New report highlights growth of US 'spy base' in Yorkshire

By staff writers
March 1, 2012

A new report launched yesterday (1 March) highlights the rapid growth of the US communications intercept and missile warning base, Menwith Hill, over the last decade and its widening role in new forms of intelligence-led warfare. The report, commissioned by Yorkshire CND, describes itself as lifting "the veil of secrecy" surrounding the activities of the base near Harrogate in North Yorkshire. It says that the report lays bare "the lack of democratic accountability and [the] negative economic impact of this US Spy Base on British soil."

Emphasising Menwith Hill’s role as a key regional electronic monitoring station forming part of a global network run by the National Security Agency, the report examines its strategic role as part of the United States’ plan for global power projection and as a critical weapon in a new form of covert 21st century intelligence-led warfare.

Satellite information received at the base is used in support of US military operations as far afield as North Africa and the Middle East, including the operation of covert operations and controversial drone strikes which often result in high levels of civilian casualties. 

Yorkshire CND describes Menwith Hill’s existing role as a surveillance base as having been the subject of numerous incriminating revelations over the past 20 years. Operating without any democratic accountability, it intercepts and analyses global communications including private and commercial emails and phone calls, before sending them on to NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Washington. In spite of this, and the recent scrutiny of phone hacking by media organisations by the Leveson inquiry, says Yorkshire CND, the activities at Menwith Hill continue unchecked and have yet to be formally investigated by the UK Parliament.

The report also claims that Parliament is being misled about the economic impact of the base as US authorities fail to account for its hidden costs to the UK taxpayer.

Menwith Hill operates as a tax-free “US economic enclave” with the base itself not paying council tax or business rates and the US military and civilian personnel employed there enjoying tax exemptions.

A secret cost-sharing agreement for all US bases in the UK means that the full cost of the base to the taxpayer remains hidden, although a Freedom of Information request has revealed that over £7 million has been spent over the last six years to provide services such as cabling and water pipes to the base. The cost of armed police patrols around the surrounding area is also covered by the local taxpayer and is estimated to be around £0.5 million a year.

Commenting on the new report, Professor Dave Webb, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said: “This report should reignite the debate locally and nationally about the subversive and undemocratic nature of the activities of the National Security Agency at Menwith Hill and how we can hold them properly accountable to UK Parliament. It draws attention to the layer of misinformation provided by the US authorities and raises positive economic alternatives to subsidising a foreign spy base.”

The report was officially launched at a public meeting in Harrogate today (1 March) at the town's Quaker Meeting House. Author Dr. Steve Schofield and Prof. Dave Webb presented and discuss the report’s key findings, followed by a public debate on the issues raised.

Read the report 'Lifting the Lid on Menwith Hill' here;


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