Exclusive: RAF Croughton base 'sent secrets from Merkel’s phone straight to the CIA'

Communications hub plays key role in relaying embassy based spying

Data from the global network of US embassy spy posts implicated in the eavesdropping on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone is funnelled back to Washington through a secret hub in Northamptonshire, The Independent can reveal.

Vast quantities of information captured by America’s “Stateroom” system of listening stations in diplomatic missions – including phone calls and data sent over wi-fi links – are routed back to spy chiefs via a communications hub within the US Air Force base in Croughton, near Milton Keynes.

The facility at RAF Croughton has been identified as a relay centre for CIA clandestine and agent communications. It has also now been named in documents leaked by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden as playing a key support role in embassy-based spying.

Documents seen by The Independent name the base as one of two centres for “tech support activity” by the Special Collection Service (SCS) – the joint CIA/NSA unit which runs the network of about 100 listening posts operated in parallel with an identical British scheme overseen by GCHQ.

An SCS intelligence “nest” on top of the US embassy in Berlin appears abruptly to have been shut down last week following the revelation that the NSA had targeted Mrs Merkel’s mobile and the subsequent diplomatic row over Washington’s surveillance in Germany. The rooftop US spying site lies less than 150 metres from a cylinder on the British embassy which is at the centre of concerns that Britain may also have been eavesdropping on communications in the German capital.

The Snowden documents and other US reports imply that any material gathered from the US embassy in Berlin would have been relayed back to SCS headquarters at the joint CIA/NSA facility in College Park, Maryland, via the secure facility at Croughton.

The siting of such a critical installation on British soil underlines the close integration of British and American intelligence activities.

Although GCHQ and the NSA are known to share the results of embassy interception, RAF Croughton also has a direct link to GCHQ’s Cheltenham headquarters which has been operating for more than 20 years. Under the legal framework for US military bases in Britain, each facility is under the supervision of a British military commander who must ensure that UK law is not breached. The Ministry of Defence last night declined to comment on the role played by the SCS relay station at RAF Croughton.

The Northamptonshire base is home to the 422nd Air Base Group, whose role includes processing at least a quarter of all US military communications in Europe. The base, which was originally used by the Americans in the 1950s to relay nuclear bomber communications, hit the headlines earlier this year when it emerged that British Telecom won a contract to supply a secure fibre-optic link between RAF Croughton and a US air base in Djibouti used to co-ordinate drone strikes over Yemen. The £14m contract raised suspicions that it could be used to relay instructions for drone attacks. The MoD insisted that USAF staff at RAF Croughton “neither fly nor control” any remotely piloted aircraft.

The NSA documents provided by Snowden include a map listing the locations of the US embassy spying operation which could yet provide further embarrassment for Washington. Among the 74 “Stateroom  staffed locations” are Paris, Rome, Geneva, Madrid, Vienna and Athens.

The revelations about embassy-based bugging have already triggered investigations in Austria, Switzerland and Greece.

Keeping quiet: The village at the centre of the storm

Much of the talk along Croughton’s honey-stoned High Street was about high-speed communications networks and their impact on village life.

But rather than raising questions about the vast amounts of secret data sucked through the adjoining American-manned RAF Croughton air base from US embassy spy bases around the world, the debate was instead about efforts to bring high-speed broadband to the pretty Northamptonshire village.

A preoccupation with state-of-the-art communications technology is something that unites this rural community of around 1,000 people with the personnel of the 422nd Air Base Group – the branch of the US Air Force that operates the former bomber base as a vast data hub.

Several residents approached by The Independent were reluctant to discuss the role played in village life by the US base, whose vast golf-ball-shaped radomes concealing electronic equipment stick out like giant marbles in the surrounding landscape.

One business owner said: “I don’t really feel comfortable talking about the base. They do a lot of good work in the community. I wouldn’t want to be seen saying anything bad about them.”

Indeed, despite the sensitive nature of much of the work carried out inside the facility, its transatlantic occupants go out of their way to fit in, even employing a community relations adviser “to promote friendship and understanding between local British people and the base personnel”.

Among the events held to bind the two groups together is a regular “British-American quiz night” held in the village school.

A promotional video for the base states: “The majority of our folks live off-base in the local community, so they are  fairly well integrated into the local village.”

Cahal Milmo

Suggested Topics
A Brazilian wandering spider

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead Teacher of Thinking School Drive Team and Year 3 Form teacher

Competitive: Notting Hill Prep School: Spring Term 2015 Innovative, ambitious ...

DT Teacher - Textiles

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Design and Technology Teacher ...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past