Australian activists break into Pine Gap spy facility

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Australian Federal Police (AFP) have arrested six people following a breach of security at the secretive Pine Gap Joint Defence Facility in central Australia on Friday.

The members of the group Christians Against All Terrorism (CAAT) breached base security at dawn and two of them infiltrated two perimeter fences and scaled a building, before being arrested. Two of the protesters photographed themselves atop a building inside the spy base.

A Northern Territory police spokeswoman said three men and two women had been charged over the incident while another woman would be summoned to appear in Alice Springs court next week over obstructing police. The spokeswoman said the activists had allegedly cut holes in the external and internal fences at the defence facility. She said the combined charges carried a maximum penalty of seven years jail.

The group claims it was the first break-in of its kind at Pine Gap. The group spoke yesterday of their efforts to conceal a digital camera memory stick in the clothing of key members to avoid the images being confiscated by police.

Four of the protesters are from Queensland, one is from New South Wales, and the other is from Victoria. They say they wanted to conduct a citizens inspection of the controversial Pine Gap facility. "We could not allow the US and Australian governments to continue to conceal the role of Pine Gap in the ongoing war in Iraq," said Sean O'Reilly of the group. "It's time the Australian public knew the reality of what is happening on our land."

Group member Jessica Morrison claims there is a lot of secrecy surrounding the facility. "So for me it was an attempt to come to a place that I think propagates death and start to proclaim truth," she said.

Two of the group were released on bail facing charges, including: unlawfully entering a prohibited area destroying or damaging Commonwealth property; trespassing on Commonwealth land; damaging property under the NT law. A sixth member was arrested for aiding and abetting but was released without charge.

Up to 30 police officers were stationed at a roadblock at the turn-off to Pine Gap at 6:00 a.m. local time and Gap staff were ordered to remain in their cars at the roadblock.

CAAT member Brian Law, said four of the group split into two groups and entered the base in a co-ordinated movement. He said four members walked 10km through thick scrub and entered the base at 4:00 a.m. local time. Mr Law and the fourth member arrested, former human shield Donna Mulhearn, 37, (taken hostage by militants in Fallujah in Iraq last year) were released.

Mr O'Reilly said the group conducted a citizens' inspection in protest at Pine Gap's involvement in the ongoing war in Iraq after the group had been refused official entry by Defence Minister Robert Hill. "We could not allow the US and Australian governments to continue to conceal the role of Pine Gap in the ongoing war in Iraq," Mr O'Reilly said.

It was unclear last night whether the group would be charged under the Federal Government's tough new anti-terror laws. They were bailed to face the Alice Springs Magistrates Court next Wednesday.