Australia’s Pine Gap and the Global Kill-Net

Pine Gap cartoonOn the back of the “revelations” about the role of Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in the U.S.’ ongoing drone wars comes former Australian PM’s warning that Australians working at the U.S.-run Pine Gap facility could be liable for war crimes. According to him, “Initially Pine Gap was collecting information – it was, if you like, listening in. “It’s now targeting weapons systems. It’s also very much involved in the targeting of drones.”

The U.S.-led drone wars unite multiple actors, sovereignties, and infrastructures in a “kill-net” that is difficult–if not impossible–to accurately circumscribe. Instead, as I’ve elsewhere argued, what we’re seeing is the entrenchment of a global “Rule by Nobody” to use the phrase by Hannah Arendt.

As the former Liberal Party leader Malcolm Fraser explains, while Americans may have legal cover under the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which gives “totally unlimited power, no geographic limits, no time limits, using any means available,” the same resolution “gives no legal cover to Australians operating out of Pine Gap who are complicit in finding, identifying, locating the so-called target.”

Fraser’s comments comes after news in April that an Australian and New Zealander were killed in late 2013 in a drone strike in Yemen. The Australian government has remained silent on details of the attack.

Pine Gap is controlled by the CIA and NSA, with a team from the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)–the Defence Department’s signals intelligence agency. Pine Gap is a key facility in Washington’s XKeyscore program, the NSA’s controversial computer system that vacuumns vast amounts of internet data.

Back in July 2013, it was revealed that a primary function of Pine Gap personnel “is to track the precise ”geolocation” of radio signals, including hand-held radios and mobile phones, in the eastern hemisphere, from the Middle East across Asia to China, North Korea and the Russian far east.”

As the same news story went on, ”The [Taliban] know we’re listening, but they still have to use radios and phones to conduct their operations, they can’t avoid that,” one former Pine Gap operator told Fairfax Media. ”We track them, we combine the signals intelligence with imagery, and once we’ve passed the geolocation intell[igence] on, our job is done. When drones do their job we don’t need to track that target any more.”

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