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Snowden's Australian 'revelations' are old news

Details of Oz NSA presence were documented ages ago

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Edward Snowden's leaks have alerted the world to a serious issue: the extent of government spying in societies that supposed themselves to be free. That does not, however, mean that every word he says to Glenn Greenwald is news.

Behind the star-struck reposting of whatever passes from Snowden to Greenwald is a lot of stuff that was already either on the record, or at least strongly suspected.

For example, there's this story in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Snowden reveals Australia's links to US spy web”.

A replay of an article in O Globo, the SMH piece tells us that Snowden has revealed that Pine Gap – more properly called the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap – Darwin's Shoal Bay Receiving Station, the Defence Satellite Communications Facility at Geraldton, and Canberra's HMAS Harman communications facility.

“The US Australian Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs and three Australian Signals Directorate facilities: the Shoal Bay Receiving Station near Darwin, the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Facility at Geraldton and the naval communications station HMAS Harman outside Canberra are among contributors to the NSA's collection program”, the newspaper states.

The problem Vulture South has with this wide-eyedness is simple: in three out of four of the above cases, the co-operation between Australia and the USA was well-known, and the facilities were already named as having an association with the National Security Agency.

Those three facilities are:

  • Pine Gap (discussed in detail by ex-NSA spook David Rosenberg in his 2011 book Inside Pine Gap: the spy who came in from the desert;
  • Shoal Bay and Geraldton, among a group of facilities associated by then DSD director Martin Brady in 1999 as sources of cooperative collection with the NSA in this article reposted from The Age.

Only HMAS Harman wasn't already named in the press as an NSA source facility – and given its nature, it hardly rates as news. As for Pine Gap, the facility's association with signals intelligence has been accepted for decades, not least thanks to the Midnight Oil 1982 song "The Power and the Passion's lyric "Flat chat, Pine Gap, in every home a Big Mac."

Vulture South has followed Snowden's story with interest, but also with growing irritation at what seems to be a stage-managed process: the leaker adds another “revelation”, Glenn Greenwald publishes it without checking whether it represents new information, and a thousand outlets churn the story without troubling Google. ®

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