By ERWIN CHLANDA
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.