New Snowden Docs reveal the NSA spy hub Pine Gap in Australia

Pierluigi Paganini August 21, 2017

A news batch of documents leaked by Snowden has revealed a US facility in Australia for covertly monitoring communications and supporting drone missions

A news batch of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has revealed a United States facility located in Australia’s Northern Territory for covertly monitoring wireless communications and supporting US drone missions.

The secret documentation was obtained by The Intercept, it contains references to a secretive facility, codenamed “Rainfall,” that is officially known as the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap.

According to the Intercept, the documents belong to the huge amount of data stolen by Snowden from the US National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013.

The newly released classified documents, obtained by The Intercept, contained references to a secretive facility, which was codenamed “Rainfall,” but is officially known as the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap.

A SHORT DRIVE south of Alice Springs, the second largest population center in Australia’s Northern Territory, there is a high-security compound, code-named “RAINFALL.” The remote base, in the heart of the country’s barren outback, is one of the most important covert surveillance sites in the eastern hemisphere.” reads the post published by The Intercept.

The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is located outside Alice Springs, it hosts a strategic ground station of the US spy satellites, the base is used for monitor communication across several continents and to obtain a detailed geolocation of the targets for special forces and drone strikes.

“Together with the NSA’s Menwith Hill base in England, Pine Gap has in recent years been used as a command post for two missions. The first, named M7600, involved at least two spy satellites and was said in a secret 2005 document to provide “continuous coverage of the majority of the Eurasian landmass and Africa.” This initiative was later upgraded as part of a second mission, named M8300, which involved “a four satellite constellation” and covered the former Soviet Union, China, South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and territories in the Atlantic Ocean.” continues The Intercept.

The documents report an intense activity in the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap with hundreds of Australian and American employees come and go every day from the base.

The official “cover story,” as outlined in a secret U.S. intelligence document, is to “support the national security of both the U.S. and Australia. The [facility] contributes to verifying arms control and disarmament agreements and monitoring military developments.” 

The satellites used by the Pine Gap are described as being “geosynchronous,” this means that they are positioned in orbit at over 20,000 miles above the earth’s surface, they are equipped with powerful surveillance technology to monitor wireless communications on the ground. The satellites are able to spy on any data sent from or to mobile phones, radios, and satellite uplinks.

“They gather “strategic and tactical military, scientific, political, and economic communications signals,” according to the documents, and also keep tabs on missile or weapons tests in targeted countries, sweep up intelligence from foreign military data systems, and provide surveillance support to U.S. forces.” states The Intercept.

Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap

One of the classified NSA documents analysed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) confirms the facility’s military role.

“Those documents provide authoritative confirmation that Pine Gap is involved, for example, in the geolocation of cell phones used by people throughout the world, from the Pacific to the edge of Africa,” Richard Tanter, a professor at the University of Melbourne’s school of political and social studies said.

“It shows us that Pine Gap knows the geolocations, it derives the phone numbers, it often derives the content of any communications, it provides the ability for the American military to identify and place in real time the location of targets of interest.”

Another NSA document (“site profile” of Pine Gap) confirmed that the systems inside the base are used to analyzed signals.

“RAINFALL detects, collects, records, processes, analyses and reports on PROFORMA signals collected from tasked target entities,” the profile says.

Professor Richard Tanter explained that Pine Gap will be contributing hugely in real-time to those operations, as well as in preparation for them.

Concerns about the military use of drones for surgical attacks are amplified under the President Donald Trump’s administration. President Trump has increased drone strikes and special operations raids.

“According to analysis from the group Airwars, which monitors U.S. airstrikes, civilian casualties in the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State are on track to double under Trump’s administration.” concludes The Intercept.

The Intercept also quotes David Rosenberg, a 23-year veteran of the NSA who worked at the Pine Gap as a team leader for more than a decade, the soldier confirms the facility’s geolocation capability, claiming that preventing civilian casualties is a high priority.

“One thing I can certainly tell you the governments of Australia, and the United States would, of course, want to minimise all civilian casualties,” Rosenberg says. “Pine Gap does help to provide limitation of civilian casualties by providing accurate intelligence.”

The documents demonstrate once again the collaboration of the intelligence agencies of the so-called Five-Eyes alliance composed of US, UK, New Zealand, Australia and Canada

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, satellites)

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