On a narrow west coast peninsula, over one thousand kilometers to the north of the main centers of population in Western Australia, stands an enigmatic monument to the military ethic. It is a remote spot even for a country as immense and thinly populated as Australia. A vast array of antennas and towers stands out in stark contrast to the harsh natural beauty of the surrounding terrain. The facility is divided into three principal sites—Areas A, B and C. Area A lies on the northernmost tip of the peninsula. Rising to a dizzying height of 387 meters is Tower Zero—the central structure of an enormous arrangement of towers. Another twelve towers stand in two concentric rings around it. The towers support large spider webs of wire—the Very Low Frequency (VLF) antenna array covering one thousand acres—the largest in the world. A few kilometers to the south is Area B. It consists of the facilities headquarters and the High Frequency transmitter site. Area C—the main receiver site of this secretive facility—is located 60 km further to the south.
Collectively the three sites function as a window into an extraordinary world that few of us are privy to enter. This is the vast world of military intelligence. The site is officially called U.S. Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt. It is more popularly known as North West Cape. In the enormous scheme of facilities that make up the worldwide U.S. intelligence gathering network, North West Cape, until recently, played an important and acutely sensitive role. It was never very far from the drama and controversy that pivoted around the fears of possible nuclear war between the superpowers.
In his 1980 book, A Suitable Piece of Real Estate, Dr. Desmond Ball, senior research fellow in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, wrote, “NW Cape...is presently one of the most important links in the U.S. global defence network.” Its main function was “to provide communication for the U.S. Navy's most powerful deterrent force—the nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.” Dr. Ball further stated: “The National Security Agency (NSA) is the principal U.S. intelligence agency operating in Australia; ...Compared to the CIA in Australia, the NSA has a much larger presence, is more important, more secret, and closer to Australia's own intelligence organisations.” It is responsible for all “the various activities associated with Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)—electronic intelligence, communications intelligence, radar intelligence, electronic counter intelligence and signal security.” 64
The NSA operates at the NW Cape base through its Naval Security Group component. The base acted as a ground station for the Big Bird “spy in the sky” satellites. 65 The North West Cape base, along with other U.S. bases around Australia (such as Pine Gap and Nurrungar), have long been a matter of acute political sensitivity, specifically related to the assertion that such sites would be prime nuclear targets during a major outbreak of hostilities between the superpowers. While that threat appears to have diminished in recent years, due to the collapse of the old Soviet empire, during October 1973 as humanity staggered towards the edge of nuclear brinkmanship, NW Cape dragged Australia into the global arena as a naive and compromised sidelines player. Perhaps never were we so close to the brink of annihilation than during those harrowing days of the Yom Kippur Middle East war.
On October 11, 1973, five days after the Middle East War broke out, North West Cape along with other U.S. bases in Australia were put on full alert. According to Richard Hall, in his book The Secret State (1978), this alert status was to escalate dramatically due to “an NSA misreading of Arabic in a Syrian message to the USSR which led Kissinger and Nixon to believe that Soviet troops might be sent to the Middle East.” This fiasco climaxed early on the morning of October 25, 1973, in Washington D.C. A full nuclear alert went out to all U.S. forces. North West Cape was used to communicate the alert to both conventional and nuclear forces in this region. The acute security alert status "Def Con 3" was reached. Local time at North West Cape was early evening.
Something else intruded into the crisis-charged atmosphere over North West Cape that evening. At about 1915 hours, on that fateful Thursday, Lt. Commander M_____ (USN) observed “a large black, airborne object” at a distance of approximately 8 kilometers to the west at an altitude estimated at 600 meters. Lt. Cmdr. M_____ was driving south from the naval communication station towards the support township of Exmouth, along Murat Road. The officer indicated in a written statement that “After about 20-25 seconds the craft accelerated at unbelievable speed and disappeared to the north.” The officer, who had “never experienced anything like it,” said the craft made “no noise or exhaust.” He saw it “hovering at first, then accelerating beyond belief.”
At the base, Fire Captain (USN) Bill L____ also saw the extraordinary craft. He provided the following statement:
At 1920 hrs, I was called by the POW to close the Officers club. I proceeded towards the club in the Fire Dept. pick-up 488, when my attention was drawn to a large black object, which at first I took to be a small cloud formation, due west of Area ‘B’ [in the vicinity of Mount Athol—B. C.]. Whilst travelling towards the Officers club I couldn't help but be attracted by this object's appearance. On alighting from pick-up 488, I stood for several minutes and watched this black sphere hovering. The sky was clear & pale green-blue. No clouds were about whatsoever. The object was completely stationary except for a halo around the centre, which appeared to be either revolving or pulsating. After watching it for approx. 4 minutes, it suddenly took off at tremendous speed & disappeared in a northerly direction, in a few seconds. I consider this object to have been approx. 10 metres in diameter, hovering at 300 metres over the hills due west of the base. It was black, maybe due to looking in the direction of the setting sun. No lights appeared on it at any time.
This was an extraordinary incident. In hindsight of its broader implications, it is incredible that people outside the world of military intelligence were made privy to this report.
A classified NSA affidavit released to U.S. UFO researchers, stated that some UFO material was collected related to intercepted communications of foreign governments (or SIGINT operations) and therefore was properly classified. A date appears in the heavily censored report:
The rest of the five line paragraph is censored. Given the SIGINT based coincidence with the UFO presence over North West Cape during a nuclear alert on October 25, 1973, it is reasonable to suspect that the censored paragraph refers to this event. The final telling point was that the Australian Whitlam Labour government was not even promptly informed of the DEFCON 3 nuclear status emanating from Australian soil. This led Whitlam to say the U.S. bases in Australia were no longer sacrosanct, a position that had him completely at odds with the U.S. intelligence community. All this and a provocative UFO report in the middle of it! 66
Despite such obvious national security concerns with UFO sightings, DAFI regularly tried to downgrade their UFO activities. Occasional opportunity arose to breathe life into the RAAF UFO program but these seemed more like mere tokenism. 67 One such example occurred with Dr. Allen Hynek’s visit to Australia in 1973. A “Record of Discussion” dated August 24, 1973, revealed “an unofficial meeting” held between Dr. Hynek, Dr. M. Duggin, Harry Turner, and DAFI. The DAFI memo indicated:
Each member was present in a private capacity to discuss certain procedures of investigation into unusual aerial Sightings in Australia and throughout the world, in an endeavour to expand the scientific relationship to the problem.The memo concluded on an upbeat note:
A week later a memo from Defence HQ Support Command to DAFI concluded that “…unidentified flying objects are not a defence threat. It is therefore suggested that UFO investigation be discontinued.” However, the idea of closing the UFO effort also fizzled out.68