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The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, located just outside the town of Alice Springs in Central Australia and managed by the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), is one of the largest US technical intelligence collection facilities in the world. Pine Gap today hosts three distinct functions and operational systems. Its original and still principal purpose is to serve as the ground control station for geosynchronous signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites. Secondly, since late 1999 Pine Gap has hosted a Relay Ground Station (RGS), which relays data from US missile launch detection/early warning satellites to both US and Australian HQs and command centres. Finally, Pine Gap appears to have acquired a FORNSAT/COMSAT (foreign satellite/communications satellite) interception function in the early 2000s.
Many Australians associate Pine Gap with the Central Intelligence Agency, and it probably remains the CIA’s most important technical intelligence collection station in the world. Yet Pine Gap is much more thoroughly militarised than in the past, with units of all four branches of the US armed forces now present, with close involvement in operations of the US military worldwide, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military personnel now comprise about 66 per cent of the US Government employees (not counting contractor personnel) at Pine Gap. US military Service elements form a Combined Support Group (CSG). Through the 1990s, the growing Service presence supported Pine Gap’s primary (and during that period its sole) role, that of controlling and processing and analysing SIGINT collected by the NRO/CIA geosynchronous SIGINT satellites. Since then, the larger proportion of the CSG personnel have evidently been engaged in FORNSAT/COMSAT (Foreign Satellite/Communications Satellite) collection. Officially, they are engaged in Information Operations, Cyber Warfare and the achievement of Information Dominance. In practice, this involves monitoring Internet activities being transmitted via communications satellites, scouring e-mails, Web-sites and Chat Rooms for intelligence to support military operations, and particularly those involving Special Operations Forces, in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are undoubtedly key participants in NSA’s X-Keyscore program at Pine Gap.