What is Croughton?
Seemingly not many people know about ‘RAF’ Croughton near Brackley and bordering Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. Misleadingly referred to as an RAF base, this important US facility is occupied and controlled by the US under the umbrella of the United States Air Force. It supports presidential, NATO, US European command, US central command, US air force special operations command, and US department of state operations. The US national security agency (NSA), the US central intelligence agency and a contingent from Britain’s GCHQ spy agency are also present. It operates one of Europe’s largest military switchboards; processing approximately a third of all US military communications between the USA and Europe and supports over 20 different communication and defence systems.
The base is involved in intelligence-led warfare (using drones) and illegal surveillance and intelligence-gathering on all citizens.
“Croughton is involved in intelligence-led warfare (using drones) and illegal surveillance on citizens”
Just up the road is USAF Barford St John, a satellite base to Croughton. Earlier this year, the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) learnt that military land byelaws (now law) were proposed at Croughton and Barford St John; indicating that something significant was being planned.
Material from Washington stumbled upon by CAAB (with additional information from Cahal Milmo of the Independent) indicates that the base is to become the largest intelligence hub outside the US. $317m is to be spent for an ultra-secure intelligence centre staffed by up to 1,250 personnel and covering operations in Africa (AFRICOM). The upgrade will make it as big and as important as the NSA and US national reconnaissance office facility at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire. There has been no debate in the British parliament.
To Djibouti drones
The human rights group Reprieve has discovered that BT has installed a high-speed fibre-optic data cable directly between US drone base Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and ‘RAF’ Croughton. The 2012 contract shows that the US defense information systems agency paid BT £13 million for the cable, which can carry live video images, transporting digital information at the rate of 2.5 gigabits per second, about 30 times faster than BT’s superfast home broadband.
Camp Lemonnier is the main centre for US drone operations outside Afghanistan. It sends Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles armed with Hellfire missiles on ‘targeted killing’ missions against suspected terrorist cells in Yemen and Somalia. The live video feed from the drones will be seen by the drone pilots, but also by intelligence analysts – nicknamed ‘screeners’ – who are directly in touch with the drone operators, through voice and data links, analysing the video from the drone.
The existence of a secure military communications link between Lemonnier and Croughton means that US personnel at Croughton are likely to be involved in analysing information and video from US drone flights in that area. It is possible that information obtained through the cable in this way and analysed by US personnel in the UK is being used to direct further US drone strikes.
Other drone connections
Croughton is one connection between US drone operations and the UK but there are many others.
US and UK pilots jointly undertake drone operations in Afghanistan and the RAF sometimes simply borrows US drones for its operations there. RAF pilots embedded with US forces have operated US drones over 2,000 times during the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
RAF Marham near Kings Lynn is home to ‘Project Crossbow’, a joint UK-US intelligence analysis project. Operated by the RAF’s tactical imagery intelligence wing (TIW) but ‘under the tactical control’ of a USAF Squadron, Crossbow receives and feeds information into the US distributed common ground system, the US military’s key tool for collecting, analysing and distributing information and intelligence collected from U-2, Global Hawk, Predator, Reaper, MC-12 and what the USAF discreetly calls ‘other ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platforms’.
Britain’s GCHQ also supplies intelligence to the US that may have been used in targeted drone strikes in Pakistan. Noor Khan, whose father was killed in a drone strike in 2011, sued the-then foreign secretary, William Hague, in an attempt to find out whether UK officials at GCHQ share information about targets in Pakistan with the CIA, and whether this could therefore make British spies complicit in murder or war crimes. The case was thrown out by the courts on the grounds that it could ‘imperil relations’ between the US and UK.