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.