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 Once a posting has been analysed, there is a reluctance to remove it even though it may be out of date; the cost of living reviews just become less frequent until they stop altogether.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.