Pine Gap is Putting Australia in Danger

pine gap nautilus institute
Pine Gap Spy Base

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the agreement between the Australian and American governments relating to the establishment of a Joint Defence Space Research Facility (Pine Gap, Northern Territory).

According to Prof Richard Tanter (Nautilus Institute) Pine Gap is perhaps the most important United States intelligence facility outside that country. This spy base plays a vital role in the collection of a very wide range of signals intelligence including early warning ballistic missile launches, targeting of nuclear weapons and providing battlefield intelligence data for United States military operations around the world. Pine Gap also provides critical support for United States and Japanese missile defence and supporting arms control verification.

In an interview on September 23 with the ABC’s ‘The World Today’, Tanter also emphasised that Pine Gap contributes to targeting data for American drone operations, including assassinations.1 He warned that these global assassination operations risk being counter-productive since they have the potential of creating “further terrorism” when a strike kills civilians which many have in the past.2

Tanter added, “At a legal and moral level do we really want to be involved in operations which are frankly illegal under international law. In countries where we’re not at war, such as Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen, these are simply assassinations.”

During the interview Tanter noted that Pine Gap continued to be a “pretty high priority nuclear missile target” in the event of a major conflict between the United States and Russia or China. In addition, he pointed out that the facility is involved in nuclear war planning. This, he argued, was “a totally awful thing for us to contemplate — you can’t use nuclear weapons except in a fairly genocidal way.”

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, a Defence Department spokesperson was recently reported as asserting that Pine Gap makes an “important contribution” to our national security since it “provides intelligence on priorities such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and foreign military capability and weapons developments.”

As a result of their meticulous research, both Desmond Ball and Richard Tanter have done Australia a huge service.3 The evidence about Pine Gap that they have amassed contradicts the spin produced by government authorities and the pro-US alliance lobby. Not only does Pine Gap make Australia vulnerable to future crimes against humanity charges, but Australia’s current defence commitments to the United States compromises the nation’s sovereignty.

Pine Gap and other “joint defence facilities” should be closed. Canberra’s strategic dependence on Washington must end. It is time that Australia assumed control of its own destiny.

1. The audio recording of the interview with Richard Tanter can be heard here. He will be speaking at IPAN’s public forum on Friday 30 September in Alice Springs.
2. Ewen MacAskill and Owen Bowcott, ‘UN report call for independent investigations of drone attacks’, The Guardian, Mar 11, 2014.
3. In recent days the research published by Richard Tanter and Desmond Ball on the changing role of Pine Gap is also being reported by the commercial media. Refer to Debra Killalea’s story ‘Pine Gap ‘spy base’ makes Australia a target, researcher claims’,, Sep 22, 2016 and Emma Reynolds, ‘US military bases in Australia: Protecting us or putting us at risk?’,, Oct 2, 2016. For a detailed account of Pine Gap and other US bases in Australia, refer to Richard Tanter, ‘The US Military Presence in Australia: Asymmetrical Alliance Cooperation and its Alternatives’, The Asia Pacific Journal, 10 Nov 2013.

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