Pine Gap Four to face trial


On May 29, an unpredictable drama will begin. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock will try to overcome a series of embarrassing blunders by the entire Australian chain of command at the joint Australia-US Pine Gap spy base in the Northern Territory, and four activists will face trial in Alice Springs for entering a prohibited site.

The blunders arise from the government's mishandling of a peaceful protest in December 2005 at Pine Gap. They include the response by the chain of command and its officers to the prior notification and eventual inspection of Pine Gap by four members of Christians Against ALL Terrorism (CAAT).

The chain begins with ex-defence minister Senator Robert Hill and goes all the way down. Ruddock will use a law against the four protesters that has never been used before — the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act of 1952, a response to Cold War paranoia about Russian spies sabotaging Australian defence facilities.

After writing to Hill, camping in front of the gates and telling the authorities they would conduct a citizens' inspection of the base for evidence of terrorist-related activity, the protesters walked unchallenged into the base on December 9.

Their action was a result of PM John Howard's refusal to listen to the majority of Australians who did not consent to the invasion of Iraq.

One of the protesters, Donna Mulhearn, had witnessed the indiscriminate death and injuries to innocent non-combatant Iraqi citizens caused by weapons guided from Pine Gap. According to Dr Michael McKinley, strategic analyst at the Australian National University, Pine Gap is "in relation to identifying specific targets ... much more significant than any sending of Australian soldiers".

In the face of a lying government and a complicit corporate media, what course of action could citizens take? CAAT decided to focus public attention on the secrecy surrounding the role of Pine Gap. The activists did not attempt sabotage or disrupt its operations. Their intention was a political provocation to make the Australian government admit the facts.

What CAAT could not anticipate were the authorities' bungles.

As well as being able to walk into Pine Gap, the CAAT activists walked out — with some innocuous photos of themselves on the roof. It was only after the photos had been published in several newspapers that the authorities declared their actions illegal. By then, the cat was out of the bag and more bungles were to follow. When the protesters asked for transcripts of their interviews, they were sent CCTV footage of secret areas and the names of secret agents.

Just how will this play out? Will CAAT catch the Australian government telling more lies, making more blunders or both? Will the politicians use legal technicalities to silence CAAT? Will the judge and jury, smelling a rat, demand the truth come out?

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