It is a piece of America. At least that's the vibe in the large cafeteria at the top-secret Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Half of the intelligence base's personnel are Australians, but American tastes dominate the menu, according to those who have dined there - burgers, hot dogs, doughnuts, pork ribs, french fries and milk shakes.
''You'd really have to watch your cholesterol levels,'' one member of Parliament observed after spending a day at the facility.
There is also a souvenir and gift shop, arguably Australia's most exclusive, since one effectively needs a top-secret clearance to visit. For American visitors there are the standard Australiana items: marsupial soft toys, boomerangs, pictures of Uluru. There are also mementoes of the facility: coffee and beer mugs, shot glasses, wall plaques, T-shirts and baseball caps bearing Pine Gap's motif of satellite orbits over Australia and motto ''unitas est fortitas'' (unity is strength).
Australia and the US are certainly united at Pine Gap. It is the crux of an electronic espionage alliance that is nearly five decades old. It is also the most secret place in Australia.
In a rare statement about Pine Gap to Parliament last month, Defence Minister Stephen Smith declared the Joint Defence Facility to be ''a central element of Australia's security and intelligence relationship with the US''.
Pine Gap is certainly impressive. The high-security facility is one of the largest satellite ground stations in the world. It controls and receives data from geostationary satellites that eavesdrop on a range of radio, radar and microwave signals. It also supports early-warning satellites that detect ballistic missile launches.
There are no fewer than 33 satellite antennas at Pine Gap, 18 covered by distinctive white domes. The number of domes and dishes has grown over the past decade and there has been a major program under way over the past three years to refurbish and expand what is referred to as the ''antenna farm''.
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