Mon. Oct 2nd, 2023
Echelon: The Australian Link to a Global Surveillance Project

For years, the global media has been uncovering the truth about Echelon, a covert surveillance project. However, it was an Australian journalist, Gary Adshead, who revealed its Australian component. Adshead received an anonymous letter that piqued his interest in the secretive world of telecommunications interception. The letter mentioned five large dome-shaped structures located near Geraldton, Western Australia, which played a significant role in Echelon.

The Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station, known as the Kojarena base, was commissioned in 1987 by former defense minister Kim Beazley. It was strategically positioned to monitor satellite communications in Australia’s area of strategic interest. The base, worth $150 million, began operations in 1993 and became part of a network of bases in New Zealand, England, the United States, and Canada. Its main purpose was to intercept satellite communications from countries such as China, Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea.

In addition to its role in global surveillance, the Echelon program also targeted ordinary citizens, using advanced data collection technology to search for intelligence-gathering keywords. Two journalists, Nicky Hagar and Duncan Campbell, uncovered this aspect of the program. In 2001, the European Parliament confirmed the existence of Echelon and raised concerns about threats to privacy and businesses due to its largely legislation-free operation.

Gary Adshead discovered the Australian connection through documents on a leaked intelligence material website called Cryptome. A draft EU report from 2000 named the Kojarena base as part of Echelon, prompting Adshead to investigate further. When he confronted Kim Beazley about Echelon, the former defense minister appeared surprised and asked how Adshead knew about it.

To get a closer look at the Kojarena base, Adshead visited the site in 2000. He observed the main operations center, which consisted of several interconnected buildings, as well as the large dome-shaped structures protecting the satellite antennas. The sheer size of the domes was captured in an aerial photograph, where a small van looked like a Matchbox toy next to the central dome.

Adshead’s investigation sheds light on the Australian involvement in the Echelon surveillance project. The revelations raise concerns about privacy and the extent of government surveillance on citizens.