Sunday, April 26, 2009
Almost invisible on a world map, the small island called Ascension seems to be reduced only to a fragment of land lost in the South-Atlantic Ocean and devoid of any interest. However it is strategically positioned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ascension has no indigenous population. It was first inhabited in 1815 when the British garrisoned it as a precaution after imprisoning Napoleon I on St Helena (1,287 km to the southeast). Now it is a British Overseas Territory which, together with St Helena and Tristan da Cunha, forms a single territorial grouping under the sovereignty of the British Crown.
Much of the island is a wasteland of lava flows and cinder cones. Then there's Wideawake Airfield, a joint facility of the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force. Both the BBC and Cable & Wireless have communications posts there. The European Space Agency has a tracking station. There's also one of five ground antennas used in the operation of the Global Positioning System.
In his 1996 book Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network, investigative journalist Nicky Hager claimed that Ascension Island was the location for a station that represented a missing piece in the secretive ECHELON world-wide electronic spy network. [Another station in that network may be located within the British Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia. One is certainly located in central Australia.]
Last year, at the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, British diplomats requested sovereignty over 200,000 km2 of submarine territory around the island. It's to enable British control of exploration into new reserves of oil, gas and minerals.
Wikimedia Atlas of Ascension Island
Ascension Island Web Cam