An addendum to the long interview I posted last Friday with former prime minister Malcolm Fraser. Fraser argues in his new book Dangerous Allies that the US listening post at Pine Gap in central Australia, known as the 'joint facilities', has evolved from a surveillance base designed to monitor Soviet missile launches to one with an integral role in America's drone war.
Fraser said during our discussion that 'The drones that killed Australians in the Yemen were probably targeted out of Pine Gap. How do we feel about that? We're not meant to be at war with Yemen.' This is a reference to two Australians killed late last year in Yemen, reportedly during a US drone strike on five al Qaeda militants. Fraser argues that Australians working at Pine Gap who are involved in such targeting could be vulnerable to war crimes prosecution.
Now a retired Australian army officer who worked on the ADF's drone program has responded to Fraser's claims. These quotes from Lieutenant Colonel (Ret'd) Phil Swinsburg come from a report by the ABC's drone guru, Mark Corcoran:
To distil this down to an [Australian] corporal in Pine Gap being put on war crimes [charges] because of an intercept that he or she processed, and [which] is now somehow the executive authority for weapon release, is a little far-fetched, and shows the lack of regard Fraser holds [for] the general public in trying to create a situation when nothing exists...
...If Pine Gap is providing information to a higher-level targeting process, then this information would be fused with reports from many other facilities and agencies to complete an intelligence picture...I don't see how a single individual or facility could be singled out for legal prosecution when the targeting process is multi-step...conducted often over a long period of time with many hundreds of people involved...And I suspect a decision to engage targets in another country is not done from personnel at the Pine Gap facility, but somewhere else...
Well, this addresses the legal question Fraser raises, but there is also a strategic issue here: does Pine Gap's role in drone operations increase Australian complicity in US offensive operations, and thus tie Australia more closely to US foreign policy objectives? And is that a good or bad thing?
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.