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Occupy 'spy base': UK activists cry espionage over US surveillance center

Published time: April 19, 2012 07:48
Edited time: April 19, 2012 17:49

Menwith Hill, Yorkshire Dales, UK

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Menwith Hill, the largest intelligence gathering and surveillance center outside the US, in the heart of the UK's Yorkshire Dales, is surrounded by protesters demonstrating against America's planned missile defense system.

The local residents, often camping outside, have been joined by members of the global Occupy movement, supporting ongoing local efforts.

"It’s completely unaccountable, run by the NSA [National Security Agency], which is one of the most shadowy organizations in the world. It’s not even accountable to the UK government. The capabilities at Menwith Hill are worrying for our civil liberties…There’s whistleblower testimony that shows that what goes on there isn’t just political espionage, but commercial espionage too. And that’s before you even consider its implications on our civil liberties, that they can listen to our phone calls, intercept our emails," said Helen Alexander of the Occupy Leeds branch.

To keep up with new types of warfare, billions of dollars has been invested in Menwith Hill over the last decade. It has enabled the base to remain a vital component of the global US surveillance network.

Comprised of 33 satellite dishes housed inside large golf-ball structures, the site has the technology to intercept telephone calls, faxes and emails from around the world.

Menwith watcher and author of the 65-page report "Lifting the Lid on Menwith", Dr Steve Schofield believes it is providing information for special operations in around 100 countries – which he dubs an “unprecedented level of intervention.”

"The UK’s providing a facility here that’s involved in drone attacks that we know, from independent assessments, are killing and injuring thousands of civilians, and because of the covert nature of that warfare, it’s very difficult to provide information and accountability through the UK parliament. And yet these are acts of war. And normally when we have war, parliament should normally inform people that we’re involved in those. And we’re not being informed. We’re kept entirely in the dark about them."

In his report, Dr Schofield also challenges the assertion that the US presence provides significant economic benefit to the local area as being "grossly exaggerated." He claims that any such benefits must be measured against the costs to the UK of servicing American bases like Menwith.  

As in Poland and the Czech Republic, where the US also planned to situate bases, locals are worried that the facility will put their area in danger, heightening the risk of an attack by anyone who wants to disable the shield.

For Dr. Schofield, Menwith represents a global concern: "What we’re seeing is the Americans developing a new form of imperialism… This isn’t about protection of democracy. If you look at the pattern of investment in bases over a number of years by the US, it’s all about ensuring that they have access to oil and other vital non-renewable resources in Africa, in the Persian Gulf. And we’ve got to challenge that! Because the next stage is probably an attack on Iran."

However, plans for expansion show no signs of abating, with a roadmap for developing the ballistic missile defense shield laid out until 2025.