Pine Gap is the commonly used name for a satellite tracking station at , some 18 kilometres (11 mi) south-west of the town of Alice Springs 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; previously, it was known as Joint Defence Space Research Facility.
The facility consists of a large computer complex with 14 radomes protecting antennae and has over 800 employees. It is believed to be one of the largest ECHELON ground stations and appears to be physically and operationally similar to the American and British signals intelligence facilities at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado and RAF Menwith Hill, United Kingdom. United States government personnel at Pine Gap are believed to be mostly from the National Security Agency and subordinate service-associated agencies as well as the Central Intelligence Agency. A long-term NSA employee at Pine Gap, David Rosenberg, has suggested that the CIA runs the facility.
As published in ERSA by CASA, the airspace around Pine Gap is the only area in Australia designated as "prohibited", which prohibits entering and overflying the airspace up to a height of Flight Level 180 (approximately 18,000 ft or 5,500 m).
The location is strategically significant because it controls America's spy satellites as they pass over the one third of the globe which includes China, parts of Russia and Middle East oil fields. Central Australia was chosen because it was too remote for spy ships passing in international waters to intercept the signal.
The facility has become a key part of the local economy.
Operations started in 1970 when about 400 American families moved to Central Australia. In 1999, with the Australian Government refusing to give details to an Australian Senate committee on 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 eighteen in 1999. The number of staff had increased from around 400 in the early 1980s to 600 in the early 1990s and then to an expected 1,000. The biggest expansion occurred after the end of the Cold War.
- telemetry from advanced weapons development, such as ballistic missiles, used for arms control verification;
- signals from anti-missile and anti-aircraft radars;
- transmissions intended for communications satellites; and
- microwave emissions, such as long-distance telephone calls.
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 Defence 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.
Since the end of the Cold War, the station has mainly been employed with intercepting and recording weapons and communications signals from countries in Asia, such as China and North Korea. The station was active in supporting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 attacks.
As a US military installation, Pine Gap has been targeted for protests.
- On 11 November 1983, Aboriginal women led 700 women activists to the Pine Gap gates where they fell silent for 11 minutes to mark Remembrance Day and the arrival of Pershing 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. While the protest was non-violent, women trespassed onto the military space and on one day 111 were arrested and gave their names as Karen Silkwood, an American activist who campaigned for nuclear safety. There were allegations of police brutality and a Human Rights Commission Inquiry ensued.
- In 1986 the base was issued with an eviction notice to be "closed by the people" in a Close the Gap campaign; there was a protest by both women and men in which bicycles featured strongly.
- In 2002 about 500 people protested at the gates of Pine Gap, including some politicians. They were objecting to its use in the then impending Iraq war and missile defence, with a massive police presence. A few were arrested after a scuffle with police.
- In December 2005 six members of the Christians Against All Terrorism group staged a protest outside Pine Gap. Four of them subsequently 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. In June 2007 the four were fined $3250 in the Northern Territory Supreme Court with the possibility of a seven year jail term. The Commonwealth prosecutor appealed the decision saying that the sentence was "manifestly inadequate". The Pine Gap four cross-appealed to have their convictions quashed. In February 2008 the four members successfully appealed their convictions and were acquitted. Judges who worked on the case stated that a "miscarriage of justice" had taken place because the four were not allowed to argue before a jury that Pine Gap was not a "defence facility" for Australia.
See also 
- Hamlin, Karen (2007), "Pine Gap celebrates 40 years", Defence Magazine, 2007/8 (3): 28–31, ISSN 1446-229X
- Middleton, Hannah (2009). "The Campaign against US military bases in Australia". In Blanchard, Lynda-ann; Chan, Leah. Ending War, Building Peace. Sydney University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 192089943X. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
- Rosenberg, David (2011). Inside Pine Gap: The Spy who Came in from the Desert. Prahran, Victoria: Hardie Grant Books. pp. 45–46. ISBN 9781742701738.
- Rosenberg, David (2011). Inside Pine Gap: The Spy who Came in from the Desert. Prahran, Victoria: Hardie Grant Books. p. xxi. ISBN 9781742701738.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pine Gap Protests - historical http://nautilus.org/publications/books/australian-forces-abroad/defence-facilities/pine-gap/pine-gap-protests/protests-hist/ and Kelham, Megg Waltz in P-Flat: The Pine Gap Women's Peace Protest in Hecate January 1, 2010 available on-line at http://www.readperiodicals.com/201001/2224850971.html#b
- The Anti-Nuclear Campaign
- Donna Mulhearn and Jessica Morrison (6 October 2006). "Christian Pacifists Challenge Pine Gap In Court" (Press release). Scoop.co.nz. Retrieved 2007-02-24.
- Mike Head. "Australian court quashes convictions of protesters for entering US spy base".
- 1999 Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. An Agreement to extend the period of operation of the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap. Report 26. Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, October 1999.
- 2002 Craig Skehan, "Pine Gap gears for war with eye on Iraq. Sydney Morning Herald, 30 September 2002.
- 2002 MR: Australian Anti Bases Coalition http://www.anti-bases.org/pine_gap_Sept_2002_protest/protest_news.htm
- 2003 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Pine Gap. Retranscription of program broadcast on 4 August 2003.
- 2007 Pine Gap 6 http://pinegap6.livejournal.com/
- 2007 "Judge rejects Pine Gap house arrest bid" The Australian, 29 May.
- 2007 "Aussies eye BMD role" United Press International, 11 Jun.
- 2007 "Pine Gap protest linked to Iraq war, pacifists tell court" ABC, Australia, 5 Jun.
- 2007 Protesters get a wrist slap