Federal Police uses drone to spy on tourists


Last updated 10.57am 16 July 2019.
Australian Federal Police from Pine Gap used a drone to spy on tourists visiting a conservation area under the control of the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission and later demanded from the group identification, and to know what they were doing there.
The area is called Kuyunba, and a sign (pictured below) invites visitors to enjoy and respect this area of “ritual importance” to the Arrernte people.
The information comes from someone the Alice Springs News considers to be a highly reliable source.
A reader has previously reported being surveilled by a drone at this site.
Entrance to the reserve is off  Hatt Road leading to Pine Gap, just before the sign indicating that the US spy base lies ahead and telling visitors to turn around.
The group of tourists was also confronted on the ground by officers of the Federal Police, which is embroiled in an international controversy about its actions against Australian journalists.
The Alice Springs News today asked the Federal Police to comment. We emailed them at 11:19am and asked them to confirm that the confrontation with the tourists had taken place.
“If so under what legislation were the officers acting?” we asked.
“In what areas do they have the power of surveillance and to demand information from members of the public – i.e. can they do that anywhere in Alice Springs?”
We had no reply at the time of publication but we will publish any statement provided as an update.
The News is also asking Tourism Central Australia to comment.

UPDATE July 19, 7:05pm


We emailed this to the Australian Federal Police at 11:19am on July 15, more than seven hours before publication:


“A group of tourists visited the Kuyunda Conservation Reserve a few days ago, a Northern Territory Reserve which of course offers public access.
“The reserve is in the vicinity of Pine Gap. 
“The group observed a drone above them and were confronted by Federal Police officers who demanded to be given names and information about what the group was doing there.
“Is that true?
“If so under what legislation were the officers acting?
“In what areas do they have the power of surveillance and to demand information from members of the public – i.e. can they do that anywhere in Alice Springs?
“We are an online newspaper which is constantly on deadline. Please respond urgently.”
There were several emails between then and now, available upon request.
Today at 10:49am we received this: “AFP members did not request identification and information from anyone in the vicinity of Pine Gap as alleged in your questions. The claims are not true.
“The AFP does not comment on the specifics of its protection obligations and activities at Pine Gap.”
At 5:16pm today we received this from AFP: Erwin, [responding to the current version of your story]:
“We have told you this is factually incorrect and did not happen, yet it is still on your website.”
The Alice Springs News is now pursuing the possibility that another entity – such as a private security firm – is checking who enters this reserve. Our enquiries suggest that this is not the case.
So, who sent a drone to surveil the group of  visitors to the reserve and who were the uniformed personnel who approached them and on what authority? We have no doubt about the credibility of our source.
We will keep you posted.


  1. My parents always loved that place even before Pine Gap was built.
    Native Pine canyon it is also known as.
    Every time we use to go there for a BBQ years ago the spooks from Pine Gap would quickly show up, always wondered how they knew we were there.
    Use to be lots of Aboriginal rock paintings but most have been removed.
    Basically the rock with the art has been chiselled off which is a cultural tragedy.

  2. A number of years ago when I was down at Kuyunba I happened to look up towards the Pine Gap direction while standing in the car park and realised I was looking straight at a camera.
    It was mounted in a pretend rock outcrop some distance from the carpark.
    It was purely a fluke that my eyes found it, if you weren’t looking for it you wouldn’t probably see it.
    All the family could see it when I pointed it out. It’s probably not there anymore as more sophisticated and smaller technology would now be available. And if it was I bet they remove it pretty quickly.
    We all waved and left.

  3. I was confronted by AFP there as well, on my own, taking some photos in the park.
    They know you’re there as a spy camera on the rocks to the west is aimed at the only parking spot in the carpark.
    A satellite is also above and they also know when you turn into Hatt Road from the Stuart Highway.
    So much for tourism.

  4. The DCOF of the day told me 15 years ago that under the Defence Undertakings Act they “have the power to question anyone anywhere anytime”. But are the current inquisitors AFP or contracted security?

  5. Visitors to Kyunba have been asked for names and ID for a long time. My understanding was that it was security, not AFP.
    The use of a drone is a new but probably inevitable extension.

  6. Ah, so they’re still at it. On the two occasions I have been there, my peace was destroyed by similar demands to produce my driver’s licence … which I refused to do.
    My subsequent complaint to Parks and Wildlife drew results, and for a time they backed off. Perhaps another official complaint would be timely?

  7. The various times I visited Kuyunba, it was always a pair of AFP officers who turned up, within a couple of minutes of my arrival.
    Once they even appeared as I was leaving, offering the rather dubious explanation that since I had been there for some time they were “concerned that I may have been lost”.
    It doesn’t say much for the level of sophistication of tasks assigned to Australian staff at Pine Gap.

  8. Years ago, possibly between 1986 and 1992, I often went there with my old mother, just to have a little walk in a very pretty place, special trees, and observe the rock painting there. No, we were not stopped by any security guard or AFP. But things are changing fast in Alice Springs and around, and not for the better.
    THEY (whoever they are!) see the enemy everywhere, when people are still genuinely minding their own business without any “negative” intentions.

  9. Crikey! You used to be able to visit the conservation reserve and picnic at the tables and seats right near the base security gate.
    Long before the new Turnback sign we used to ride from Alice to the gates and return, a good 50km workout.
    A few years ago a friend of mine was on a walk with other members of the Alice Field Nats when approached about what they were doing in the conservation reserve, not taken kindly.
    Who draws the boundaries, how do they get extended? Get stuck into them Erwin, more power to your arm.

  10. It was a very popular spot for weekend BBQs 50 years or so ago, out of town, peace and quiet, reasonably easy to get there, out of sight, out of mind.
    Dropped in there some months ago for a look, first time for years.
    Wasn’t even sure how to get there again. Feds turn up within a few minutes of pulling up with the usual questions, Who? Why? Where etc. Your rego is out of date!
    It was several weeks over so a trip via MVR on the way home. They come in handy for the odd things in life.

  11. It wasn’t so long ago every one was questioning why drones were use more often in the locating of tourist in the national parks.
    Here we have one with a free service. Should we not be thanking them for this service to the tourism industry and looking after a significant site to the locals as well?
    It has been due to all the destruction over the years of all the protestors trashing these camp grounds and parks in the area that has led to it now being patrolled so much.
    Over the years many sporting groups have had many functions in the area supported by the local base.
    And it is still open to public and the last count everyone is saying by one camera and a drone is all you have that is pretty good.
    Last count around the CBD of Alice Springs there are maybe 20 or so cameras. I would feel safer out in the park than down the Main Street.

  12. What a joke. Send them all out of our country. We shouldn’t have any other country in ours doing anything like we let these nuts do, uncaring, loud USA.

  13. Erwin, it may be worth you digging a bit deeper by asking the AFP: “Are the AFP no longer conducting security visits including requesting driver licence details and recording vehicle registration numbers at Kuyunba?”
    This activity may well have been handed on to another entity in recent time, and rather than clarify this publicly the AFP may be choosing to talk only about the literal present.
    ED – Many thanks, Andrew. This has occurred to us and I’ve enquired with the local security industry – no luck so far. I’m emailing AFP media now. Kind regards, Erwin.


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