Washington spends £200m creating intelligence hub in Britain

RAF Croughton, near Milton Keynes, is to have 1,250 staff and will cover US operations in Africa

Washington is to spend almost £200m to turn one of its British military bases – already implicated in mass surveillance and drone strikes – into one of its largest intelligence hubs outside the mainland United States.

RAF Croughton, a US Air Force (USAF) base near Milton Keynes, which has a direct cable link to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham, is to be the site for an ultra-secure intelligence centre staffed by up to 1,250 personnel and covering operations in Africa, a current focus for US counterterrorism activities.

The $317m (£189m) project, which includes an installation for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's main military espionage service, underlines RAF Croughton's position as a centre for clandestine and classified US communications in Britain.

Once complete in 2017, the facility will be comparable in number of personnel and operational importance to RAF Menwith Hill, the National Security Agency (NSA) listening station in North Yorkshire. Like Menwith Hill, it is likely to be co-staffed with representatives of British intelligence, including GCHQ.

The Independent, the sister title of The Independent on Sunday, revealed last year that RAF Croughton was used to funnel back to Washington data from a global network of spy bases inside US embassies, including the secret Berlin facility alleged to have been used by the NSA to listen in on the mobile phone of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The British base, which currently serves as a relay station for CIA agent communications, is also at the centre of claims that it is used as a support site for US drone strikes operated from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti against al-Qa'ida targets inside Yemen.

Campaigners and senior politicians yesterday said the massive investment in RAF Croughton raised fresh questions about the oversight of US bases in Britain, which are governed by a 1950s agreement with Washington drawn up in a different age of surveillance technologies.

Labour MP Tom Watson, a former defence minister, said: "The new spend of $317m on facilities at RAF Croughton is a shocking revelation. There can be no doubt now that communications activities there must be thoroughly reviewed, and arrangements governing use of the base updated."

Details of the RAF Croughton project obtained by this newspaper show that the upgrade will involve the "consolidation" of six existing US intelligence groups, currently based at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, into a single facility at RAF Croughton.

The Pentagon said the project was required to move intelligence staff out of outmoded and unsuitable accommodation at Molesworth, saving at least $75m a year. The move will lead to "divestiture", or closure, of the Cambridgeshire base and its neighbour RAF Alconbury, which are estimated to contribute £40m a year to the local economy.

The result will be a substantial further concentration of US intelligence firepower at RAF Croughton, whose stated purpose is to provide "world-class combat support" for activities including "global strike operations" and has recently had its security arrangements tightened.

A USAF briefing document makes it clear that the facility at RAF Croughton will be at the front line of intelligence activities and will include personnel from unnamed British agencies. The facility will be the principle intelligence centre for the USafricom – or Africa command.

It emerged last year that British Telecom provided a high-speed fibre-optic line between RAF Croughton and Camp Lemonnier, the counterterrorism operations base used for drone strikes in Yemen and the Horn of Africa.

The existence of the communications link has caused concern that RAF Croughton is used to relay command and control data from drone operators, possibly based in the US, to Djibouti. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has stated that US personnel at the base "neither fly nor control any manned or remotely piloted aircraft anywhere in the world".

Lindis Percy, co-ordinator of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Airbases, said: "This massive new development at Croughton is clearly of great importance to the American military and government, but what say has the British Parliament or the Ministry of Defence had? It is high time that the issue of what goes on on US bases is debated in Parliament so there is a meaningful and credible debate and oversight on behalf of the British people."

The MoD yesterday insisted that all activities on US bases were subject to British approval. A spokesman said: "There are no circumstances under which UK military assets, including those bases made available to the US, could be used operationally by the US without the agreement of Her Majesty's Government."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering