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FEARS that Chinese spies could compromise the joint Australian-US intelligence operations at Pine Gap may have underpinned the Rudd Government's decision to reject OZ Minerals' (ozl.ASX:Quote,News) takeover by China Minmetals, according to the country's leading intelligence expert.
Des Ball, of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, said China would have the potential to intercept key satellite transmissions into Pine Gap from OZ Minerals' mine sites near Woomera in South Australia.
Ball described the operational area as containing three sections: Satellite Station Keeping Section, Signals Processing Station and the Signals Analysis Section, from which Australians were barred until 1980. Australians are now officially barred only from the National Cryptographic Room (similarly, Americans are barred from the Australian Cryptographic Room). Each morning the Joint Reconnaissance Schedule Committee meets to determine what the satellites will monitor over the next 24 hours.
With the closing of the Nurrungar base in 1999, an area in Pine Gap was set aside for the United States Air Force's control station for Defense Support Program satellites that monitor heat emissions from missiles, giving first warning of ballistic missile launches.