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"Move Along, There's Nothing to See Here"

Inside Pine Gap: The Spy Who Came In From The Desert - David Rosenberg

Since June of 1970, the American National Security Agency (NSA), has jointly operated a satellite communications station in Pine Gap, Australia, together with various Australian intelligence agencies. Security surrounding the facility is very tight, so the civilian world has little idea what specifically is done there, but the site has been controversial because of suspicions that it supports unpopular wars and/or may be involved in domestic spying in Australia and/or the USA.

 

The author, Mr. Rosenberg, is a 23 year veteran of the NSA, and spent sixteen years at Pine Gap as an electronic signals analyst, so I was hoping for more insights about what goes on inside. Unfortunately, the book is mostly a generic autobiography about an American who moves to Australia, and is filled with innocuous observations about kangaroos, Australian slang, and how hot it gets in the Outback in summer. Honestly, much of this book does not especially depend on the fact that Rosenberg works at Pine Gap for the NSA, and would probably have read exactly the same if he had moved to Alice Springs to work in a grocery store.

 

But then there are a few spots which are partly redeeming. We do at least learn:

 

1) ...that Pine Gap monitors foreign and domestic missile telemetry signals... the information missiles broadcast about their speed, altitude, course, etc which nations monitor as part of their arms treaty verification process.

 

2) ...how Pine Gap supported the first and second Gulf Wars, as well as NATO operations in Kosovo, by identifying certain kinds of radar used to guide surface-to-air missiles, GPS-jamming technologies, and ship and aircraft homing beacons. 

 

3) ...that Pine Gap's rural Australian location was selected because it is one of the few places in the southern hemisphere where the "footprint" of satellites beaming signals down to Earth does not fall into international waters (where a hostile government could legally dispatch a ship to record those broadcasts for future decoding and analysis.)

 

4) and that, due to the state of electronic and telecommunications technology in 1970, satellites of that era did not encrypt the signals they broadcast back to Earth. The necessary additional equipment would have been prohibitively heavy to place in a satellite.

 

Given that we now have satellites which can read license plates from space, and that armed UAV's (Unmanned Aeronautical Vehicles) [i.e. "drones"] have become a prominent feature in our "Global War on Terror", I suspect there is quite a lot that Mr. Rosenberg isn't telling here. There is zero mention about domestic spying, although I have to believe a satellite tracking station like Pine Gap might be involved in something like that. Instead, Mr. Rosenberg sees fit to devote thirty pages to complaining about the bureaucratic obstacles the NSA placed in his way publishing this book.

 

For what it's worth, Rosenberg has a nice enough narrative voice, and comes off as a personable guy who genuinely believes in his agency's mission, and who finally found true love with a lounge singer from Sydney... but who cares? If you buy a book called Inside Pine Gap- The Spy Who Came In From the Desert, it isn't because you want to read about some dude's love life.