Finally, some Snowden documents on Australia

A full four years after they were provided by Snowden to journalists, the first documents focused on Australia became available in August 2017 through a joint investigation by the ABC’s Peter Cronau and The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher.

While these documents were redacted by the journalists (Defence officials refused to engage when given an opportunity to suggest redactions), they make new information public about Pine Gap and Australia’s role in the Five Eyes, a signals intelligence collection and information sharing arrangement since 1947 between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The formalisation of a written agreement among the Five Eyes to share signals intelligence came well after relationships between these nations had been forged during WWII. Through breaking German and Japanese codes together and deploying the advantages arising from listening to the enemy, the five learned to trust each other with secret information and methodology. A strict code of secrecy held for almost 50 years about the breaking of the Enigma code. The existence of the Five Eyes itself was not officially confirmed for 36 years, when in 1983 on Australian television, the then Director of the Defence Signals Directorate admitted Australia cooperated in the UKUSA arrangement.

But what are signals the Five Eyes collect and share?

Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is not human intelligence (HUMINT), which is gathered by spies and human agents from infiltration, debriefings or interrogation. Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is intercepting information communications between people, such as mail, fax, radio, telephone and Internet. SIGINT also includes electronic intelligence (ELINT), or non-communications signals such as location tracking data and movement detection, traffic analysis patterns, radars that identify weapons systems and military assets, and electromagnetic radiation that identifies nuclear materials or detonations.

SIGINT is collected from listening posts like bases, satellite ground stations, satellites in space, ships, submarines, airborne platforms and devices that tap directly into land based telecommunications networks. Collection is also done covertly from consular and embassy premises as microwave communications networks usually converge in national capitals. With these tools and facilities scattered to cover the globe, and targeted on all satellites encircling the globe in space, the Five Eyes have access to enciphered and open communications as well as electronic emissions for decryption and analysis.

Edward Snowden patiently tried to explained the devastating power of SIGINT, initially to three aghast journalists in a Hong Kong hotel room, who have been trying to explain it to the public ever since. Snowden’s initial contacts – Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald – founded an independent media outlet, The Intercept, in part to drip out investigations arising from the Snowden cache. It’s slow work. The documents about Australia took a full four years to emerge, which is indicative both of the enormity of the archive, but also the relative importance placed on a facility like Pine Gap and a country like Australia.

So what is in the 5 redacted documents the ABC and the Intercept have let the public see?


Document 1: NSA Intelligence Relationship with Australia, dated April 2013

  • This Top Secret 3-page information paper was written just before Australia renamed it’s primary Five Eyes SIGINT agency in May 2013 from DSD to ASD, from Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) to Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).
  • It outlines what the NSA provides to the Partner (Australia) and what The Partner provides to the NSA concluding with success stories.
  • Australia is praised for its new holistic Cyber Security Centre and innovations in cyber policy, with that DSD has three cyber authorities: Computer Network Exploitation (CNE), Computer Network Attack (CNA), Computer Network Defense (CND).
  • The division of labour is outlined, with Australia, through Pine Gap (codename RAINFALL) and sites in Geraldton and Darwin solely responsible for reporting on, “multiple targets in the Pacific area, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore,” and contributes to US efforts on China, military operations in Afghanistan and performs functions for the military equivalent to the US Cyber Command.
  • The close collaboration between NSA and DSD has been particularly useful in providing cryptologic insight into Chinese targets, including through the DSD SPARTA campaign, an effort to, “counter Chinese theft of sensitive business information and technology”.
  • ASD also provides access to terrorism related communications collected from inside Australia, and on “virtually all subjects, particularly those related to the Pacific Rim.”
  • In return, “NSA shares technology, cryptanalytic capabilities and resources for state-of-the-art processing and analytic efforts.”
  • Australia is part of groups called “SIGINT Seniors Pacific, SIGINT Seniors Europe and the Afghanistan SIGINT Coalition, the members of which are usefully listed in footnotes in the document.
  • In the final section of the document on “Problems or challenges with the Partner,” the NSA lists, “none.”


Document 2: Mission 7600 and Mission 8300 Secret NSA program overview, dated 24 May 2005

  • This 3-page NSA document is marked Secret and was distributed to the US, Australia and UK.
  • We were never meant to know about Mission 7600 and Mission 8300. It is marked 25X1, which means it is exempt from automatic US declassification after 25 years. 25X1 is a grounds for not revealing a human source, a relationship with a foreign government or an intelligence method currently in use, available for use or under development.
  • Mission 7600 satellites are in geostationary orbits to provide near continuous coverage of Eurasia and Africa, sending unprocessed information to Pine Gap and Menwith Hill, with the bulk sent on directly to the NSA, with, “High priority COMINT data [is] forwarded in real-time to NSA” and some to Kunia (Hawaii). It was originally designed to collect FISINT (foreign instrumentation signals intelligence, or streams of data from instruments like missiles, satellites, remotely controlled robots, video data links from UAVs, tracking, aiming, command and arming systems) but is now 85% of the collection is of the high priority COMINT targets.
  • Mission 8300 comprises 4 satellites in geosynchronous orbit to collect, process, record and report SIGINT in support of US military combat operations, combat monitoring and early warning support to US forces.


Document 3: National Reconnaissance Office SIGINT guide, Secret, dated 24 May 2005

This one page document:

  • provides the classifications and terms for keeping any NRO involvement at Pine Gap a Top Secret. Repeated throughout the document are the words, “Note: No association with the NRO”;
  • The cover story for Pine Gap is provided. The existence of a cover story is Top Secret;
  • The precise words of the cover story ring very familiar: “The Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap (JDFPG) is a joint US/Australian defense facility whose function is to support the national security of both the US and Australia. The JDFPG contributes to verifying arms control and disarmament agreements and monitoring of military developments. The JDFPG is jointly staffed by US and Australian DoD civilians and members of the various military branches;”
  • Lists the Mission Ground Stations (MGS) throughout the world and details levels of secrecy. The final two, AMGS and JDFPG is Pine Gap. RAF MHS is Menwith Hill etc.


Document 4: Site Profile — RAINFALL, dated 23 August 2012, marked Top Secret

  • This detailed 11-page NSA paper distributed to all members of the Five Eye intelligence community is a full briefing on the ‘unique facility’ Pine Gap, with sections on Activity, Mission, Control, SIGINT production and management structure, SIGINT operational relationships, Training, Communications, Contingency and Readiness Planning, Security and References.
  • There are 3 divisions at Pine Gap: Support, Engineering, and Operations
  • The Chief of the Facility is accountable to the Director of the NRO, the Deputy Chief is a senior DSD official, the Chiefs of Engineering and Support are both NRO, and the Chief of the Operations is NSA
  • “RAINFALL will not be operated for any purpose without the Full Knowledge and Compliance FK&C of the Government of Australia (GOA).”
  • “The GOA has the right of access to the full product of the facility through procedures established in NSA/CSS-DSD agreements and practices. The U.S. and Australia agreed to the principles of FK&C in the 1976 Implementing Arrangement for JDFPG. FK&C is important so that the Australian Government can assure the Australian Parliament and the Australian people that all activities conducted at JDFPG are managed with the GOA’s full agreement and understanding.”
  • USJ-599 is the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Activity Designator
  • Mission components are
    (U) Foreign Instrumentation Signals Intelligence (FISINT)
    •          (U) Electronic Intelligence (ELINT)
    •          (U) PROFORMA
    •          (U) Communications Intelligence (COMINT)
    •          (U) SIGINT Development (SIGDEV)/Search and Survey
    •          (U) Support to Military Operations (SMO)
  • RAINFALL will, “Provide cryptologic service and support to authorized recipients in response to their requirements” and “Perform SIGDEV (systematic acquisition of new SIGINT sources) on all nature of signals in support of customer needs and requirements.
  • Specific Australian laws are listed and given status in RAINFALL operations, “RAINFALL must comply with both the Australian Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA) and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA Act), as well as other applicable DSD Compliance policies in all operations involving the production and handling of SIGINT. These provisions take precedence over any existing collection, processing, or reporting guidance.”
  • Pine Gap is responsive to “special customers”, “Using SIGINT systems and techniques, RAINFALL conducts data exfiltration operations to provide a communications path for special customers.”
  • A standardised reporting system known as STRUM is outlined, “The Collection Management Authority requires all Signals Analysis resources to produce standardized reporting vehicles (e.g., USSID DA3611, “Standard Technical Report Using Modules (STRUM),” dated 6 April 2006), and serialized technical documentation (e.g., monthly notes, Informal Technical Notes (ITNs), Telecommunications Information Reports (TELIRs), web-based technical reports, and signals analysis narratives).

Document 5: Classification Guide — NSA/CSS Activities at Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap, marked Secret, dated 3 September 2009

This document provides a security classification guide for facts that can be known about the activities at Pine Gap

  • Organisational designator is F78
  • Coverterm RAINFALL is unclassified
  • Its primary function is defined as: collecting, processing, analysing, forwarding and reporting SIGING received from the Mission 7600 and the Mission 8300 collection systems
  • The two NRO names for Pine Gap are disclosed, Australian Mission Ground Station (AMGS) = classified and Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap (JDFPG) = unclassified
  • Confidential for 25 years is
  • The fact of a SIGINT mission at JDFPG
  • The fact that the mission includes Signals Development work on a variety of       unspecified signals
  • The fact of off-line and on-line signals analysis on collected signals.
  • The fact that the Producer Designator Digraph(PDDG) for the NSA/CSS activity at        JDFPG is ZZ.
  • The fact that the SIGAD for the NSA/CSS activity at JDFPG is USJ-599.

– The fact that Pine Gap provides SIGINT support to NATO operations is classified SECRET