Does the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hide the existence of the military base on Diego Garcia island in the Indian Ocean? No, that's not true: As of this writing, the agency discusses this specific base on the publicly available section of its website.
The claim appeared in a post published on Instagram on July 13, 2023. The caption said:
Island of Diego Garcia 👀 #conspiracy #conspiracytheory
The male voice-over in the video continued:
CIA doesn't want you to know that this island exists. It's called Diego Garcia, and it is located in the Indian Ocean.
Here is how the post appeared on Instagram at the time of writing:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Jul 31 17:04:23 2023 UTC)
Diego Garcia is one of the isles that make up the British Indian Ocean Territory, also known by the acronym BIOT.
Contrary to the claim, in the summer of 2023, the Central Intelligence Agency openly mentions the island on its website in the section titled "The World Factbook":
Only Diego Garcia, the largest and most southerly of the islands [of the BIOT - L.S.], is inhabited. It contains a joint UK-US naval support facility and hosts one of four dedicated ground antennas that assist in the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation system (the others are on Kwajalein (Marshall Islands), at Cape Canaveral, Florida (US), and on Ascension Island (Saint Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha)). The US Air Force also operates a telescope array on Diego Garcia as part of the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System (GEODSS) for tracking orbital debris, which can be a hazard to spacecraft and astronauts.
On a different page, the CIA discloses that about 250 U.S. military personnel are deployed on the island.
The claim on Instagram attempted to resurrect old conspiracy theories about the 2014 disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which, according to Google Factcheck Explorer, continue to reappear on social nearly a decade later. In part, the narrator said that days after the plane's electronic system went dark, one of the passengers posted a picture of an island whose coordinates allegedly matched the location of Diego Garcia. That was not the first claim of its kind. Back in 2016, Lead Stories debunked a similar rumor claiming that one of the pilots resurfaced two years after the plane's disappearance in some hospital in Taiwan.
Diego Garcia has been a U.S. base for decades. In 1980, Time Magazine wrote:
In 1966, the U.S. negotiated a 50-year lease with Britain for base rights on the atoll. Five years later, U.S. Navy Seabee teams began construction on Diego Garcia. It now has a complete airfield with a 12,000-ft. runway that can accommodate everything from the four-engine P-3 Orion patrol planes that fly submarine tracking missions from Diego to the huge C-5A and C-141 jet transports that land to drop supplies and refuel. The base also has permanent barracks for 820 troops, a large storage complex and a harbor that has been dredged deep enough (45 ft.) to accommodate the Navy's largest aircraft carriers (the U.S.S. Eisenhower and Constellation are currently stationed in the Indian Ocean).
In 2008, the same outlet published a different story saying that the island could have been part of a CIA secret prison network. The author of the article cited an anonymous source described as "a frequent participant in White House Situation Room meetings after Sept. 11 who has since left government" whose information appeared to be credible to another person interviewed for the piece: Richard Clarke, by then a former special adviser to the George W. Bush administration on the National Security Council.
This article was mentioned in the post on Instagram. However, it contained a comment from a CIA representative who discussed the island and the agency's activities there with the press. That person only denied a specific episode, not the existence of Diego Garcia or its broader connection to national security activities:
A CIA spokesman says there have been no changes in the agency's position on Diego Garcia since February 2008, when CIA director Michael Hayden admitted that the agency's previous denials about U.S. activities on the island were incorrect. Hayden acknowledged then that the U.S. had inadvertently misled the British government and that two suspects had been on flights that stopped to refuel on Diego Garcia en route to Guantánamo Bay and Morocco in 2002. 'Neither of those individuals was ever part of CIA's high-value terrorist-interrogation program,' said Hayden. 'These were rendition operations, nothing more.' Hayden did not identify the suspects who were transited on the island and said that no other U.S. prisoners have been on Diego Garcia since Sept. 11.
In 2014, the Guardian published a timeline of how suspicions about the use of the base had been accumulating over the years.
By 2023, Diego Garcia has become controversial for a new reason: the displacement of the indigenous population from the islands, which preceded the construction of the base.
Other Lead Stories fact checks about the CIA can be found here.