.

Nuclear weapons

The Pine Gap facility is vital to the war-fighting capabilities of the US Government, including the operation of the US nuclear arsenal. This makes it a likely high-priority target for an enemy of the US and Australia, and vulnerable to a long-range nuclear missile attack.

The Australian government has been aware of Pine Gap’s vulnerability as a nuclear target for decades. Kim Beazley told a Parliamentary Committee a year after leaving office in 1997 “We accepted that the joint facilities were probably targets, but we accepted the risk of that for what we saw as the benefits of global stability.”

The Australian Government has not openly acknowledged this threat, nor have the possible consequences of a nuclear attack been communicated with the 28,000 residents of Alice Springs.

A 1985 publication of the Medical Association for Prevention of War explored the impacts of a nuclear detonation from the air and ground. In the event of a ground burst with a south or south-westerly wind, Alice Springs would be enveloped in a plume carrying greater than the acute lethal radiation dose, and “everybody would die within twenty four hours.” Medical capacities would be unable to cope, and “very many people would die, untreated. Large areas of Central Australia would become uninhabitable.”

War creates refugees

Despite being a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, the Australian government has harsh and cruel policies that scapegoat refugees in the so-called ‘war on terrorism’. People who have sought asylum, as is their right, are left languishing in off-shore camps with little hope or on-shore living in poverty on uncertain temporary visas.

Australians have an obligation to assist refugees. We are made complicit by our government in wars that create refugees, not of our making, but facilitated through operations at Pine Gap. Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, made the unilateral decision without any debate in parliament, to send Australian forces, as part of the US-led coalition, to drop bombs paid for by the Australian tax-payers on people in Syria. We are complicit, whether we agree or not. Ultimately, the only humane answer is to work to end war, to shut down the military-industrial complex, and to close Pine Gap.


Below is a selection of articles, videos and other resources to learn more about the role of Pine Gap in the themes mentioned above.

Other Media, Audio and Blogs


Home On The Range (1982; 53 mins) Australian independent political documentary about the US installations in Australia at Pine Gap near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Covers the the Loans Affair and the sacking of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1975, the Christopher Boyce spy trial, the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in foreign territories and its former agent Victor Marchetti as well as government secrecy, security, intelligence, foreign affairs and policy.

Journey To An American Spy Base (Bob Plasto, 1987; 50 mins) Documentary exposing the secrets and deceits behind the operations of US spy base in Pine Gap, Australia. Directed by Bob Plasto and released in 1987, the film features interviews with CIA operatives and a revealing exposition of the facilities at pine gap with the Australian Defence Minister at the time, Kim Beazley.

The World from Below – Pine Gap and Drones (19 Sep 2014) Interview in three parts with Richard Tanter from the Nautilus Institute and Emily Howie from the Human Rights Law Centre. Segment 1 (8 mins): We discuss the history of the military and intelligence base at Pine Gap, Northern Territory Australia. We talk about the law that applies, including the role it plays in the drones war. Segment 2 (14 mins): We discuss Australia’s involvement in the drone wars, including the death of Australian Christopher Harvard in Yemen. Segment 3 (3 mins): We discuss the role of Pine Gap in mass surveillance operations.

Nautilus Institute

Pine Gap links & resources page

Pine Gap – An Introduction (Nautilus Institute, 21 February 2016)The Corporatisation of Pine Gap (Nautilus Institute, 25 June 2015)

The Militarisation of Pine Gap (Nautilus Institute, 14 August 2015)

The Higher Management of Pine Gap (Nautilus Institute, 18 August 2015)

The SIGINT Satellites of Pine Gap (Nautilus Institute, 15 October 2015)

Drones - general

Get The Data: Drone Wars Archives – The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (various authors, various dates)

Naming the Dead: Bureau announces new drones project – The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (4 Feb 2013)

41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes – the facts on the ground | The Guardian (Spencer Ackerman, 25 November 2014)

American Drone Operators Are Quitting in Record Numbers| The Nation (Pratap Chatterjee, 5 March 2015)

The Side of Drone Warfare No One Is Talking About | The Nation (Pratap Chatterjee, 13 July 2015)

The Intercept – The Drone Papers (various authors, 15 October 2015)

Air Force Whistleblowers Risk Prosecution to Warn Drone War Kills Civilians, Fuels Terror | Democracy Now! (20 Nov 2015)

Life as a drone operator- ‘Ever step on ants and never give it another thought?’ The Guardian (Ed Pilkington, 20 Nov 2015)

Killer Drone News Blackout Continues As Mainstream Media Ignore Four Whistleblowers | Global Research – Centre for Research on Globalization (John Hanrahan, 3 Dec 2015)

Victim of Obama’s first drone strike- ‘I am the living example of what drones are’ | The Guardian (Spencer Ackerman, 23 Jan 2016)

How a Hollywood film reveals the reality of drone warfare | The Guardian (Derek Gregory, 10 April 2016)

I am on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones | The Independent (Malik Jalal, 12 April 2016)

When Drone Operators Become Collateral Damage | The Nation (Pratap Chatterjee, 21 April 2016)

Who’s Next To Borrow from America’s Drone Strike “Playbook”? | PBS Frontline (Priyanka Boghani, 11 August 2016)