Australia: The US and Australia secretly signed an agreement in February 2008, for intensified co-operation and intelligence-sharing in the field of geointelligence (GEOINT) – geospatial intelligence derived from imagery and other information obtained from surveillance satellites and reconnaissance aircraft. This information has been revealed in a secret US embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks, The Age reported.
The cable reports that former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates signed a “statement of principles on geospatial intelligence co-operation” at a “closed session” of the February 2008 Australia-United States Ministerial Meeting (AUSMIN) in Canberra, Australia. According to the US record of the meeting, the agreement is designed “to take GEOINT co-operation to the same level that signals intelligence has reached between the two countries”.
The lead agencies involved in implementing the agreement are believed to be the Australian Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation at Russell Hill in Canberra and Bendigo in Victoria, and the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency with headquarters at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
The agreement provides the context for the federal government’s little-noticed decision, mentioned in the May 2009 defence white paper, to acquire an Australian spy satellite as a “high priority”. The federal government has released no further information, including the projected cost. US aerospace companies Boeing, Raytheon or Lockheed Martin are the most likely commercial partners in acquiring the satellite, which will be built and launched in the US. The operator of America’s spy satellites, the US National Reconnaissance Office, is believed to be closely involved with the Australian project, and the Australian surveillance satellite will probably form part of a constellation of similar satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office.
The US will have access to imagery collected by the Australian-owned satellite under the terms of the February 2008 GEOINT agreement. While Australia has specific intelligence priorities in relation to south-east Asia and Australia’s maritime approaches, including the early detection of illegal fishing and people-smuggling boats, an Australian surveillance satellite will also potentially acquire imagery of intelligence significance for the US and other US allies.
Depending on its orbital path, an Australian satellite could also contribute to strategic surveillance of countries including China, North Korea, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran and other parts of the Middle East.
Another leaked US embassy cable shows that a congressman involved in oversight of the US intelligence community, Republican Ray LaHood, told then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in January 2008 that “the US has no better friend on intelligence issues than Australia”
Source: The Age