The Secret History of Pine Gap
By Tom Gilling
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781760528430
Much has been written about the Joint US/Australian Defence Facility established at Pine Gap near Alice Springs in 1966 but its inner workings still remain a secret kept from the Australian public.
It was originally claimed to be a Joint Space Research Facility but it was, in reality, a spy base operated by the CIA and ‘joint’ in that the only Australians working on site were employed as gardeners, builders, chefs and drivers.
In 1966, at the height of the Cold War, Pine Gap was an essential element in tracking Soviet missiles and monitoring their missile tests. This of course made it a Soviet target, as Gilling explains, in the event of a nuclear conflict between the two superpowers.
Despite this possibility, federal parliamentary committees continued to be frustrated by Australian government secrecy.
Since the break-up of the Soviet empire, Gilling writes that “… Pine Gap has become a vital cog in the American military machine, providing real-time battlefield information to commanders on the ground and locating targets for assassination by US drones …” in the Pentagon’s ‘war on terror’.
Not that this change of focus has resulted in a relaxation of the secrecy surrounding the base.
In February 2019, then Defence Minister Christopher Pyne assured Parliament that the base made a “crucial contribution to global stability” while noting that “as a matter of longstanding practice, the government did not comment on intelligence matters”.
In other words, nothing has changed since 1966.
Gilling has relied on the research of others, especially the late Professor Des Ball, to examine the history of this contentious facility.
But its deepest secrets remain exactly that – secret.
VERDICT: A chilling insight