Oh please, nobody disappears at Pine Gap.
News flash: not everything is on the internet . Pine Gap is covered in either the first or second book James Bamford did on the NSA. If you haven't
read any of his NSA books, I'd suggest "Body of Secrets", "Shadow Factor", and "Puzzle Palace" in that order.
Back in the day, there was both ELINT and comms over moon bounce. [Bouncing radio signals off the moon.] This predates the use of spy satellites. Pine
Gap was a handy location for some sort of ELINT. I would need to dig up the books for specifics.
Pine Gap is just once of may listening posts. The NSA, before it decided that spying on every person on earth was its mission, did SIGINT and to some
degree ELINT. For VHF and higher, you really need line of sight, so they NSA has listening posts in friendly countries (or countries that will be your
friend for money) that border our enemies (before it was determined that the entire world should be the NSA target). Iran back in the day. Turkey
today, etc. Maybe Snowden will leak all the facility locations.
Communication satellites have a footprint. They only cover a specific part of the earth. A geostationary satellite such as used for TVRO or VSAT, has
a static footprint. But the distance involved requires a powerful signal. Communcation systems used by civilians are networks of satellites that are
not geostationary, so the footprint is moving. But to hear a specific satellite, you need to be in the footprint. I suppose Pine Gap has some ability
to hear the Middle East birds, but I haven't investigated this.
The CIA used a large dish by Stanford University for Soviet era radar ELINT.
But back to the Middle East, it isn't much of a secret that the Thuraya network is sniffed by the NSA to locate terrorists or what passes for a
terrorist these days.
Thuraya satellte phone
If you look at the coverage map, they serve Africa, the Middle East, and Australia. Also not a secret is the individual phones have a GPS inside them,
so you can read the location of the user. This may help in satellite handoff, but it is also handy for Hellfire targeting. I'm guessing that even if
you are not in the footprint of the satellite the alleged bad guy is using, the locations of all users are broadcast on the network. This is probably
to aid the ground stations. If that guess is correct, then as long as Alice Springs can sniff one Thuraya, then know where all the users are
If you do a search that includes wikileaks and Thuraya, you can learn a bit more about the NSA capabilities in this regard. This was cutting edge news
in 2008, so I don't have all the details in my head 5 years later. Bamford's "Shadow Factory" goes into satellite phone intercepts.