Pine Gap is the commonly used name for a satellite tracking station approximately 18 kilometres (11 mi) south-west of the town of Alice Springs in the centre of Australia which is operated by both Australia and the United States. Since 1988 it has been officially called the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap; previously, it was known as Joint Defence Space Research Facility.
The facility consists of a large computer complex with 14 radomes protecting antennae and has over 800 employees. A long-term NSA employee at Pine Gap, David Rosenberg, has suggested that the CIA runs the facility.:pp 45-46
The location is strategically significant because it controls America's spy satellites as they pass over the one third of the globe which includes China, parts of Russia and Middle East oil fields. Central Australia was chosen because it was too remote for spy ships passing in international waters to intercept the signal.:p xxi The facility has become a key part of the local economy.
Operations started in 1970 when about 400 American families moved to Central Australia. In 1999, with the Australian Government refusing to give details to an Australian Senate committee on treaties, intelligence expert Professor Des Ball from the Australian National University was called to give an outline of Pine Gap. According to Professor Ball, since 9 December 1966 when the Australian and United States governments signed the Pine Gap treaty, Pine Gap had grown from the original two antennae to about eighteen in 1999. The number of staff had increased from around 400 in the early 1980s to 600 in the early 1990s and then to an expected 1,000. The biggest expansion occurred after the end of the Cold War.