Saturday, December 22, 2012
By Andy Brooks
Unity is Strength; The National Union of Railwaymen: 100 years of industrial unionism: Alex Gordon, Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union 2012, illus, pbk, 72 pp, £3.00 (free to RMT members)
THOUGH most children prefer computer games to trainsets these days, interest in railways still has a place in the British psyche as a casual glance around any high street bookshop will show. Magazines and books devoted to real or model railways still exist to cater for the needs of model makers and train-spotters young and old. Reams are written about the “age of steam” and the train routes that span the country. Sadly, few if any, ever bother to tell the story of the men and women who actually ran them.
This new publication from the biggest transport union in the country helps redress the balance. It has been written by RMT president, Alex Gordon, as part of the union’s celebration of the centenary of the founding of the National Union of Railwaymen in February 1913, which is the core component of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union of today.
This is a potted history that can only skate over the struggles that the railway workers have faced over the past 100 years and it is essentially a tribute to the generations that forged and built the first industrial union in the country.
It starts with the struggle for unity that led to the amalgamation in 1913 and ends with the nationalisation of the railways by the post-war Labour government. Profusely illustrated it would make an excellent present for anyone interested in the railways and it only costs £3.00 post free from the RMT webshop at: www.rmt.org.uk or from freephone 0800 376 3706 (have your debit or credit card ready).
Saturday, December 15, 2012
By Neil Harris
THE FIRST part of this article dealt with aspects of the cold war and its murderous history, however a surprising amount of that information is still relevant today, even though the end of the Cold War brought many changes: bases merged or closed, government agencies privatised and public land sold off for private profit.
The New Worker took a look at some of the many State Department cables released by Wikileaks, on the subject of allowances and cost of living updates. These provide an up-to-date guide to those posts that are still current today. An example is a general cable from Washington to Embassies, dated 26th February 2010, which confirms that postings in Britain are still active at some of the main functioning USAF bases; Mildenhall, Lakenheath and Croughton. Fairford is still listed while Cheltenham is there for GCHQ. Wiltshire, Portsmouth and Plymouth are still of interest, which is probably for the BAe Systems sites. Oxfordshire isn’t. Surprisingly, rural Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire remains on the list, but this probably refers to a new purpose built USAF/MOD headquarters building which has recently appeared on a greenfield site.
More of a mystery is the survival of “Kemble” as a USAF posting, long after the closure of the base and its replacement by a commercial aerodrome: Cotswold Airport. This may just refer to staff accommodation for nearby Fairford on the other side of Cirencester, while GCHQ is only 10 miles away.
Apart from the usual flying school there is “Air Salvage International,” which scraps redundant planes and a new British Government facility storing equipment and stock for international disaster relief. There are discreet storage buildings dating from its Cold War role as a maintenance and repair facility as well as when it was the base of “Air Force Logistic Command Support – Europe”. But this rural backwater also has the longest privately owned runway in the country and can handle jumbo jets; we can only speculate what planes are likely to make discreet use of the airport in the future.
The United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) has quite a job ensuring that everybody has accommodation suitable to their rank and it publishes the USAFE Overseas Furnishing and Quarters Availability Report, twice a year. Very helpfully, the 2009 report tells us: “Fairford is undergoing drawdown, blue suitors are out-processing w/o replacement, no new assignments are expected. Dorm facilities will close as they become empty.”
We also learn that “COMNAVACTUK”, the Naval Command in Britain was disestablished in September 2007, the same time as Daws Hill closed and that: “Navy London – no more assigned, Navy London includes High Wycombe and West Ruislip”, confirming that the US Navy’s retreat is almost complete and resulted from the end of the Cold War. Admiral Michael R Groothousen confirmed this in the speech he made when he closed Daws Hill on 14/9/07, stating: “Operational commitments of Naval Forces Europe have dictated that our troops need to be operating in other localities around the globe.”
Waterbeach’s role as an RAF headquarters is confirmed: “Waterbeach has no Dorms, only three mil members are currently assigned/ authorised at this HQ USAFE attachment – lowest rank assigned is E-7.”
Meanwhile: “Air Force has taken over air base operation responsibilities for Menwith Hill. NSA and USAFE are still working on details of installation handover”, which doesn’t mean the NSA no longer has an interest in the site, just that they no longer deal with its administration. US Air Force in Europe has been downgraded in Britain since the Cold War ended.
While Croughton is listed as “air force”, Barford St John has a blank designation which confirms its CIA status, just as Felixstowe also has no designation but we know that’s because it is Homeland Security. Another blank is Harrogate, while Menwith Hill is a USAF posting. This probably reflects relative ranks; now that USAF is running the base, the ordinary ranks live there, while higher ranked NSA staff would be entitled to live off base. Many others are gone; the Cold War bases shut, the factories closed or the projects completed.
To understand better how the system of diplomatic cover works we can use a State Department cable sent by the Chief of Mission, Ambassador Perry from the Freetown embassy, Sierra Leone on 14/7/08. This was in support of a Defence Intelligence Agency request for funding to employ an “Operations NCO” (Op NCO), for the Defence Attaché Office in the Embassy.
From 1999 to 2003, the DIA had failed to keep the office fully staffed, as was the case in 20 other embassies around Africa. This was partly lack of money but also a lack of interest in Africa at that time, together with reluctance by staff to put up with the conditions on offer.
The office consisted of a Lieutenant Colonel who doubled up as Defence and Air Attaché, an “Operations Co-ordinator NCO” staff sergeant and the unfilled role of Op NCO, which would have been another staff sergeant. In support of the application, the Ambassador argued that there had been a rapid increase in the number of intelligence reports filed: from 40 in 2006, 82 in 2007 to 163 in 2008 and they needed administrative support to cope. Later, and apparently with a straight face, the ambassador confirmed that the “Official Entertaining Allowance” of the office had increased 200 per cent over the last year which had, “improved officers ability to assess and access well-placed contacts, building a portfolio of reliable ever vigilant sources”. This increase in the allowance may have been why the flow of reports had risen so fast.
Many new tasks were set out, needing more administrative support, including restarting the “International Military Education and Training Programme”, a military version of the International Visitor Leadership Programme, in which military students attend training courses in America. This is a key way in which America builds influence in the developing world, by talent spotting and then training rising stars in the military at an early stage in their career. While it makes friends who will rise up the ranks over time, it is also a means of recruiting long-term informants, when they are far from home. Sometimes it goes wrong; in 2003 the scheme was suspended in Sierra Leone when four trainees took advantage of the end of their course to disappear, starting new lives in America, never to be heard of again. The plan was to start recruiting once more: eight staff Judge Advocates over twq years, as well as eight to 12 NCO’s to attend the “Enlisted NCO development” scheme.
Costs of the new Op NCO were going to be shared out; while there was an Attaché’s office in place already, the new staff member would need “a classified DIA computer and a classified Department of State computer”. The DIA would provide the US Embassy with “the start-up costs of a new billet, money to rent a house or apartment and seek to buy into the furniture pool”. All of which also reflected a greater American interest in the country, now that the British were withdrawing following the end of civil disorder and the end of British government-funded mercenary intervention.
While in Sierra Leone the Americans were developing their interest in the military and had a desire to influence it further, it is significant how total American access to Britain’s military and defence industry has been. Wherever British armed forces were at the cutting edge (intelligence, signals intelligence, some technologies) there were the Americans. There was never any interest in the puny, outdated “British nuclear deterrent” nor in its delivery systems, dependant on American knowhow.
This was all part of the “special relationship” between Britain and America, which was hammered out at the close of the Second World War and developed during the 1950s and 60s. This was the time when Britain’s economy and role in the world shrank while America’s grew.
The National Archive has now made available the UKUSA agreement, which was once one of the most closely guarded (Top secret Ultra) documents either government held, together with the minutes of one of the negotiating sessions that led up to it.
In the spring of 1945 these negotiations between the “United States State-Army-Navy Communications Intelligence Board” and the “UK London Signals Intelligence Board” began as an agreement to share communications intelligence on “third parties”. In effect the secrets of Bletchley Park and the new technology it had produced would now be shared with America and directed at the Soviet Union, nominally still our ally in war.
This was the real start of the Cold War, long before Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech. Discussions had started while the Allies were still fighting Germany and continued throughout 1945, including, for example, “Elbe Day” (25/4/45) when Soviet and US troops were pictured embracing after they had joined forces at Togau on the river Elbe. Through that summer, while the US and the Soviets were fighting Japan, discussions went on. This was a state matter, not a political one; they started under a Tory government and finished with agreement under Labour, while in America they began under Roosevelt and ended under Truman. The released negotiations are dated 29th October 1945; the agreement was finally signed on 5th March 1946.
The agreement, very closely argued in the discussions, was simply to share signals intelligence; the Americans getting access to Britain’s leadership in this field. Later, this highly classified document was to become the basis of all British collaboration with America; sharing the military and intelligence assets that this article has detailed. An agreement often referred to but never read, it simply established a relationship that reflected the reality of the changing balance of forces between the two imperialist countries.
In the early 1950s Britain had colonies, the atomic bomb and a prototype missile system to deliver it. By the 1970’s, Britain was reliant on an American delivery system (Polaris) for its dated nuclear deterrent. In between, the British ruling class had endured near bankruptcy, lost its colonies and had come to realise that it had been overtaken as an imperialist power. Its response was to open up every secret the Americans were interested in and to subordinate “our” armed forces to American control in return for a seat at the “top table” they no longer deserved.
The extent to which the British defence establishment and by definition the British state (as opposed to the government of the day) became subservient to America is best illustrated by a “secret/NOFORN” cable from the American Embassy in London, headed “Scene setter for the Secretary”, dated 6/10/09.
This briefing for the visiting Secretary of State, attending talks with Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, set out the likely British and American positions on a number of crucial matters, among which was Afghanistan. At this time, the right wing media and the Tories were attacking Brown for supposedly failing to equip troops properly, rather than criticising our imperialist intervention, which they supported.
The cable reports: “Meetings with PM Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband likely will focus on the following key issues: Afghanistan …many critics …have asserted that Brown has provided insufficient troops and equipment (including helicopters) to get the job done. In his 25th September discussion with the President, Brown said Afghan forces must shoulder a greater portion of the burden and take more responsibility for their own affairs and asserted the UK would not be ‘cutting out’ of Afghanistan, though it lacks the capacity to commit additional troops. Brown and Miliband made similar statements to General McChrystal on 1st October and Admiral Mullen and Admiral Stavridis on 2nd October, and the PM Foreign Policy Advisor Simon McDonald has asked the USG to show ‘understanding of the political pressures that the PM is under’.” That’s a fairly clear position, set out by the British government over many meetings; there were no more British troops available.
The secret briefing continues: “However, UK military officials claim that 1,000 – 2,000 additional troops are available for deployment.” This means that senior military staff were privately briefing the American embassy, prior to the meeting, providing confidential information opposing the political position of their own government and Prime Minister; that there were more troops available. This was at the same time as senior British military figures were also secretly briefing the British press, complaining that the troops that were already there were inadequately supplied and equipped.
It is hard to imagine any circumstances in which the British state would have an opportunity to take action independent of American wishes, given the integration of our military command structure with theirs and the commitment of senior British staff to American aims and priorities.
It is the same for the “civilian” defence contractors; American-based defence suppliers cannot be controlled by foreign companies and the agreement which allows BAe Systems to buy access to the American defence market requires that its US operations must be subsidiaries, with a US board of directors. But this was never enough, as the continuing interest in BAe’s sites in Britain has shown. This may be one reason why BAe tried to merge itself into EADS, the European defence supplier. What is clear is that BAe will have been able to keep few secrets from the Americans over the years.
It is also questionable where BAe Systems loyalty lies; in a State Department cable dated 22/4/09 from Oman, the Ambassador Gary A Grappo reported on a conversation with the “local British representative of BAe” at a diplomatic event. The cable was titled: “Open field for military fighters” and it was important enough to be classified and given a header stating: “This is an Action Request.”
The excited ambassador quoted at length: “At a diplomatic event on 21st April, a local British representative for BAe Systems told the DCM that the Omani government has walked back from what seemed an imminent decision to buy a squadron of Eurofighter Typhoons to help replace its aging Jaguar fighters. Due to concerns over the high price tag for the Typhoons in conjunction with a fall in government revenues related to lower oil prices, Oman was accordingly exploring other options for new fighter aircraft, he claimed.”
This gave the Americans a chance to sell Lockheed Martin’s cheaper F16 into a traditional British market. The cable continued: “The company representative added that BAe Systems was not trying to salvage the Typhoon deal as it had ‘already made [its] money’. Rather, it was the British government that was directly trying to offload to the Omanis a squadron of Tranche III Eurofighters it had previously committed to purchase – ‘the last 12 from the RAF production run’.
“As the competition for the sale of new fighter aircraft to Oman appears to be wide open, it is imperative that Lockheed Martin and the US government step up advocacy efforts if we are to convince the Omanis of the many benefits of the acquisition of additional F-16s. If ever the cost/performance advantage of the F-16 is to trump the UK political advantage, the time is now. Washington agencies should accordingly advise Lockheed to move immediately with their best offer. End Action Request and Comment. GRAPPO.”
In other words, Britain which was committed to buying more expensive Eurofighters than it could afford to help out BAe Systems, was trying to persuade Oman to buy the last 12 off the production line. BAe Systems had already made its money from the Eurofighter and was looking to collaboration with the Americans and Lockheed Martin on the Joint Strike Fighter project to safeguard its future. This meant it was prepared to tip off the American Embassy against the interests of the British Government and taxpayers. The same taxpayers who have so often had to bail out the British defence industry. Meanwhile America was delighted to stab its loyal ally in the back (the special relationship) while BAe was trying to play both sides against the middle for its own short-term advantage. That is the nature of the defence “industry” in a world dominated by imperialism.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
By Neil Harris
THE BIGGEST empires, the most warlike imperialist powers, all have a lot of administration to deal with; there are wages to pay and pensions to calculate. The more powerful the imperialism the more complex it gets and America’s is the most complicated of all. Mass murder leaves a paper trail of invoices and receipts.
Diplomats have a lifestyle to maintain and there is, after all, a big difference between postings to Kabul and Paris. Over the years this has led to many arguments over the cost of accommodation, schooling and relocations as well as danger rates in war zones. The US State Department even has an Office of Allowances to deal with the paperwork.
The New Worker has tracked down a table of these allowances but, of course, if we were just following the activities of diplomats, this would make pretty dull reading. However this expertise determines the payments for all US personnel posted abroad and the State Department also provides diplomatic cover to others who stand in the shadows: agencies that are unwilling to advertise their activities and want their people to have diplomatic immunity when things go wrong. These range from the military attaches to the CIA, with a lot of other interesting organisations besides. In some areas of conflict like Iraq or Afghanistan, these can make up half the embassy staff.
While the allowances are calculated by the State Department, the “lead agencies” are the real employers and their details are on the list, although what they were up to is not – just a place name. Once a posting has been analysed, there is a reluctance to remove it even though it may be out of date; the cost of living reviews just become less frequent until they stop altogether. In the case of Britain, these tables of allowances give us a snap shot of our “special relationship” with America, as well as an insight into the Cold War. It’s well worth speculating just what these employees and “diplomats” were actually up to.
Some are fairly dull: representatives of the “Department of Homeland Security” are posted to Liverpool, Southampton and Felixstowe where they check shipping containers as part of the Container Security Initiative. Post 9/11 this scheme investigates cargo destined for the US from 58 ports around the world and also includes Thames port and Tilbury. Likewise, the American Battle Monuments Commission has postings to look after American war dead in cemeteries at Brookwood and Cambridge.
By far the largest number of postings are “air force” (USAF), reflecting our Cold War status as America’s largest aircraft carrier. However “air force” doesn’t necessarily mean that these are fliers; the “ghost diplomats” include experts seconded to units or particular operations, Air Attaches or intelligence agencies “liaising”.
Some postings are general; “Wiltshire” or “Oxfordshire”, counties with long and varied military connections including Porton Down (germ warfare) and Salisbury Plain (army manoeuvres and research). Others like Plymouth and Portsmouth are obvious military cities as well as being sites for BAe Systems Marine and Aerospace divisions. BAe Systems plays a big role in all of this; “Wiltshire”, for example, includes the site of Qinetiq’s advanced air simulator at Boscombe Down, currently working on the Joint Strike Fighter project with BAe.
Greenham Common is on the list, a regular posting during the Cold War as, from 1951 until it closed in 1993, it housed the long range nuclear bombers of Strategic Air Command, as well as becoming the home of the Tactical Missile Wing’s Cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles in the 1980’s.
Lakenheath and Mildenhall are postings as they remain to this day the two main USAF bases of Strategic Air Command in Britain. Lakenheath now hosts fighter wing, while the support and reconnaissance commands (spy planes) are at Mildenhall along with the Special Operations and Intelligence squadrons.
RAF Fairford, now on “care and maintenance”, was until recently, another base for long range nuclear bombers and had been since 1953. Designated a “Forward operating location”, it was also a staging post for operations and a base for the planes that refuel passing long distance flights. It was NASA’s “Transoceanic abort landing site” for the Space Shuttle and it was from here that the B52 bombers set out for Iraq to kill in both Gulf Wars. It may be used again, if America needs it.
Related to all the “Air force” activity were postings on behalf of the “Defence Management Agency”, involved in procurement, who were posted to Bristol and Salmesbury, Lancashire, no doubt keeping an eye on the BAe Systems sites, the latter making sections of Typhoon Eurofighters and now working on the Joint Strike fighter as a major contractor for Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, on the world’s largest defence project.
Some of the postings are fairly obscure; in 1983 the former RAF Kemble near Cirencester became a USAF maintenance facility for about 10 years until it was decommissioned and became Cotswold Airport. Waterbeach just north of Cambridge was once an RAF base for Bomber Command, but was handed over to The Royal Engineers in 1966; their base and barracks are now due for closure in 2013. More interesting is the posting to RAF Welford, north-west of Newbury, which is the site of the USAF’s biggest heavy ammunition dump in Western Europe, with its own private entrance from the motorway (Works access only).
Farnborough is an airport, the site of the International Air Show and arms fair as well as being another base for BAe Systems, meanwhile Qinetiq and DERA are also on site or nearby making this a centre of defence research.
Bracknell in Berkshire may also have been of interest to the Americans because of its concentration of high tech IT companies and defence related firms, once including RACAL, Ferranti and BAe but it is just as likely that the posting was for Air staff attending the RAF Staff College, which became the Joint Services Command and Staff college before it finally left the town in 2003.
An air force posting to High Wycombe would have been inevitable, as within three miles of the town are the headquarters of RAF Air Command and the British “Strike Command Operation Centre”, the nuclear bunker from which our “four-minute warning” and nuclear missile launch order would have been given, but not without permission from the Americans. It remains a centre for British and Nato air operations.
Of course, it may have been that the posting was to RAF Daws Hill on the other side of town, a large US Navy base until it was decommissioned in 2007. It was from here that US missiles, long range bombers and communications were co-ordinated and directed from the American nuclear bunker.
Strangely, the US Navy itself was also posting to Bath, Dunstable and Edzell, all of which have only one thing in common with High Wycombe; none are near enough to the sea to land a ship. Bath has had until recently a major connection to the Ministry of Defence but the New Worker can’t pin down what the US Navy’s interest was.
However Dunstable in Bedfordshire was the centre of a labyrinth of secret activity during the Second World War with Special Operations Executive, the Political Warfare Executive and Secret Intelligence Service amongst others, spread out in around a hundred requisitioned stately homes, aerodromes, and offices in the county and beyond. The area also provided facilities to the Radio Security Service, British Naval Intelligence, listening (Y) stations and Bletchley Park (X station), home of the famous code breakers. During the Cold War RAF bases at Stanbridge, Brampton, Wyton and Henlow were involved in secret communications, amongst others.
The clue is in Edzell, a small village near Brechin in Angus, Scotland, far enough from the sea to ensure that none of the sailors would get their feet wet. The RAF base on the opposite side of the River Esk was leased to the US Navy from 1960 until 1996, when it shut down for good and the 150 base houses were sold off.
In 1985, on the 25th anniversary of the opening of the base, the newly registered “US Navy Edzell tartan” was unveiled and very popular it has proved to be, worn by both current and former Navy cryptanalysts as ties and scarves. The Naval Security Group which operated from 1935 to 2005 ran Edzell, collecting signals intelligence prior to decoding it. This base would have covered the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Soviet Naval Headquarters at Leningrad, together with other parts of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, depending on reception. The base was also part of two worldwide networks: the White Cloud Naval satellite system and the earlier High Frequency Direction Finding system, hunting for Soviet ships and submarines.
The Naval cryptanalysts were associated with the National Security Agency (NSA), which will feature again in this article and it’s likely that Bath and Dunstable were part of the same landlocked operation. In 2005 the Naval Security Group was broken up and merged into other parts of US Naval intelligence.
The Office of the Secretary of Defence is the civilian headquarters staff of the US Department of Defence and as such it’s most unlikely that any of its staff would be posted abroad long term. But there are two postings under this agency’s name and these are likely to be a cover for either the National Security Agency (NSA) which deals with signals intelligence or the National Reconnaissance Office responsible for satellite intelligence, as the two sites are Menwith Hill and Harrogate (only nine miles away).
RAF Menwith Hill was leased by the US Army Security Agency in 1958 to listen in to high frequency radio communications from the Soviet Union. In 1966 the NSA. took over the base and started listening in to international calls and telexes routed through Britain, as well. As optical fibres and microwaves replaced copper wire, the site became more important and was expanded. This major NSA satellite ground station now houses an array of satellite dishes and is probably the largest listening station in the world. According to the European Parliament investigation, Menwith Hill is a vital part of the ECHELON system, monitoring all electronic communications in Europe as part of a worldwide American network, trawling for voice calls, images, video and data such as e-mails and the new media.
There are five postings for the State Department itself: London which covers the Embassy while Belfast and Edinburgh are the Consulates. These locations hide CIA staff under diplomatic cover, as well as the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) which provides the military attaches, both as a matter of routine. The remaining two postings are to Chelmsford and Croughton and these could be from either agency.
Chelmsford, for over 100 years was the home of Marconi and survived takeover by BAe Systems until its recent closure. It was here that RADAR and secure communications were manufactured and developed.
RAF Croughton is a US air force base in Northamptonshire, which houses a massive European communications hub, for Nato, US European Command, US Central command, (US) Air Force Special Operations Command, Department of State operations and our own Ministry of Defence operations. It is also, for example, a vital part of “Mystic star”, the President’s secure communications network connecting Air Force One to the US government, when it is airborne.
At other times it is a Government communications system. Croughton deals with about 30 per cent of US secure communications as part of a satellite network, partly reliant on US Navy bases relaying messages around the world. It’s not an obvious CIA interest – which, at least in theory, is not allowed to spy on US citizens in America and only with a warrant when they are abroad.
While it is possible that the State Department postings are actually there to run their own communications, it is unlikely. The nearby RAF Barford St John is a sister base to Croughton and operates a CIA transmitter on its behalf. Between them they are part of the CIA’s own worldwide secure communications network, covering its offices and agents.
A Secure Communications link was built in the 1980’s, passing from Croughton to GCHQ at Cheltenham (an NSA posting) via relay stations at Leafield, Little Rossington, and Cleeve Hill. This indicates that Croughton also acts as a listening station. The CIA has another post at Caversham, where its “Open Source Center” operates on the shared premises of BBC Monitoring, under State Department cover.
The US Army had five postings: Birmingham and Nottingham, which are probably related to arms manufacturing, while West Byfleet was until 1996 the site of “Broadoaks”, the MOD/DERA Army Operations Analysis base (now at Farnborough). There were also nearby research stations at Chertsey and Chobham, which specialised in military vehicles and novel forms of armour plating.
The posting to Hythe in Hampshire has an interesting history: a US Army base was sited at RAF Hythe from 1968 until closure in 2006, “servicing and maintaining watercraft”. In fact this was also a secret British research base from the 1930’s onwards; TE Lawrence, of Arabia fame, spent a year there working on high speed boats. This was where the concept of air/sea rescue was invented while in the 1950’s, Christopher Cockerill ran his “Hovercraft Development Co” from there.
At the end of the Second World War a number of captured, technically superior, German high speed boats were operated and further developed from the base. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, these were used to get spies in and out of the Soviet Union, via the Baltic republics. The Soviets were unable to match their speed, although thanks to tip-offs, the authorities would often be waiting to pick up the hapless agents after arrival.
A visit to Fort Halstead must have been even more fun for those with murder in mind, even though the mergers, re-organisations and privatisations of recent years have brought many changes. Set at the top of the North Downs, this research station specialised in developing and forensically examining high explosives – boffins making bangs. Before Atomic weapons research moved to Aldermaston, this was where the first British atomic bomb was developed and built.
The “Department of Defence”, which has six postings, is a cover used by the NSA, NRO and DIA but also by straightforward military intelligence (Army, Navy or Airforce), so this is a mixed bag. Brough, on the Humber made BAe systems Hawk jet trainers until recently, when its closure was announced. Glenrothes was originally a Scottish new town serving the coal industry; it became part of “silicon glen”, after the seam flooded. It’s likely that the Americans were liaising with Raytheon, which is still in the town. This multinational American arms company is the world’s largest producer of guided missiles and the Glenrothes plant makes integrated circuits for defence and aerospace customers.
Rochester in Kent had yet another BAe Systems factory, until recently making high tech helmets and head up displays for Typhoon Eurofighters at the old Marconi factory. However, its attraction for the Department of Defence may be the home of the Defence Explosives Ordnance Disposal School and the nearby firing range at Lodge Hill Camp, very useful in the age of Improvised Explosive Devices.
Loudwater near High Wycombe is the UK location of the Defence Contract Management Agency, which is a Department of Defence procurement agency located in an anonymous business park in the town. Given that private British contractors have built a multi-million pound industry supplying private “security” in the countries America has invaded, there may be some rather unsavoury visitors to this particular complex.
Conveniently it is also the home of Ultra Electronics Command and Control Systems, a high tech British company that supplies the “MOD and international military and commercial customers”, and is currently working on the Joint Fighter project for the Americans and BAe Systems.
Cheltenham would be an attachment to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the National security Agency’s British partner but could also be any organisation involved in snooping on communications and code breaking; including the CIA, Defence Intelligence Agency and the Office of Naval Intelligence.
“Chicksands”, in Bedfordshire would definitely be a popular posting for those intent on murder – it’s where the spies learn to think like soldiers and the soldiers learn to think like spies.
The RAF station was a war-time “Y” station, listening in to Axis radio communications and feeding the intercepts to Bletchley Park. In 1950 the USAF leased it and it became a major cold war listening station. After closure in 1997 the British Intelligence Corps took over the site and the grounds are now shared with the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre. This is a British joint services establishment, now semi privatised, providing training to “military and civilian students” in “Security, language, intelligence and photography”. Among other specialities it provides training in are “Human intelligence” (running informers) and “debriefing” (interrogation). In their 2005 annual report they are quite proud to admit that they seconded 53 staff to places like Iraq and Afghanistan that year, where people would probably describe “debriefing” as torture. Conveniently, the grounds are shared with the Directorate of the Intelligence Corps as well as the headquarters of Psychological Operations.
Readers should not imagine that this is a comprehensive list or a history of the Cold War; it’s not meant to be, it’s just a list of places where American government postings were claiming expenses over the last 40 years. There were many other US bases, just as there were many other British bases and secret research establishments dotted around the country. It’s just that they weren’t of such interest, at least to America.
In the second part of this article, we will try to bring this information up to date, using a variety of unconventional sources.