Controversial private security plan to keep naval communications base a secret in WA has been scrapped

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The defense has abandoned a controversial proposal to use private security personnel to guard one of the country’s most secret and important military installations, rather than the federal police.

Correspondence obtained by the ABC revealed that the Defense Department planned to end a long-standing contract with AFP to protect Naval Communication Station Harold E Holt, with a contractor expected to take over the role early next year.

Established in the 1960s, the Western Australia base, named after former Prime Minister Harold Holt, provides very low frequency communication (VLF) transmission services in support of Australian, US and US submarines. allies.

Last week, around 25 Australian Federal Police officers based in Exmouth were told they would soon be replaced by private security guards, raising concern among Pentagon officials.

“AFP has been informed of the Defense intention to end AFP’s security measures at the Harold E Holt (HEH) Naval Communication Station, Exmouth, Western Australia,” police told the time.

“Defense intends to switch to a private security provider in early 2022,” AFP deputy commissioner for Western-Central Command, Chris Craner, said in his message to staff.

An aerial view of the Harold Holt Naval Communications Station in remote Washington State.(Google maps)

“This will result in the closure of the AFP station in Exmouth. AFP is working closely with Defense on the exact timing of a major change.”

But in a statement released Thursday, the Defense said the proposal to switch to private security agreements would not be implemented.

“Defense and Australian Federal Police have reviewed the security arrangements and controls at Defense sites, including the Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station,” a Defense spokesperson told ABC.

“This review is performed at regular intervals to ensure that appropriate security mechanisms are implemented based on the current threat and risk.

“AFP will continue to provide an armed security response to the Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station and designated Defense sites in Australia.”

The Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) said it was shocked by the initial plan, warning that it could have national security implications.

AFPA President Alex Caruana has written to Defense Minister Peter Dutton urging him to intervene to ensure sworn AFP protection officers remain on duty at the post.

A sign indicating the harold e holt naval communication station
The Harold E Holt Naval Communication Station is located on the coast of Washington State.(Defense: CPL Nick Wiseman)

“We agree, because a private security provider will not be given powers similar to those conferred on protection service officers under the AFP Act,” Caruana said in his letter, which also was sent to members of the Federal Parliament’s Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence.

“[It] will not have the robust regimes in place to provide a high level of protection and those that provide protection, and such a provider will not have the ability to access the capabilities, resources and expertise currently available from AFP in the broad sense.

U.S. officials have also privately expressed concerns about the proposal, though the U.S. Embassy in Canberra declined to comment publicly.

Gordon Flake, director of the Perth USAsia Center at the University of Western Australia, said he believes the Harold E Holt facility will become increasingly important.

“We’re in a phase right now if you look at the strategic defense update, if you look at the changing security environment around the world, where Australia is expected to strengthen its position in its northern and western approaches, and that includes the area around Exmouth where we have existing facilities, ”he said.


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