Society

Australia’s Own PRISM Facility

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In the quiet Canberra suburb of Harman, abutting the NSW border near Queanbeyan, is the Royal Australian Navy’s communications complex. In the quaint Navy way of naming shore facilities as if they are ships (the phrase is ‘stone frigates’) it is called HMAS Harman.

The Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) will be one of the main tenants in a new data centre being built at HMAS Harman. A number of contracts have been signed, including $11 million with John Holland for the building construction, which still stands empty.

The government said in its initial tender documents that the works would be completed by March 2013, and that the total cost of the project would be ‘in the order of’ $135 million’.

The DSD (motto – ‘Reveal their secrets – Protect our own’) is Australia’s equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA). That shadowy US body has made headline news this week since whistleblower Ed Snowden disclosed the extent of its spying operations on US citizens – the PRISM electronic surveillance program.

Such domestic and non-military snooping would normally be way beyond its brief, excepting that the all-encompassing powers handed to the US Government under the post-9/11 Patriot Act allow it to do just about anything it wants to do. And when governments are given power, they usually exercise it.

Fairfax Media is reporting unnamed sources as saying that Australia’s intelligence agencies are receiving ‘huge volumes of immensely valuable data” from US intelligence sources, including data gained through the PRISM program.

The report also says that the HMAS Harman facility is 8o% over budget, again quoting unnamed officials. There has been very little public disclosure about the facility, though a trawl through Government tenders and Defence statutory reports give shadowy glimpse of its construction. Google Earth shows the construction site, but when you zoom in too far the image reverts to an earlier version which shows bare dirt before construction commenced.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam is on the case. “Revelations from within Australia’s intelligence agencies have confirmed the Government is actively complicit in the United States’ surveillance of Australian citizens.

“The Australian Government has denied any knowledge of the NSA’s widespread online surveillance of people around the world since it was revealed by Edward Snowden. It is now clear that the ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ routine is a sham,” said Ludlam.

“The Australian Government was aware of the spying, and collaborating to circumvent due process through receipt of vast amounts of surveillance material from the US.”

Ludlum said he will push for the Government to produce documents to disclose the extent of its involvement.

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