Pine Gap

Pine Gap is the commonly used name for a US satellite surveillance base or Australian Earth station approximately 18 kilometres (11 mi) south-west of the town of Alice Springs, Northern Territory 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 (JDFPG); previously, it was misleadingly known as Joint Defence Space Research Facility.[1]

Partly run by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), US National Security Agency (NSA) and US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the station is a key contributor to the NSA's global interception effort, which included the ECHELON program.[2][3][4][5] The classified NRO name of the Pine Gap base is Australian Mission Ground Station (AMGS), while the unclassified cover term for the NSA function of the facility is RAINFALL.[6]

Pine Gap
Pine Gap by Skyring
Pine Gap is located in Australia
Pine Gap
Pine Gap
Coordinates23°47′56″S 133°44′13″E / 23.799°S 133.737°ECoordinates: 23°47′56″S 133°44′13″E / 23.799°S 133.737°E

The base

Warning sign on the road to Pine Gap

The facilities at the base consist of a massive computer complex with 38 radomes protecting radio dishes[7] and has over 800 employees.[8] A long-term NSA employee at Pine Gap, David Rosenberg, indicated that the chief of the facility at the time of his service was a senior CIA officer.[9]:p 45–46[10]

The location is strategically significant because it controls United States spy satellites as they pass over one-third of the globe which includes China, the Asian parts of Russia, and the Middle East.[7] Central Australia was chosen because it was too remote for spy ships passing in international waters to intercept the signal.[9]:p xxi

The facility has become a key part of the local economy.[11]

Operational history

In late 1966, in the throes of the US/Soviet Cold War, a joint US-Australian treaty called for the creation of a US satellite surveillance base in Australia, to be titled the "Joint Defence Space Research Facility".[12] The purpose of the facility was initially referred to in public as "space research".[13] Operations started in 1970 when about 400 American families moved to Central Australia.[11]

During his term in office The Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1972–75), threatened to close Pine Gap. According to Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, the threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House and a kind of "coup" was set in motion.[14] On 11 November – the day Whitlam was to inform parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia – he was summoned by the governor-general of Australia, Sir John Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister.[15]

Since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the rise of the War on Terror in 2001, the base has seen a refocusing away from mere nuclear treaty monitoring and missile launch detection, to become a vital warfighting base for US military forces.[6] In 1999, with the Australian Government refusing to give details to an Australian Senate committee about the relevant 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 antennas to about 18 in 1999, and 38 by 2017. The number of staff had increased from around 400 in the early 1980s to 600 in the early 1990s and then to 800 in 2017, the biggest expansion since 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.[7]

Since the end of the Cold War, the station has mainly been employed to intercept and record weapons and communications signals from countries in Asia, such as China and North Korea. The station was active in supporting the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq and every US war since the September 11 attacks.[16]

The Menwith Hill Station (MHS) in the UK is operated by the NSA and also serves as ground station for these satellite missions.[6]

One of the station's primary functions is to locate radio signals in the Eastern Hemisphere, with the collected information fed into the US drone program.[17][18] This was confirmed by an NSA document from 2013, which says that Pine Gap plays a key role in providing geolocation data for intelligence purposes, as well as for military operations, including air strikes.[6]

On 11 July 2013, documents revealed through former NSA analyst Edward Snowden showed that Pine Gap, amongst three other locations in Australia and one in New Zealand, contributed to the NSA's global interception and collection of internet and telephone communications, which involves systems like XKEYSCORE.[19]

According to documents published in August 2017, Pine Gap is used as a ground station for spy satellites on two secret missions:[6]

  • Mission 7600 with 2 geosynchronous satellites to cover Eurasia and Africa
  • Mission 8300 with 4 geosynchronous satellites that covered the former Soviet Union, China, South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and countries on the Atlantic Ocean


  • On 11 November 1983, Aboriginal women led 700 women to the Pine Gap gates where they fell silent for 11 minutes to mark Remembrance Day and the arrival of Pershing II 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". The gathering was non-violent and several women trespassed onto the military base and on one day 111[20] were arrested and gave their names as Karen Silkwood, an American nuclear worker who died after campaigning for nuclear safety. There were allegations of police brutality and a Human Rights Commission inquiry ensued.[21]
  • In December 2005 six members of the Christians Against All Terrorism group staged a protest outside Pine Gap. Four of them later 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.[22] The Pine Gap Four cross-appealed to have their convictions quashed. In February 2008 the four members successfully appealed their convictions and were acquitted.[23]

In popular culture

Pine Gap is featured in the 2018 Australian television series of the same name. The series is a political thriller, portraying the lives of the members of the joint American-Australian intelligence team.

See also



  1. ^ Hamlin, Karen (2007). "Pine Gap celebrates 40 years". Defence Magazine. 2007/8 (3): 28–31. ISSN 1446-229X.
  2. ^ Dorling, Philip (26 July 2013). "Australian outback station at forefront of US spying arsenal". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  3. ^ Loxley, Adam. The Teleios Ring. Leicester: Matador. p. 296. ISBN 1848769202.
  4. ^ Robert Dover; Michael S. Goodman; Claudia Hillebrand, eds. (2013). Routledge Companion to Intelligence Studies. Routledge. p. 164. ISBN 9781134480296.
  5. ^ "Mission Ground Station Declassification (NRO)" (PDF). 15 October 2008. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e Peter Cronau, The Base: Pine Gap's Role in US Warfighting, Background Briefing, ABC Radio National, 20 August 2017; Ryan Gallagher and Peter Cronau, The U.S. Spy Hub in the Heart of Australia, The Intercept, August 20, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Middleton, Hannah (2009). "The Campaign against US military bases in Australia". In Blanchard, Lynda-ann; Chan, Leah (eds.). Ending War, Building Peace. Sydney University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 192089943X. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  8. ^ [1], 21 July 2013. Accessed 21 July 2013
  9. ^ a b Rosenberg, David (2011). Inside Pine Gap: The Spy who Came in from the Desert. Prahran, Victoria: Hardie Grant Books. ISBN 9781742701738.
  10. ^ Harris, Reg Legendary Territorians, Harris Nominees, Alice Springs, 2007, p 93, ISBN 9780646483719.
  11. ^ a b 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.
  12. ^ "Treaties". Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  13. ^ Dent, Jackie (23 November 2017). "An American Spy Base Hidden in Australia's Outback". Retrieved 25 November 2017 – via
  14. ^ Pilger, John (23 October 2014). "The British-American coup that ended Australian independence | John Pilger". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  15. ^ "The forgotten coup - how America and Britain crushed the government of their 'ally', Australia". Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Dorling, Philip (21 July 2013). "Pine Gap drives US drone kills". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  18. ^ Oliver Laughland. "Pine Gap's role in US drone strikes should be investigated – rights groups". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
  19. ^ "New Snowden leak: Australia's place in US spying web". Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  20. ^ Pine Gap Protests - historical and Kelham, Megg Waltz in P-Flat: The Pine Gap Women's Peace Protest in Hecate 1 January 2010 available on-line at
  21. ^ "The Anti-Nuclear Campaign". Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  22. ^ Donna Mulhearn & Jessica Morrison (6 October 2006). "Christian Pacifists Challenge Pine Gap In Court" (Press release). Retrieved 24 February 2007.
  23. ^ "The Queen v Law & Ors [2008] NTCCA 4 (19 March 2008)". Retrieved 25 November 2017.

General sources

External links

Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado

Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado (ADF-C) is one of three satellite ground stations operated by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in the continental United States. Located within Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado, the facility is responsible for the command and control of reconnaissance satellites involved in the collection of intelligence information and for the dissemination of that intelligence to other U.S. government agencies. The National Security Agency (NSA) Central Security Service (CSS) Colorado Cryptologic Center (CCC) is co-located with ADF-C and employs around 850 NSA personnel.

Alice Springs

Alice Springs (Eastern Arrernte: Mparntwe) is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as "the Alice" or simply "Alice", Alice Springs is situated roughly in Australia's geographic centre.The area is known as Mparntwe to its original inhabitants, the Arrernte, who have lived in the Central Australian desert in and around what is now Alice Springs for tens of thousands of years. The name Alice Springs was given by surveyor William Whitfield Mills after Alice, Lady Todd (née Alice Gillam Bell), wife of the telegraph pioneer Sir Charles Todd.

Alice Springs had an urban population of almost 24,000 at the 2016 Census; it accounts for approximately 10% of the population of the Northern Territory. It is nearly equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin.

The town straddles the usually dry Todd River on the northern side of the MacDonnell Ranges. The surrounding region is known as Central Australia, or the Red Centre, an arid environment consisting of several different deserts. Temperatures in Alice Springs can vary dramatically, with an average maximum in summer of 35.6 °C (96.1 °F) and an average minimum in winter of 5.1 °C (41.2 °F). Alice Springs has faced many recent problems, largely stemming from a strong racial divide that has existed in the town for years, and an increase in crime.

Australian Signals Directorate

Australian Signals Directorate (ASD; until 2013: Defence Signals Directorate, DSD) is the Australian government agency responsible for foreign signals intelligence, support to military operations, cyber warfare, and information security. ASD is part of the Australian Intelligence Community. ASD's role within UKUSA Agreement (Five Eyes) is to monitor SIGINT in South and East Asia. The ASD also houses the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

The unit was established in 1947 by executive order as the Defence Signals Bureau within the Department of Defence, and underwent several name changes until its current name ASD was adopted in 2013. ASD was converted to a statutory body by the Intelligence Services Act 2001. ASD is based in Canberra, at the Defence Department Headquarters at Russell Offices. As of December 2017, Mike Burgess is the Director-General of ASD, replacing Director Dr Paul Taloni, who moves to a senior position within the Office of National Assessments. ASD became an independent statutory body on 1 July 2018.In April 2018, a proposal to empower ASD to collect intelligence on Australians was backed by Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, but is strongly opposed by some in Cabinet who argue it is not necessary. Under legislation, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are already allowed to seek assistance from ASD in conducting investigations on Australian citizens and businesses.

Bad Aibling Station

The former Bad Aibling Station (BAS) has officially been designated as 18th United States Army Security Agency Field Station and a.k.a. Field station 81, or Hortensie III. Currently it is a satellite tracking station operated by the German SIGINT agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) from nearby Mangfall Barracks in Bad Aibling, Bavaria.Created by the Western Allies in 1947, it had been operated by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) until the early 2000s as operations have been transferred to the BND at Bad AIbling Station closure.As part of the global surveillance network ECHELON, Bad Aibling used to be one of the larger listening posts outside the USA and equalled its counterparts RAF Menwith Hill (UK), the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap (AUS) and CFS Leitrim (CDN).

Berrimah Prison

Berrimah Prison, was an Australian maximum security prison for males formerly located in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. The centre was managed by Northern Territory Correctional Services, an agency of the Department of Justice of the Government of the Northern Territory. The centre detained sentenced and charged felons under Northern Territory and/or Commonwealth law.

Following significant overcrowding, decommission plans were put into place and the adult facility was closed on Friday 28 November 2014. The Don Dale Youth Detention Centre was moved to the Berrimah prison site following an incident at that prison.

Bryan Law

Bryan Joseph Law (1954–2013) was an Australian peace activist who became well-known after breaking into Pine Gap in 2005 as a passive protest against the Iraq War, and again for breaking into a military base at Rockhampton in 2011 and hammering a hole in a military helicopter prevent it from operating. Law and his wife Margaret Pestorius coordinated the Cairns Peace by Peace organisation. Law also disrupted logging activities on the World Heritage site Fraser Island.


Dishfire (stylised DISHFIRE) is a covert global surveillance collection system and database run by the United States of America's National Security Agency (NSA) and the United Kingdom's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) that collects hundreds of millions of text messages on a daily basis from around the world. A related analytic tool is known as Prefer.


ECHELON, originally a secret government code name, is a surveillance program (signals intelligence/SIGINT collection and analysis network) operated by the United States with the aid of four other signatory states to the UKUSA Security Agreement: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, also known as the Five Eyes.The ECHELON program was created in the late 1960s to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies during the Cold War, and it was formally established in 1971.By the end of the 20th century, the system referred to as "ECHELON" had evolved beyond its military and diplomatic origins into "a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications" (mass surveillance and industrial espionage).

Jim Dowling

Jim Dowling is a self-declared human rights, free speech and anti-war activist from Brisbane, Australia. Together with fellow Catholic Worker activists, Ciaron O'Reilly and Angela Jones, he founded the West End Catholic Worker community in Brisbane during the 1980s. He currently resides at Peter Maurin Farm with his wife, Anne Rampa, and seven children.

Joint Defense Facility Nurrungar

Joint Defence Facility Nurrungar (JDFN), located on the edge of Island Lagoon, approximately 15 km south of Woomera, South Australia, was an Earth station in Australia operated jointly by the Australian Department of Defence and the United States Air Force from 1969 through to 1999. Its official area of emphasis was space-based surveillance, in particular the early detection of missile launches and nuclear detonations using U.S. Defense Support Program satellites in geostationary orbits. The name Nurrungar derives from an aboriginal term meaning "listen".

List of earth stations in Australia

A number of historic and current Earth (or ground) stations in Australia are used to communicate and track human-made satellites.

Many of the sites are associated with overseas government partnerships established generally with the United States, European Union, and Japan. They are generally run by various Australian Government agencies along with NASA, European Space Agency or the US Military.

List of films and TV series shot in Alice Springs

A list of movies filmed in Alice Springs, Australia, and surrounding areas.

Listed below are a further collection of TV series and movies that have been partially filmed in Alice Springs.

The Blue Planet (2000) TV series

Bush Mechanics (2001) (mini) TV series

Double Trouble (2006) TV series

Familie på farten - med farmor i Australien' (2005) TV series

...a.k.a. Familie på farten (2005) (Denmark: promotional title)

Here Comes the Neighbourhood (2005) TV series

Soldier Soldier (1991) TV series

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

The Alice (2004) (TV)

Equipaje, lista de espera, pasaporte, souvenir (1994)

Evil Angels (1988)

...a.k.a A Cry in the Dark (1988) (International title)

G'Day LA (2007)

Journey Out of Darkness (1967)

Kangaroo Jack (2003)

The Last Frontier (1986) (TV)

Outback Stripper (2001) (TV)

Phantom Stockman, The (1953)

...a.k.a. Return of the Plainsman (1953) (USA)

Pine Gap (2018) (Australian Broadcasting Corporation & Netflix TV)(Australia)

Quigley Down Under (1990)

...a.k.a Quigley (1991) (Australia)

...a.k.a. Quigley Down Under (1990) (Australia)

Walkabout (1971)

Welcome to Woop Woop (1997)

Who Killed Baby Azaria? (1983) (TV)

...a.k.a. The Dingo Baby Case (1983) (TV)

...a.k.a. The Disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain (1983) (TV)Socrates in Love, also known as Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World, is a Japanese film that used Alice Springs as its filming location. The television series Star Trek: Enterprise used Alice Springs as the location of an astronaut survival training station.

MacDonnell Ranges

The MacDonnell Ranges, a mountain range and an interim Australian bioregion, is located in the Northern Territory and has an area of 3,929,444 hectares (9,709,870 acres). The range is a 644 km (400 mi) long series of mountains in central Australia, consisting of parallel ridges running to the east and west of Alice Springs. The mountain range contains many spectacular gaps and gorges as well as areas of Aboriginal significance.

The ranges were named after Sir Richard MacDonnell (the Governor of South Australia at the time) by John McDouall Stuart, whose 1860 expedition reached them in April of that year. The Horn Expedition investigated the ranges as part of the scientific expedition into central Australia. Other explorers of the range included David Lindsay and John Ross.

The MacDonnell Ranges were often depicted in the paintings of Albert Namatjira.

Madeleine Madden

Madeleine Madden (born January 29, 1997) is an Australian actress.

Philip Dorling

Philip Dorling is a writer and journalist who has also served as an Australian public servant and political adviser. He is a Visiting Fellow at the School of Humanities and Social Science, University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

Pine Gap (TV series)

Pine Gap is an Australian television series that was released on Netflix and broadcast on ABC in 2018. The six-part series is written and created by Greg Haddrick and Felicity Packard with Mat King directing all six episodes. The series is produced by Screentime.

Stone Ghost

STONEGHOST or "Stone Ghost", is a codename for a network operated by the United States' Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for information sharing and exchange between the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Other sources say that New Zealand is also participating, and that Stone Ghost therefore connects, and is maintained by the defense intelligence agencies of all Five Eyes countries.Stone Ghost does not carry Intelink-Top Secret information. It used to be known as Intelink-C and may also be referred to as "Q-Lat" or "Quad link". It is a highly secured network with strict physical and digital security requirements. The network hosts information about military topics, and about SIGINT, foreign intelligence and national security.

Tess Haubrich

Tess Haubrich is an Australian actress and model.

Born in Sydney's Northern Beaches area, and educated at Pittwater High School and SCECGS Redlands, Haubrich spent her late teens as a fashion model in Australia, Hong Kong, France and Germany. She trained for two years at the Actors Centre Australia, a private drama school in Sydney, where she trained in theatre. In 2009, she appeared in two episodes of the soap opera Home and Away as Catie Merrin. She returned to the series as a different character, Shandi Palmer, in 2014.Haubrich has appeared in a number of major international productions filmed in Australia, including minor roles in The Wolverine (2013) and Infini (2015); as Private Sarah Rosenthal in Alien: Covenant, and as Woman in Black in the Jackie Chan film Bleeding Steel, both in 2017.In late 2017, she had a leading role in the second season of Wolf Creek. In 2018, she played a key character in the Australian spy drama series Pine Gap.

Turbulence (NSA)

Turbulence is a United States National Security Agency (NSA) information-technology project started c. 2005. It was developed in small, inexpensive "test" pieces rather than one grand plan like its failed predecessor, the Trailblazer Project. It also includes offensive cyberwarfare capabilities, like injecting malware into remote computers. The U.S. Congress criticized the project in 2007 for having similar bureaucratic problems as the Trailblazer Project.

AIC Agencies
NIC Agencies
& Training


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.