MILITANT PROTEST AT PINE GAP WARBASE
- Lindy Nolan & Murray Horton
On May 12, 1996, US Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright was asked on CBS’s 60 Minutes, “More than 500,000 Iraqi children are already dead as a direct result of the UN sanctions. Do you think the price is worth paying?” Albright replied: “It is a difficult question. But, yes, we think the price is worth it”. Six months later she was appointed US Secretary of State.
In 2003, the US, aided by Australia, invaded and occupied Iraq. In reward for that, the US accorded it special “non-NATO ally” status (along with Egypt and now the Philippines). As far as Australia and the US are concerned, the ANZUS Treaty still exists (minus New Zealand, of course) and there is an extensive programme of exercises and exchanges between the two. The Australian military is fully integrated into its US Big Brother – Australian staff work at the US Central Command in Colorado and Pacific Command in Hawaii. In June 2003, it was announced that Australia is ready to allow the US military to conduct its own training operations within Australia, involving the permanent basing of military equipment there, along with the construction of infrastructure. The Government is prepared to expand facilities for US Navy ship crews to be rotated through Australian ports and to set up joint exercises with US forces. This substantial expansion in military cooperation could result in thousands more American troops training and “transiting” through Australia.
However, Australia’s greatest contribution to American warmongering is not to be found in the troops and aircraft it sent to Iraq, but in the arid lands near Alice Springs.
Pine Gap, a joint US-Australian facility, is one of the most important military bases in the world. According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s defence correspondent, Craig Skehan, in 2002, it shifted its focus “to intelligence gathering in Iraq, including target identification…Well-placed sources say Pine Cap will also be able to directly transmit in Iraq during a conflict. This
would include directing the firing of missiles and the dropping of bombs,” wrote Skehan.
“Australia is already an integral part of US global strategy through the Pine Gap satellite listening station near Alice Springs, a Cold War-era installation that has gained new significance since the first Gulf War, terrorism and the fraught development of the missile shield. Since the 1991 war, Pine Gap has been expanded significantly. It has doubled its number of ground radars to 26 (it has 14 radomes, compared to Waihopai’s two. Ed.), increased its staff and extended its role beyond collecting raw data to processing and analysing. This has immediate application for the present war. Since 2002, Pine Gap has placed increasing priority on Iraq, enabling it to locate, identify and target enemy missiles and installations for commanders in the field” (New Zealand Herald, 22-23/3/03, “A Man Whose Future Is On The Line”, Greg Ansley. The man in question is Australian Prime Minister, John Howard).
Pine Gap is able to detect any missiles launches, not only making it critical to the missile defence systems of America’s Middle Eastern allies, but also placing it at the heart of the developing Star Wars scheme. Star Wars, or National Missile Defense (NMD) Shield, is despite its name, an aggressive not a defensive system. It aims to make the USA safe from retaliation after a US nuclear first strike, and to enable the US to dominate space.
As part of the same doglike devotion to the US that saw him send Australian forces to wage war on Iraq, Howard has signed on for Australia to become part of President George Bush’s “Son Of Star Wars” (NMD – the original Star Wars was mooted during the 1980-88 Presidency of Ronald Reagan), despite the opposition this has aroused in China and France, and from the Labor Party. Howard claims it is essential to defend Australia from attack from North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles. “Now I am amazed that the Labor Party is against doing even that. I am just flabbergasted because we are dealing here with the defence of Australia” (Press, 1/3/03; “Howard defends missile plan”). New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, joined those expressing concern about Howard’s proposal, saying that “this whole approach undermines the international balance” (Press, 1/3/03; “PM concerned about Aust missile-defence plan”).
New radomes have been built at Pine Gap for the NMD satellites. They are connected to a new early warning system called the Space Based Infra-Red System (SBIRS). Bush has ordered the global system to be operational from 2004, despite the continued failure of tests to prove that it will ever actually work. In February 2003, the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation concluded that the Missile Defense system “has yet to demonstrate significant operational capability” (annual report, quoted in Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition Bulletin, April 2003). The other key Star Wars surveillance bases are in Britain (Fylingdales and Menwith Hill), Greenland (Thule) and Alaska (Clear).
As of March 2002, Pine Gap had 876 personnel (428 Americans and 448 Australians). The joint facility receives intelligence information from three satellites over the Indian Ocean, which will soon be joined by a satellite over Indonesia. It provides detailed intelligence information on the Middle East, the Pacific and Asia. Pine Gap locks Australia firmly into the US military machine. Australian prime ministers have for 30 years refused to say what happens at Pine Gap. This includes Labor’s Gough Whitlam who was sacked, in 1975, the day before he was to answer a question on notice in Parliament about one of Pine Gap’s then key operatives, the US Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Stallings. What a testimony to Australia’s lack of genuine independence that such a facility has existed for so long.
In early October 2002, 500 people converged on Pine Gap to oppose this war base. 100 locals joined them. A few travelled from Spain and the USA in solidarity. Protest buses came from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide and Perth. It was hot, it was dusty and the police had set up their roadblock nearly two kilometres from the gate. The base, as always, was well hidden.
Little kids and octogenarians made that walk on Saturday and Sunday. There were ferals* and teachers, accountants and pensioners. Rows of cut-out Darth Vaders outflanked the police, dangerous in white. Cheerleaders, replete with pom-poms chorused their support for war led by the good ole’ Stars and Stripes. *I asked Lindy to define this previously unknown species of Australian. Her reply: “I don’t know any other word for ferals except ferals. I guess they’re hippies with a harder edge”. Ed. And a man on the back of an out-of-control emu* charged police lines. * I asked Lindy to clarify this. “As for the emu, it was actually a man, much like the old music hall skits, with his legs forming the emu’s legs and a pair of pretend legs riding off the pretend emu body. I can only say it made the protesters laugh hysterically and the police freak as he charged, trying to get the emu under control. He was a very clever actor!”. Ed. Paramilitary drills, guttural “Move! Move!” were met with irony and high spirits.
Some were thumped and thrown and pinched on pressure points as they sat or danced to block the change of shift, others as they simply walked down the road. Some who tried to be arrested, gently pushing Gandhi-like against the police’s thick leather gloves were left, others were DNA-tested and charged with weapons offences – for having paint bombs! Five of the Western Australian crew managed to photograph the white domes of the base after an overnight, overland walk, only to be caught on the way out. Another mob worked round the clock building a flying saucer, which, set alight, formed part of the dance party blockade. The police destroyed it, and badly damaged the van to which it was attached.
What held such a diverse group together? Many things: commitments to peace and Australian sovereignty and revulsion that we should be dragged into yet another war to defend US economic interests. For this writer it was also a desire for genuine Australian independence, something we are clearly yet to win.
The protest was organised by the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition, Box A899, Sydney South, NSW 1235, Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org Extensive details about Pine Gap can be found on its Website www.anti-bases.org There is a longstanding New Zealand connection to Pine Gap. US Air Force aircraft carry vital supplies en route to Pine Gap via the USAF base at Christchurch Airport (under the umbrella of it being an Antarctic logistics support base). Thus Christchurch Airport, or Harewood, is a vital cog in the chain of US military and spy bases throughout the Asia Pacific region. The Pine Gap connection is one of the main reasons that the Anti-Bases Campaign calls for the demilitarisation of Christchurch Airport. For details on Harewood, visit the Other Bases page of our Website http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/other_bases.html