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Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1999 23:04:17 -0600 (CST)
From: David Muller <davemull@alphalink.com.au>
Organization: South Movement
Subject: US Aussie spy base relevations-1
Article: 55309
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.18155.19990219061608@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

US Aussie spy base relevations

By Cameron Stewart, et al., in The Australian,
18 February 1999

Nuclear threat to outback listening post

By Cameron Stewart, New York correspondent

THE US compiled secret reports about the potential for the Soviet Union to launch nuclear, chemical and biological weapon attacks against the US spy base at Nurrungar, South Australia.

The content of the newly declassified US Air Force documents has never been made public in Australia.

The documents, cited in a book soon to be published in the US, reveal that as recently as 1991, Washington considered it possible for the Soviet Union to launch a vast array of deadly force against the base at Nurrungar.

The periodic studies, called Air Force Space Command Intelligence Threat Assessments, discussed possible attacks on the facility by intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, Soviet bombers, air-to-surface missiles or cruise missiles. They also examined the possibility of electronic, and chemical and biological warfare.

The existence of the threat assessments against Nurrungar was revealed in 1987 by leading Australian defence academic Des Ball in his book, A Base for Debate The US Satellite Station at Nurrungar. But a forthcoming book, America's Space Sentinels, by Jeffrey Richelson, a researcher with the National Security Archive in Washington, reveals that the US threat assessments were broader and more alarming than previously believed.

The US is believed to have started making the threat assessments, which included the possibility of nuclear attack at Nurrungar, in the early 1970s, shortly after the base was established as the US's prime early-warning facility to detect nuclear missile strikes against the US.

However, it was not until the early 1980s that the Hawke government acknowledged publicly that Nurrungar and Pine Gap did place Australia at some risk of nuclear attack.

New documents published in Richelson's book show that during the 1980s the Australian government did not always know how to respond to claims that Nurrungar was involved in president Ronald Reagan's Stars Wars initiative or that it was a part of the US's nuclear war plans.

When such allegations were raised in Ball's book, the then-defence minister Kim Beazley turned to the US to ask for help in formulating a detailed reply, according to air force documents cited by Richelson.

"The deputy chiefs of staff for plans and operations at Air Force Space Command headquarters took part in efforts to frame an American contribution to the document, which was planned for release to the Australian Parliament in September," writes Richelson.

However, the secret US Air Force Space Command documents reveal that Mr Beazley's reply was never released because "by that time public interest in the issue had begun to wane".

Richelson's book challenges the federal government's claim in the 1980s that Nurrungar and the related Defence Support Program did not play a part in the US's nuclear war fighting capability.

"DSP could only be considered to have no war-fighting functions is it was assumed that the system would be neutralised in a (Russian) first strike," says Richelson. "Any system that provided launch detection information during the course of the war would be used in conducting that war."

War role justifies history's questions

By Cameron Stewart, Analysis

THE secret US military files on Nurrungar show successive US governments believed that Australian politics and public opinion posed as much of a threat to the future of Nurrungar as did enemy missiles.

Fears that Australia might withdraw its permission for the US to jointly operate the missile early warning base near Woomera, South Australia, are a consistent theme in documents spanning 25 years which have been obtained by US National Security Archive researcher Jeffrey Richelson.

They show that the US Government at times during the 1970s and 1980s displayed a surprising lack of faith in the Federal Government's resolve to place security issues above domestic politics.

The documents indicate that as early as 1969, when construction on Nurrungar was about to start, the US Air Force was concerned about the "political hazards" of building "a large secretive installation in a foreign country".

The US concern reached its peak in 1974 when president Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to conduct a secret review of the security alliance with Australia after the re-election of the Whitlam government.

Nixon ordered the review following Gough Whitlam's decision to appoint prominent US critic and anti-Vietnam war campaigner Jim Cairns as deputy prime minister. As part of the review, Nixon told the CIA to examine "the prospects for keeping US defence installations in Australia and the policy options for trying to prolong their existence there".

That secret presidential order, first reported in The Australian in 1995, is cited by Richelson in his new book.

The documents suggest even the Hawke government, which fostered a close relationship with the US, did not fully convince Washington that Nurrungar's future was assured.

The decision by the US military to investigate the activities of Australian peace groups in 1989 is not the sort of action that would be deemed necessary if the US believed that those groups, and Australian public opinion, posed no threat to Nurrungar's operations.

Washington's worst fears concerning Nurrungar were never realised. The base will close next year after serving a useful, if controversial, life as the US's premier early warning station for detecting missile launches.

. . . The base helped save American lives during the Gulf War and contributed to nuclear deterrence during the Cold War. But, as Richelson points out, it may also have played an important part in the US's nuclear war-making plans a claim which alone justifies questions that have been raised about Nurrungar's role.

Too secretive for Nixon

By Cameron Stewart, New York correspondent

THE Nixon administration believed that the McMahon government in 1971 was being unnecessarily secretive about the role of the Nurrungar spy station because it was anxious to "avoid public debate" in Australia about the new base.

As a result, the US agreed to maintain tighter secrecy in Australia about Nurrungar than it did in the US.

The revelation is contained in newly declassified US Air Force documents to be published in a new book, America's Space Sentinels, by Jeff Richelson, a researcher at the National Security Archives in Washington.

A secret US Air Force space history records that the Australian Government at the time "tended to think of (Nurrungar's) security in terms of its political consequences as the ruling party (the McMahon government) confronted certain political realities in trying to conceal the purposes of a mysterious installation within its boundaries. Yet this concealment effort became increasingly tenuous as the American press with increasing frequency seemed to violate the security restrictions the Air Force had mandated for the US and the Australians".

When articles about Nurrungar's role began to appear in the US press, the US Air Force decided to ease its secrecy policy. However the McMahon Government feared that this change in policy could ignite political debate in Australia about the base.

The Air Force space history records: "In November 1970, at the time of the first satellite launch and when final negotiations were proceeding, the American press revealed the station's purpose, much to the embarrassment of the Australian government, which had not informed its citizens about Woomera.

"Hence while US officials wanted to relax security restrictions in order to facilitate site operation and construction, the Australians were anxious to retain secrecy so as to avoid public debate. Although the US eased program security at home in May 1971, it maintained restrictions in Australia for about a year afterwards."

Although the US was anxious to keep secret the precise location of Nurrungar, the easing of secrecy in relation to Nurrungar's role came from the US Secretary of Defence Melvin Laird who believed that the existence and purpose of Nurrungar needed to be known if it was to serve the purpose of nuclear deterrence.

The Air Force space history also reveals that the US believed Australian workers who were building Nurrungar did not appreciate the urgency of their task.

"Perhaps Australians were more relaxed and their workers and managers may not have felt the same sense of urgency that characterised US interest in building and operating the station," the document said. "(But) to the credit of Australian authorities they listened and agreed to co-operate fully in solving these problems."

The Air Force report said that the construction of Nurrungar "had to be handled carefully for a large secretive installation in a foreign country was not without political hazards".

Nurrungar played fateful role in Desert Storm tragedy

By Cameron Stewart, New York correspondent

AN oversight at the US-Australian base at Nurrungar during the 1991 Gulf War helped prevent the early detection of an Iraqi Scud missile attack in Saudi Arabia that left 28 US soldiers dead and more than 100 injured, according to a secret US military report.

A recently declassified US Air Force assessment found that ground operators at Nurrungar played a part in the tragedy, which the Air Force described as a "worst case combination of events".

The disaster happened on February 26, 1991 when an Iraqi Scud missile broke up above Dhahran and fell into a warehouse housing US soldiers.

US Air Force documents cited in a new book America's Space Sentinels by Jeffrey Richelson, a researcher with the National Security Archives in Washington show that Nurrungar received data from an orbiting satellite that detected the launch of the missile.

Documents cited in the book show that one US satellite had "good viewing" of the Scud launch and that this data was relayed to Nurrungar.

However, for some unknown reason, the satellite's data was being processed at Nurrungar in an off-line mode known as "hot shadow", which meant that it was not being monitored by ground operators.

A secret US Air Force investigation into the incident concluded that: "The overall result was that due to (a) worst combination of events, this launch was not reported (as a final missile warning report) by the composite (Defence Support Program) system in spite of the fact that sufficient data existed for the detection and reporting."

Nurrungar played an important role during the Gulf War by detecting Scud launches and giving US Patriot missile batteries early warning of an incoming Scud to allow them to destroy the missile before it reached its target.

US satellite telescopes swept the earth every 10 seconds, providing almost instant data on any Iraqi launch in cloudless conditions. Even in cloudy weather, the satellites would detect the launch once the Scud broke through the clouds.

This data would be sent to one of three international processing stations, including Nurrungar, which would then pass the information along to the North American Aerospace Defence Command in Colorado. That information would then be passed to the troops in the field. This process, from detection to final reporting, took an average of 3.3 minutes.

ASIO was in on it, says top analyst

By Robert Garran, Defence writer

THE US intelligence report on Nurrungar was passed to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defence, and may have gone as high as the US president, said leading Australian defence analyst Des Ball, who helped Jeffrey Richelson with his research.

Professor Ball, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra, said yesterday the investigation would have involved extensive co-operation with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

The American request for help would have been made through the US Air Force Space Command or through the American defence liaison officer at the US Embassy in Canberra.

Professor Ball said Nurrungar was crucially important to the US nuclear capability.

"There's only one place in the world that tells the Americans that their homeland is under missile attack, and that's Nurrungar," he said.

"Other systems come in as the missiles head towards the US. Ground-based radars pick them up after another 10 minutes, but there is only one place that provides warning at launch, and that's the Nurrungar satellite system."

The two Labor Government ministers most closely involved with US relations said yesterday they were not aware of the 1989 investigation.

Opposition Leader and former defence minister Kim Beazley said he had no recollecction of any specific secret investigation, but it would not surprise him.

Former foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans said he had "no knowledge whatsoever of any such exercise by the US Government".

A former senior government adviser closely involved with US relations said it appeared the American military had overreacted to the protests in the late 1980s. There had been considerable opposition to the US joint facilities early in the 1980s, but this had dissipated by about 1985.

The later protests involved only diehard activists with little community support.

He said he did not recollect the US investigation, which seemed to have been unnecessary and misplaced.

Professor Ball said he had some sympathy with the anti-Nurrungar protesters.

"In addition to being a warning facility, it's been critical to American war-fighting capabilities," he said.

"It's able to say this missile has now been fired from its silo, redirect yours over to these ones, and re-prioritise the whole American war plan.

"That's always troubled me, plus the fact that it's a nuclear target."

The Russians had never made any secret that they would attack Nurrungar even though this would remove the element of surprise, because it would make the Americans blind to the scale of the attack and other critical information, Professor Ball said.

Anger as activists' suspicions confirmed

By John Zubrzycki

PEACE groups and politicians yesterday expressed anger over reports that anti-bases activists were spied on by the US military and called on the Government to investigate whether Canberra knew of the covert US operation.

Thousands of protesters took part in demonstrations against US bases in the late 1980s and early 90s, including a confrontation at Nurrungar in which army troops were used against civilians for the first time in Australia's history.

According to Denis Doherty, co-ordinator of the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition and one of those arrested at Nurrungar, the report confirms the suspicions of many people in the peace movement

"Whenever we said anything about being investigated we were accused of being paranoid. This confirms what we have always believed that our phones were tapped and our demonstrations monitored," Mr Doherty said.

"If it can be proven that Australian defence and government agencies co-operated with the US and handed over information about people in the peace movement, then that constitutes a grave breach of privacy."

Former member of the Nuclear Disarmament Party and current president of the Australian Conservation Foundation Peter Garrett said the campaign by peace activists was largely low-key and did not represent a threat to US interests in Australia.

"Even if it was that serious, why shouldn't we be able to peacefully exercise political and social activism without the intrusive power of American intelligence peering at us from above?" Mr Garrett asked.

Anger at the US military bases in Australia, which were seen as potential targets in a nuclear confrontation, peaked in September 1989 when hundreds of demonstrators stormed through the fences of the Nurrungar defence installation 500km north-west of Adelaide.

At least four protesters made it as far as the base's main complex and a further 500 were arrested, causing alarm in intelligence circles in Canberra and Washington.

A contingent of 50 troops was called in to control the demonstrations and the then defence minister, Kim Beazley, ordered a review of security at the base to reassure the US its interests would be protected.

Mr Doherty said he believed the results of the security review were passed on to the US Air Force.

The Anti-Bases Coalition organised demonstrations at Pine Gap near Alice Springs and North West Cape in Western Australia, as well as in New Zealand and The Philippines.

West Australian Greens Senator Dee Margetts, who was co-ordinator of People for Nuclear Disarmament at the time of the protests, said the government viewed the peace movement with suspicion.

"The enemy was often seen as the enemy within and that basically was us," she said. "I'd like to see an inquiry, but I can't see the major parties wanting to display the part their respective governments played."

Veteran anti-bases campaigner and candidate for the Our Common Future party in the NSW elections Helen Caldicott described the report as "deeply worrying".

"We're sycophantic towards the US. We do whatever they want us to do," she said.