The US is quietly preparing to upgrade its presence in Britain in moves with huge implications for UK security

Richard Norton-Taylor

A US Air Force Globemaster III aircraft arrives at RAF Fairford.

Upgrading US air bases in the UK would enable Washington to intercept international communications and launch military strikes from Britain more quickly and with more devastating effect.This is what is taking place at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, the US National Security Agency’s biggest surveillance facility outside America, the US bomber base at Fairford in Gloucestershire, and the CIA base at Croughton in Northamptonshire.

All three bases are misleadingly described as Royal Air Force stations. While in theory the British government could veto US operations from these bases, the amount of money Washington continues to spend on them makes clear it does not expect any objections.

In its latest spending package, the US has earmarked $40 million to expand Menwith Hill, $300 million to Fairford and an undisclosed sum to Croughton. The figures on Menwith Hill and Fairford were given in response to a parliamentary question from the Labour MP Alex Sobel.

They are part of a £2.8 billion project to upgrade US military and intelligence-gathering bases in Britain. This includes expanding the US air force station at Lakenheath in Suffolk to enable American F-35 fighter/bombers to be based there.

GCHQ’s listening post in Cyprus, a facility whose product is shared with US intelligence agencies, is also being upgraded.

‘Concealed from your parliament’

The moves come as a former US intelligence officer based at Menwith Hill has accused US and British officials of carrying out “deceitful” activities at the base. In a conflict the base could be a “significant military target”, he says.

The warnings have come from Lee Baker, a former NSA satellite engineer and cryptologist in correspondence with a campaign group, the Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign (MHAC).

“I have found both the leadership of the National Security Agency and that of Menwith Hill Station (American and British) to be very deceitful and disloyal to their own respective citizens”, he says.

He calls for more accountability and “public awareness of the deceitful activities within the vast American Intelligence Complex at Menwith Hill”.

He adds that although those activities “are NOT [his emphasis] entirely unknown to your potential adversaries…they have certainly been concealed from your parliament, and thus your citizens as well”.

If the question, adds Baker, “is, do the intelligence activities at Menwith Hill Station, by the United States of America, in support of their unique and specific ‘Intelligence, Political or Economic’ goals, make that entire region a significant Military Target, the answer is yes”.

Directed Against the British

Baker also makes it clear, in a memo to Martin Schweiger of the MHAC, that the US does not share with Britain some of the intelligence it collects from the base. Some of that intelligence could be used to target British citizens, he says.

“I am absolutely certain”, Baker continues, “that not all of the American intelligence collection activities at Menwith Hill Station have been or ever will be fully shared with the British government.”

He adds: “Additionally it is absolutely possible, if not probable, that some intelligence collection activities directed against the British themselves, have been or will be conducted from British soil at Menwith Hill Station”.

Baker describes his comments as “merely my unclassified opinion” based on his experience of 36 years in the NSA.

He also says that he participated in operations that “actually thwarted several real-world threats to both the British and American people…some very bad players in the world would love to see NSA and GCHQ be totally wiped off the map”.

Gagging Order

Baker’s suggestion that GCHQ and US intelligence bases in Britain are used to serve American rather than British interests was made clear in a GCHQ staff manual of 1994 I reported some years ago.

The manual told GCHQ staff that the agency’s contribution must be “of sufficient scale and of the right kind to make a continuation of the Sigint [signals intelligence] alliance worthwhile to our partners”.

It admitted: “This may entail on occasion the applying of UK resources to the meeting of US requirements.”

Baker’s concerns about the lack of accountability and scrutiny of this close US-UK intelligence relationship reflect those made by Dennis Mitchell, a senior cryptanalyst who resigned in 1984 in protest against the banning of trade unions at GCHQ.

GCHQ’s product is intelligence, he said. He added: “Intelligence imparts power; power which may be used to withstand a threat, or to apply one; to avert an ill, to bestow a benefit – or to exploit”.

Source: Declassified UK

11 Feb 2022 by Richard Norton-Taylor

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