Britain’s Ministry of Defense has passed harsh laws to protect US air bases in the UK that are suspected of wide surveillance and drone warfare, British media report. The new measures could land a person in jail for merely walking their dog nearby.
There are dozens of sites where the new by-laws are going to be introduced, the Independent revealed Monday. But among them are several which are widely believed to be involved in NSA mass surveillance, as well as relaying spy data on Europeans (and their leaders) back to Washington.
Two of the bases in question, revealed earlier this year by the British newspaper, are RAF Croughton near Milton Keynes and RAF Menwith Hill.
The first is used for information relay back to the US from its embassies worldwide, as well as transferring data from secret facilities, among which is the one that was allegedly used to spy on Angela Merkel’s phone conversations in Berlin. Another of its uses is as a relay center for messages by CIA agents.
But the main complaint leveled at the Croughton is its alleged use by the US to assist drone warfare being launched from the infamous bases like Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti – a facility which has come under fierce criticism for its drone-related technical blunders, as well as being used to launch attacks against Yemen, as a result of which many civilians lost their lives.
Menwith Hill is located in Yorkshire in northern England, and is allegedly also a key player in Washington’s drone warfare, something the British government denies, saying that no unmanned aircraft is being piloted from there.
The laws were proposed earlier this year and propose a perimeter around each facility, inside which a whole host of activities will be punishable by law, among them: camping, grazing an animal, taking pictures of anything or anyone, failing to clean up dog mess, engaging in any kind of business and so on. Any and all transgressions will result in arrest without warning or charge.
An exception that was present in the last version of the by-laws – under which a person could be forgiven for doing something inadvertently or having no choice but to engage in a set activity – is missing from the new version of the rules, according to the Independent.
The by-laws have aroused great criticism from citizens and rights groups.
People do not like the idea that their country is in cahoots with America’s drone operations, nor do they understand why their basic right to walk nearby is now being threatened by something to do with the United States.
One of the bases on the list is scheduled to be used for the upcoming US missile defense system.
Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, a human rights NGO, told the Independent that “these by-laws have been designed to prevent any transparency about what activities take place at RAF Croughton and Barford St John. There is strong evidence that Croughton plays a role in the US drone campaign. But instead of coming clean with the public, the Ministry of Defence has decided to help the US further by drafting draconian by-laws that give the military the power to arrest dog walkers who stray in the general vicinity of the base. It must be asked what is going on at RAF Croughton and elsewhere and why is the UK helping the US cover it up?”
The British government, however, maintains that the introduction of the new by-laws is merely a long overdue measure to better consolidate the rules and regulations that should have been better coordinated since their introduction in 1892. It believes as a result, public access to military land will be increased, not the other way around.