The top secret US military base, Menwith Hill, is a little piece of America in the heart of the UK’s Yorkshire Dales. For years it has been a protest hotspot for Britons who are demanding their country’s independence from America.
“This base symbolizes what’s wrong with the special relationship between the UK and the US. Here we have a base that’s under US control, over which the British government and British people have no control. This base is not accountable to us, the British people. It’s engaged in activities, and supporting wars, which most British people object to,” human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said.
Menwith Hill is the largest intelligence gathering and surveillance base outside the US. There are 32 satellite dishes housed inside the huge golf-ball structures which can eavesdrop on telephone calls, faxes and emails from around the world. It has been operational since the 1960s, but now it is set to become part of the controversial missile defense shield designed to alert the US to the launch of ballistic missiles.
As in Poland and the Czech Republic, where the US also planned to site bases, locals are worried that having the facility here will put the area in danger, heightening the risk of an attack by anyone who wants to disable the shield. But unlike in Eastern Europe, the government here has put up no fight at all. In fact, it does not even know what goes on here.
“It might look innocuous from the outside, but it’s what goes on behind there. And you know, there is not a single British official in parliament or in the intelligence services who could give you a full picture of what’s happening in that base,” journalist and campaigner Yvonne Ridley said.
It is the culmination of former US president Ronald Reagan’s dream. As his statue is unveiled in London on Monday, Menwith Hill embodies what Reagan envisaged in the early-warning missile detection system that was dubbed the “Star Wars” program. It is secretive, based far away from US soil, and some say it is a step towards the US domination and militarization of space.
People demonstrate at Menwith Hill every July 4, campaigning for the closure of this base and the others like it around the country. They want to reclaim this land and bring it back under the control of the British government and its people.
It is not working, though. As Menwith Hill becomes part of the missile defense shield, it is building another golf-ball satellite structure, bringing the total to 33, despite local and national opposition. Growing, not reducing, the US’s influence in Europe.