Drones can be used for humanitarian purposes, of course – like the startup by BioCarbon Engineering  which can plant as many as 100,000 saplings in a single day or replanting the disappearing mangroves in Myanmar by the Worldview International Foundation. But drones have been largely unpopular in war torn areas affected by strife and conflict. There’s an old idiom about being caught with one’s drawers down, making them helpless. These days it seems apt to apply the phrase to drones, with the recent exposure of an Australian spy hub.

The latest Snowden leak has exposed an ingenious spy hub located in Australia aiding American drone strikes. The facility, which was codenamed ‘Rainfall’, was being purportedly used for providing satellite aid to U.S. military battles around the world. The remote Australian spy hub located outside Alice Springs known as the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is being used for many covert missions. The official position stated is “to support the national security of both the U.S. and Australia.”

However, it appears the facility is actuality being used for providing complex geolocation intelligence to the U.S. military as the satellites are equipped with powerful surveillance technology which can monitor wireless communications on the ground such as cell phone, radios and satellite uploads. The leak has also revealed that they collect “strategic and tactical military, scientific, political and economic communication signal.” The technology that enables this espionage apparatus is extremely powerful, allowing the governments to literally listen in anywhere in the world, at a whim.           

This past week saw one of the worst terrorist attacks in Barcelona for which the ISIS has claimed responsibility. ISIS claimed that they had targeted Spain because it was a NATO member which had provided troops and support for the U.S. war on terror. The Spanish government has cut down drastically on troops that serve overseas since 2015.

The leak has pinpointed that the Australian spy hub was being used to gather geolocation intelligence which could be used to locate possible airstrike locations. The use of lethal unmanned drones has been blamed for the loss of countless innocent civilian deaths across counties including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Syria.

Many individuals in these nations emphasize the lack of empathy among Western powers for the destruction of life, property and homes. The leak revealing the location and the support provided by Australia couldn’t have come at a worse time for middle east relations.

The leak has also confirmed that the purported Australian spy hub is frequented by employees of the NSA, CIA and the National Reconnaissance Office and is also used as a base for analyzing collected information. The civil society in Australia has observed the leak with concern as some believe that Pine Gap’s potential role in Drone strikes could open the doors for Australia to be liable for any crimes committed by the U.S, in terms of aiding and assisting their strikes.

Emily Howie, who serves as the Director of the advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Center believes that drone strikes could be violating the laws of armed conflict. The lack of transparency by personnel at Pine Gap is a significant point causing such concern.

Since the inauguration of the Trump Presidency, there has been an increase in drone strikes while often overlooking or refusing the constraints that seek to prevent civilian deaths. This Snowden leak has helped to uncover another cog in the global surveillance apparatus, and it appears both nations have been caught with their proverbial ‘drones down’.