Diego Garcia, a remote speck of land in the middle of the Indian Ocean, rarely makes news. But in recent months, the coral atoll has grabbed the attention of online conspiracy theorists who claim the missing Malaysian Airlines jet secretly landed there as part of some clandestine U.S. military operation.
Photo: SRA Sarah E. Shaw / U.S. Air Force
This 1998 aerial view shows the U.S. Naval Station on Diego Garcia, a remote speck of land in the Indian Ocean administered by Great Britain, which signed a 50-year treaty with the United States in 1966 allowing it to build a military outpost there.
The obscure island even got a mention in the latest installment of the Fox TV show “24,” as super-agent Jack Bauer rushes to thwart terrorists who’ve hijacked a group of American drones at the exact time that the U.S. president is trying to convince Britain to extend a treaty allowing the use of drones on its base in Diego Garcia.
As dramatic as these references are, they do hint at the island’s strategic value just as the United States, Great Britain and Mauritius prepare for talks on the future of the Chagos archipelago, which includes Diego Garcia.
At issue: Who, exactly, owns this tiny island 1,000 miles east of Mauritius and 2,900 miles northwest of Australia?
In 1965, three years before Mauritius won independence, Great Britain detached the Chagos archipelago from the rest of its then-colony and created the British Indian Ocean Territory to administer the islands from London. The following year, it signed a 50-year treaty with the United States that allowed Americans to establish a military outpost on Diego Garcia; in return, it secured a discount on U.S. Polaris missiles. In the process, Britain kicked out about 2,000 native Chagossians to make way for the American outpost.