Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Menwith Hill: Drop the base

The NSA’s base in North Yorkshire goes unnoticed, even in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Lindis Percy discusses the fight for accountability

November 16, 2013
4 min read

menwith

For the past 14 years, the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) has held a demonstration every Tuesday evening, bar four, at the gates of the American base NSA Menwith Hill near Harrogate. An upside-down US flag with polite statements written on it has been used as a symbol of protest by CAAB for many years. To use the US flag in this way, we had to get permission from the high court, London, in 1998. One of the flags says ‘Whistleblowers urgently needed’. We want to know what goes on at this base and who it is accountable to.

One of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden was titled ‘Russian leadership communications in support of President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 summit in London – intercept at Menwith Hill station’. The base was used to spy on the Russian president’s communications during his 2009 stay in London. Another internal document quotes the head of the NSA, lieutenant general Keith Alexander, on a visit to Menwith Hill in June 2008, asking, ‘Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith.’

It’s been 25 years since investigative journalist Duncan Campbell exposed Echelon, Menwith’s programme for intercepting, monitoring and recording all forms of electronic communications worldwide. Though jointly founded by the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it owes its day-to-day operations to the American NSA. In 1997 the European Parliament issued a report that examined the Echelon programme thoroughly, concluding Menwith Hill was its ‘hub’.

Evolving from local protests, CAAB was formed in 1992 to scrutinise and raise awareness of the base’s activities. We have tried to gather as many clues as possible, building a body of evidence as to how bases such as Menwith Hill – apparently beyond the control of both US and UK laws – actually operate. We work in many different ways, asking parliamentary questions, or taking legal action to bring leaders and unsafe practices to account. Through regular scrutiny of local planning applications, CAAB became the first organisation to reveal that Menwith Hill was to be an important component in the US missile defence system.

Secret documents disclosed in a high court case in 1993, brought against me by Tom King, former secretary of state for defence, showed how military bases in the UK were given over to the US visiting forces with no debate in parliament and very few meaningful legal protections. The treasury solicitor at the time was concerned. It was decided that US bases would be rebranded as RAF, with a RAF liaison officer/commander in post and a RAF flag flying alongside the prominent US one. Despite Menwith’s continued PR claims, the base remains occupied and controlled by US military and intelligence agencies, receiving help from a contingent of GCHQ staff.

Following the Snowden revelations, press coverage by the Guardian highlighted GCHQ but scarcely mentioned NSA Menwith Hill. We wondered why this was, given the local, national and international importance of the base. We encouraged journalists to do an in-depth study but have had no success. There is silence about NSA Menwith Hill.

As the news broke, MPs were on their summer holidays – and temporarily off the hook. When parliament resumes, CAAB will ensure the hard questions are asked, prompt the leaders of every political party for statements and push for a full investigation. We need to find out whether the UK government does or doesn’t have all the information about the US’s extensive spy operations at Menwith. Either answer is cause for serious concern.

Lindis Percy is CAAB coordinator. To find out more about the campaign, visit www.caab.org.uk

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright