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<nettime> Information War
McKenzie Wark on Wed, 26 Sep 2001 08:20:25 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Information War

Some interesting information here about signals intelligence and the 

Outback spy stations key to Australian role
By Marian Wilkinson
Sydney Morning Herald
26th September

The Prime Minister might be gearing up for a "khaki election" but defence 
experts say Australia's most critical contribution to the United States-led 
war on terrorism will be intelligence gathering.

"It is overwhelmingly more important than anything else we can do," said the 
former head of the Strategy Division of the Defence Department, Mr Allan 
Behm. "And it is directly supporting the US right now."

As the US attempts to pinpoint Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network in 
Afghanistan, the Pine Gap ground station in central Australia, operated 
jointly by US and Australian intelligence, is working overtime receiving 
huge quantities of radio communications.

This gathering of so-called "signals intelligence" or "sigint" sucks in 
everything from microwave links to some military radio and walkie-talkie 
transmissions from a spy satellite usually stationed over the mid-Indian 

"It's just a matter of where they point the antenna," said Dr Des Ball, a 
defence analyst.

The processed material is being fed to the US National Security Agency and 
could be used in the hunt for bin Laden and any military operations in 
Afghanistan. The intelligence could be used to identify targets for bombing 
raids and play a role in preventing bin Laden from activating other 

The Defence Minister, Mr Reith, alluded to these operations shortly after 
the terrorist attacks. But using signals intelligence to track bin Laden 
personally will be extremely difficult, according to Dr Ball, who has been 
examining the exiled Saudi's communications network.

"As far as we know he hasn't used a satellite phone since February 1999," 
said Dr Ball.

"Up until then he was using them quite regularly."

The satellite calls stopped three months after the first US cruise missile 
attack on bin Laden's bases in retaliation for the bombing of the US 
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

But there is evidence that, until recently, bin Laden's network was using 
email, Web sites and bulletin boards.

According to Dr Ball, this means a second base, the Australian Defence 
Satellite Communications Station near Geraldton in Western Australia, will 
also be vital because it can monitor email transmissions as well as 
telephone communications.

The close working relationship between Australian and US intelligence means 
that this co-operation can be "seamless", said Mr Behm. "It will far 
outweigh any other material support."

But Australia's contribution to the US campaign remains open-ended. Both the 
Prime Minster and Defence Minister are still refusing to rule out sending 
Australian ground troops to fight alongside US forces if Washington makes 
the request.

As a former defence planner, Mr Behm believes it is unlikely the US would 
commit a large number of ground forces to fight a war in Afghanistan this 

But speculation is growing that small units of US Special Forces will be 
sent into Afghanistan in the hunt for bin Laden and his network. Mr Howard 
has speculated on Australian Special Air Service squadrons assisting the US.

One SAS squadron, the counter-terrorism team, would not go as they are 
expected to play a key role in providing security for world leaders 
attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane next 

But defence analyst Mr David Horner believes two SAS teams could be sent to 
assist the US. Their most likely role would be to provide "search and 
rescue" operations for US pilots shot down in Afghanistan and they could be 
based in neighbouring Pakistan or the Central Asian

Australian SAS teams were sent to Kuwait in 1998 in this capacity when the 
US and Britain planned a second attack on Iraq. The attack was aborted and 
the SAS forces were brought home without seeing action.


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