MP calls on Government to improve oversight on American military bases in Britain


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A senior Labour MP has called on the Government to overhaul its scrutiny of American military bases in Britain following the revelation that the Pentagon is to spend nearly £200m on a new intelligence hub in Northamptonshire.

Tom Watson, a former defence minister, has written to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond criticising the failure of the Government to declare the vast overhaul of intelligence facilities at RAF Croughton and questioning whether British officials were informed of the details of the sensitive project.

The Independent on Sunday last week revealed the existence of the Pentagon’s plans to transform Croughton, a US Air Force base near Milton Keynes, into one of its largest intelligence operations outside the mainland United States. The base has previously been linked to mass surveillance and drone strikes.

Mr Watson said the revelation by The Independent’s sister title raised doubts about the level of oversight at the Ministry of Defence over operations at RAF Croughton and elsewhere.

He wrote: “How much does your department know? To what extent have you been consulted or approved the [United States Visiting Forces] plans? And do you understand exactly how our US guests will be using this high-tech equipment at the MoD site?”

The letter came as a legal charity said it was considering legal action over the alleged failure of a Government body to investigate the installation by BT of a high-speed data link between RAF Croughton and a US base in Djibouti used for controversial drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia.

Reprieve said it was considering seeking a judicial review of the decision by Department of Business, Innovation and Skills officials in charge of enforcing guidelines for business conduct laid down by the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD).

BT, which won the £14m deal to install the fibre optic link, has previously underlined that it supplied the technology under contract and has no role in how it is used by the US authorities.

The MoD did not respond to a request to comment on Mr Watson’s letter. It has previously insisted that there is no direct control of drones from within RAF Croughton.