Date: Wed, 17 Feb 1999 23:04:17 -0600 (CST)
From: David Muller <email@example.com>
Organization: South Movement
Subject: US Aussie spy base relevations-1
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
. . . 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"There's only one place in the world that tells the Americans that
their homeland is under missile attack, and that's Nurrungar," he
"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
Opposition Leader and former defence minister Kim Beazley said he had
no recollecction of any specific secret investigation, but it would not
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
The later protests involved only diehard activists with little
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
Veteran anti-bases campaigner and candidate for the Our Common Future
party in the NSW elections Helen Caldicott described the report as
"We're sycophantic towards the US. We do whatever they want us to do,"