The arid centre of Australia is home to arguably the most important American intelligence site outside the US – the satellite surveillance facility Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap. The details of what goes on inside the base have been largely hidden from public view since it was commissioned in the mid-1960s.

Photo by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff, CC BY-NC.
Daring photography by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. It is illegal to take photos of the facility.

Recently, however, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Intercept teamed up to collaboratively comb through the Snowden files for traces of its presence in the leaked archive. Their investigation unearthed some critically important new crumbs. First and foremost, unequivocal evidence that the site is integral to the American military operations in the Middle East, including in Afghanistan, including in the prosecution of extrajudicial killings there. It seems that Pine Gap has been, as suspected, a pivotal node in the communications network keeping lethal drones in the air and directing them to targets.

Also helpful has been the discovery that the site is, or has been, code-named RAINFALL by the NSA. Leaked documents show it has been involved since the 1980s in not only detecting and monitoring ballistic missile launches (its public function) and in providing tactical information virtually in real-time to battlefield forces. It has also played a key role in the NSA’s programs of wholesale communications data collection such as XKEYSCORE. The RAINFALL files contain the official cover story for Pine Gap, easily found in the document under the heading ‘Cover Story’.

Interpreting the files is basically impossible without consulting the enormously detailed studies conducted by researchers for the Nautilus Institute, Richard Tanter, the late Desmond Ball, and others, over the past few years. The Nautilus reports can be accessed here.

Bringing the site into public view has also been helped recently by Melbourne artist Kristian Laemle-Ruff who received a Highly Commended award at the Alice Prize for his rare photographs of it last year. Several of his other images, otherworldly and beautiful, can be found on the Nautilus website here.

To state the obvious, this investigation has profound implications. In Richard Tanter’s words, it proves beyond doubt that Australia is ‘literally hardwired’ into US military activities, analysing the targets for extrajudicial drone assassination programs and military action in countries where Australia is not officially at war.

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