Leaks reveal how Australia helps US spies

July 22, 2013
Pine Gap (pictured) is one of four Australian bases that monitors communications for the NSA.

“In God we trust, all others we monitor” — Interceptor Operators motto, NSA study, Deadly Transmissions, December 1970.

This chilling quote perfectly summarises the model from which the United States founded their Big Brother approach to intelligence, as more documents leaked by National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden show Australia plays a crucial role in the United States global surveillance operations.

The leaked documents and disclosures from Snowden identify four Australian intelligence bases that contribute to the NSA’s surveillance, as well as secret deals between NSA and Australian telecommunications companies that date back almost a decade.

Published in Brazil’s O Globo by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, the documents named four facilities used to store and transmit data to the US: the US-Australian Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory, the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Facility in Geraldton, Western Australia, the Shoal Bay Receiving Station in the NT, and HMAS Harman outside Canberra.

Fairfax recently reported on the creation of state-of-the-art Australian intelligence and data collection facility HMAS Harman, and confirmed Australian intelligence agencies were siphoning “huge amounts” of “immensely valuable” information from PRISM, Upstream, BLARNEY and other NSA programs.

Snowden told Der Spiegel that partners of UKUSA, or the “five eyes” agreement between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and NZ, have employed more stringent tactics in pilfering data, referring to the British “Tempora” program, which captures every single electronic communication within a three-day span.

Now in transitory limbo in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Snowden awaits a pending decision to grant him asylum in Russia. His request could be granted “any day now”, said his lawyer Anatoly Kucherna who also said Snowden feared for his life and wellbeing. “He is also afraid of torture, and that he could get executed. And what he says sounds quite convincing, because the US still administers capital punishment and torture.”

Australia’s general response to the revelations remains indolent. When questioned on Meet the Press, Foreign Minister Bob Carr, a notorious United States lapdog, insists Australians should not be concerned about NSA mass surveillance.

Despite our data being spoon-fed to the United States, official Australian indifference is echoed in a statement made by the Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrem: “The right to privacy is not absolute — it must be balanced against other important rights and ideals, such as freedom of expression and national security. In Australia, the federal Privacy Act and telecommunications laws recognise this and include a number of exemptions and exceptions for intelligence and law enforcement agencies and their activities.”

The NSA has claimed that PRISM and the tremendous influx of data mining and surveillance spawned as a response to the September 11 terror attacks, yet evidence suggests it existed more than seven months before the attack.

Former Qwest Communications CEO Joseph Nacchio claimed during his trial in 2007 that his refusal to comply with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program in February 2001 led to the government ceasing to offer the company contracts. He had been charged with 19 of 42 counts of insider trading and sentenced to six years in prison. He said the charges were also retribution on behalf of the government.

An NSA representative revealed on July 17 details to the US Congress of analytics used for spying, explaining the “third hop query” used to link people to terrorist organisations.

A hop refers to the link between a surveillance target or suspected terrorist and anyone who they have communicated with (in an indefinite span of time); two hops refer to anyone they have communicated with, and a third hop casts that out one degree further.

The system implies anyone within three degrees of separation to a suspected terrorist could be targeted by the NSA, having their telephone and internet data rifled through.

This revelation shows there is a much wider breadth of surveillance than previously suggested by documents leaked by Snowden, which mention a one or two hop query.

Silicon Valley tech giants, including several companies implicated in data surveillance through spying program PRISM, have sent a letter to the US government and the NSA, appealing for greater transparency.

Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, AOL and Yahoo! were among the near two dozen corporations, with lobby groups and investors, who signed the letter.

The letter called for regular transparency reports by the government. It said companies through which the information is sought should be able to publish them. This would include the number of requests for information on users sought and under which acts; the number of individuals, accounts and devices for which information was requested; and the number of requests for communications content/ subscriber information.

It seems a little too late for bread and circuses.

A three-month period during which the NSA could dragnet the data of Verizon customers was due to end on July 20. A secret court order allowed the agency to haul unlimited data from Verizon customers. It was immediately extended, the Guardian reported, saying the extension does not “make clear how long the extension lasts for, but it is likely to span a further three months”.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.