Spy station chiefs hand over to Australia

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 1995, 12:00am

BRITAIN'S secret communications spy base at Chung Hom Kok is being shut down, dismantled and moved to northern Australia, from where it will continue to monitor activities in China.

Three of the four massive metal dishes which have dominated the peninsula on southern Hong Kong Island, near Stanley, for more than a decade, have already been shipped out with other hi-tech intelligence-gathering equipment.

'The facility is no longer operating and is being closed down. The equipment is being removed,' a government spokesman said. 'The site will revert to the Hong Kong Government once it is closed.' The installation was operated - and is still controlled - by the British Government's Composite Signals Organisation, a subsidiary of General Central Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham in western England.

Information gathered at Chung Hom Kok was routinely funnelled to Australia for translation and analysis, after which it was passed to Britain, New Zealand and the United States.

London began scaling down operations at the 11-hectare site about two years ago, but the final phase began last November. British and Australian technicians who manned the equipment have left Chung Hom Kok.

China-monitoring formerly carried out at the cliff-top station now takes place at Shoal Bay, near Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory.

Nicknamed 'Cheltenham' by locals, the Australian listening post was set up in the early 1970s primarily to monitor events in Indonesia.

The Antipodean base provided comparable China coverage, despite its distance from the mainland.

Details about Chung Hom Kok operations are still tagged 'sensitive', subject to stringent security checks.

Only two dishes are understood to remain; one is believed to be a secure communications link with the clandestine listening station at GCHQ.

When the Sunday Morning Post visited the site last week, the entrance was unguarded and a main gate was open.

Chung Hom Kok had formed an integral part of the West's intelligence gathering operations in the Far East, but was targeted at the Chinese mainland.

Sources speculate it was used extensively during the massacre of pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and to monitor China's reaction to the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The British Foreign Office has refused demands for the facility to be included in the 1997 handover to China and has also turned down a Chinese request to visit the installation.

'It is not a military site,' the intelligence expert said.

The listening post, shielded by solid rock and clearly visible only from the sea, opened in the mid-1980s to replace a smaller listening station at Little Sai Wan in the old Lei Mun Barracks.

The site, which includes some residential areas and sports facilities, is due to be returned to the Hong Kong Government this year. No decision has been made on its future use.