United States intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has provided his first disclosure of Australian involvement in US global surveillance, identifying four facilities in the country that contribute to a key American intelligence collection program.
Classified US National Security Agency maps leaked by Mr Snowden and published by US journalist Glenn Greenwald in the Brazilian O Globo newspaper reveal the locations of dozens of US and allied signals intelligence collection sites that contribute to interception of telecommunications and internet traffic worldwide.
The US Australian Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs and three Australian Signals Directorate facilities: the Shoal Bay Receiving Station near Darwin, the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Facility at Geraldton and the naval communications station HMAS Harman outside Canberra are among contributors to the NSA's collection program codenamed X-Keyscore.
HMAS Harman is well connected. Photo: Andrew Meares
The New Zealand Government Security Communications Bureau facility at Waihopai near Blenheim also contributes to the program.
X-Keyscore reportedly processes all signals before they are shunted off to various "production lines" that deal with specific issues and the exploitation of different data types for analysis - variously code-named Nucleon (voice), Pinwale (video), Mainway (call records) and Marina (internet records). US intelligence expert William Arkin describes X-Keyscore as a “national Intelligence collection mission system”.
Pine Gap is part of the network.
The documents published by O Globo show that US and allied signals intelligence collection facilities are distributed worldwide, located at US and allied military and other facilities as well as US embassies and consulates.
Fairfax Media recently reported the construction of a new state-of-the-art data storage facility at HMAS Harman to support the Australian signals directorate and other Australian intelligence agencies.
In an interview published in the German Der Spiegel magazine on Sunday, Mr Snowden said the NSA operates broad secret intelligence partnerships with other western governments, some of which are now complaining about its programs.
Mr Snowden said that the other partners in the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance of the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand “sometimes go even further than the [National Security Agency] people themselves.”
He highlighted the British Government Communications Headquarters “Tempora” program as an example:
“Tempora is the first 'I save everything' approach ('full take') in the intelligence world. It sucks in all data, no matter what it is, and which rights are violated by it. ... Right now, the system is capable of saving three days' worth of traffic, but that will be optimised. Three days may perhaps not sound like a lot, but it's not just about connection metadata. 'Full take' means that the system saves everything. If you send a data packet and if makes its way through the UK, we will get it. If you download anything, and the server is in the UK, then we get it.”
Mr Snowden also argued that the “Five eyes” partnerships are organised so that authorities in each country can "insulate their political leaders from the backlash" when it became public "how grievously they're violating global privacy".
The Der Spiegel interview was conducted by US cryptography expert Jacob Appelbaum and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras via encrypted emails shortly before Mr Snowden revealed himself publicly as the source of leaks of highly classified information on US signals intelligence and surveillance programs.
Another US NSA whistle-blower William Binney also recently disclosed that Australia was involved in the trial of an earlier US-designed Internet traffic interception and analysis program codenamed "ThinThread".
Other countries involved in the trials were the UK, Australia and Germany a decade ago. ThinThread was not adopted but Australia has also been directly involved with later collection programs codenamed "Trailblazer", "Turbulence" and "Trafficthief".
The US government has charged Mr Snowden with offences including espionage and revoked his passport.
He has been stranded at a Moscow airport for two weeks after leaving Hong Kong where the US Government has sought his extradition.
Three Latin American countries, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, have now offered Mr Snowden political asylum after European Governments last week denied their airspace to a plane carrying the Bolivian president Evo Morales home from a conference in Moscow after the US State Department alleged that the former US intelligence contractor was on board.
Russian officials have publicly urged Mr Snowden to take up Venezuela's asylum offer. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said on Sunday that his government had not yet been in contact with Mr Snowden.
Mr Jaua said he expected to consult on Monday with Russian officials. Mr Snowden is being assisted by the anti-secrecy organisation, WikiLeaks.