Tanter, Richard: Pine Gap history – dogged by censorship and dereliction of duty

Richard Tanter

Pine Gap history – dogged by censorship and dereliction of duty‘, Pearls and Irritations, 14 November 2019

Melbourne University academic and peace activist, Richard Tanter, looks at a release of heavily redacted official papers relating to Pine Gap.

What the 1997 submission [to the Howard coalition cabinet in September 1997 to allow the establishment of a Joint Australia-United States Relay Ground Station (RGS) at Pine Gap] appears to not discuss is the critical offensive role of the DSP and SBIRS satellites, and hence the RGS, in U.S. plans – far beyond deterrence – for nuclear war fighting. The DSP satellites – and the SBIRS satellites even more so – not only provided the U.S. with warning of missile launches against the United States, but also identified the locations of land-based intercontinental ballistic missile launch sites with sufficient accuracy to enable US planners to ascertain the specific silos that had launched attacks – and which not …

Faced with the redactions in the 2019 declassified publication, we do not know whether cabinet was willfully misinformed by the omission of such matters, or whether there was some such reference that was censored in the 2019 publication. The first would be a matter of abandonment of responsibility and the second wholly unjustifiable …

Overall, the submission, at least as published in 2019, provides few grounds for accepting the ministerial submission’s claim, repeated subsequently, that an Australian government would be in a position to assure the Australian public that arrangements for oversight of the Relay Ground Station could properly address the consequences of hosting the Pine Gap facility. Without any doubt, these include the possibility of drawing Australia into culpability for assisting with the use of nuclear weapons for nuclear war-fighting.

We recommend that readers go to the complete Tanter article. The article was read in draft by Paul Barratt, former Defence Department secretary and now advocate for war powers reform. There are links to the released papers, to a longer report by Tanter for the Nautilus Institute, and to earlier papers on Pine Gap. See also the recent book by Ian Gilling, Project Rainfall, including review for Honest History by Richard Broinowski. Note that Pine Gap existed long before 1997 (since 1970). Tanter wrote about Pine Gap in 2016. Kieran Finnane in Pearls and Irritations foreshadows her imminent book on Pine Gap.

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