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How Does NSA Get Away With Running Top Secret Menwith Hill in the UK?

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How Does NSA Get Away With Running Top Secret Menwith Hill in the UK?

North Yorkshire in the UK is known for its undulating and verdurous hillsides, scattered with walkers and sheep poo, cozy country pubs selling ‘real’ ale and Yorkshire bitter, and simple folk who talk funny.

This tranquil and traditional corner of England at its most ‘English’ is the last place you would expect to find a $10 billion dollar “star wars” inspired defence shield that houses 33 satellite dishes, enclosed within giant ‘golf balls’ that receive data from four SBIR satellites 24,000 miles above earth.

This almost unbelievable scenario is the situation with Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, the home of a major US military site that has been shrouded in secrecy during its two-decade construction.

It has now been reported as the site for “Echelon”, the top secret US eavesdropping system that intercepts communications from around the world.

A Space Based Infrared System

The project at the RAF Menwith Hill base is linked to Buckley, in Colorado, a military Air Force base that houses approximately 10,000 military personnel, as well as the 460th space wing of the US Air Force Space Command.

The Command provides “missile warning, missile defence, technical intelligence, satellite command and control, and robust aerospace communications,” according to the website.

The Space Based Infared System that will alert the US to the launch of ballistic missiles is expected to be operational before the end of 2011.

Its looming completion and the fact that the site has been cloaked in such secrecy has naturally sparked a wave of criticism. That criticism has come from many quarters – not only come from the usual peace and anti-war campaigners.

Environmentalists and walkers of the area have had their pretty morning walk through the Yorkshire countryside infinitely spoiled with the erection of “star wars” inspired golf balls that are a blatant symbol of war and destruction. Local taxpayers also wonder if they have contributed to the $10 billion required to complete the project. Finally, there are many others who fear that space is in danger of becoming militarized.

Perhaps most worryingly are the concerns those that wonder how the NSA gets away with running such a top secret US military site in the UK – further evidence of the UK being an ‘eternal lackey’ to the US.

Doesn’t the UK Have a “Right to Know”?

Talking about the ‘disturbing’ nature, local Labour MP, Fabian Hamilton, commented in The Guardian:

“I find this disturbing to say the least. It’s as if they are saying this is a place in the US and you are foreigners. But hang on a second; this is a bit of Yorkshire. We have no idea what they are doing. If they are developing star wars we have a right to know.”

It has been suggested that the work at Menwith Hill, which is run by the US National Security Agency, is so top secret that even the UK government has little idea what is going on.

How typically ‘British’ is that?

There is major US secret intelligence being conducted on British soil and the government barely knows what is going on there.

“If the position was reversed and there was an RAF airbase in Massachusetts, can you imagine the American military saying ‘You do what you like’?” continued Hamilton.

The US military refer to the ‘golf ball’ encased satellite systems in North Yorkshire as “full spectrum dominance of land, sea, air, space and information”. I would be inclined to refer to the Menwith Hill project as being evidence of the US having “full spectrum control” over the UK.

US Influence and Control over the UK

The political, economical and military influence of the US has long been prevalent in the UK and was brought to the limelight in 2007 when ‘steadfast allies’ – President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair – stood side by side in the Rose Garden of the White House, defending their decision to go to war in Iraq and to remain there, despite plunging their own approval ratings.

It was a decision that eventually led to Tony Blair’s political demise, and although it may not seem to have much relevance in this story, is also proof of how ‘influenced’ and ‘starry-eyed’ the UK can be towards the US.

The National Security Agency (NSA) and its eavesdropping mission gets away with having a top secret system that intercepts communication from around the world on one of the most ‘retrograde’ counties in the UK because of its power – especially over the British Tory government, which is clearly an ‘eternal lackey’ to the US.

An important national security concern of the UK government should be that the presence of such highly secretive US technology at Menwith Hill is likely to heighten the risk of a pre-emptive attack on the UK as a means of disabling America’s missile-detection system.

Such an event would inevitably rouse further outrage amongst many other people in the UK, not just the sheep farmers of Yorkshire.

Originally published on

  • Tom

    [quote]especially over the British Tory government, which is clearly an ‘eternal lackey’ to the US[/quote]

    Not exactly balanced, is it?  You seem to have forgotten that Tony Blair was a member of the Labour party.  He not only made the decision on Iraq, but the ten-year timeline you give for the Menwith Hill puts that decision firmly during his premiership, too.

  • Billy Gilchrist

    This is one poorly written article. The title asks the question “How
    does NSA…” but nowhere in the article do I see evidence of NSA doing

    There is a statement in the article that the site “has now been
    reported as the site for “Echelon”…” but no further details about
    what/who the source would be linking the site to Echelon.

    With that sort of insinuating writing you can make any claims about any place on earth.

    OK so sure I do believe that UK and US do ‘eavesdrop’ their own
    citizens (although not in real time, they probably just store the
    communications for later need) and have what-ever agreements with each
    other. But an article that only cites its own self is useless.

  • Lavenderpickle

    “This almost unbelievable scenario is the situation with Menwith Hill in
    North Yorkshire, the home of a major US military site that has been
    shrouded in secrecy during its two-decade construction.”

    Menwith Hill has been home to a major US military site (and presumably under construction) for at least 4 decades, and probably longer.   So, given that information, your statement suggests that Menwith Hill is
    A) no longer under construction.
    B) no longer shrouded in secrecy.

    I could find other fallacies, but I agree with Billy, this is one poorly written article.

  • Anonymous

    Here you go: (
    Menwith Hill was operated by ASA from 1958 until its turnover to NSA in June 1966

    And here: with citation of author James Bamford:
    “The system has been reported in a number of public sources.[4] Its capabilities’ and political implications were investigated by a committee of the European Parliament during 2000 and 2001 with a report published in 2001,[5] and by author James Bamford in his books on the National Security Agency of the United States.[3]”

    Of course – you’re ignoring the real question that still stands, why is a U.S. run spy facility allowed to operate in the UK, regardless which U.S. agency/military branch runs it?

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to say that I’ve never seen logic as shabby and asinine as this comment that you’ve just posted Lavenderpickle – or is it Billy?

    What have you to say about the U.S. running such a facility on UK soil? Cool with it?

  • There are nowhere near 100,000 military personnel in, around, or near Buckley AFS. You could easily have checked their Facebook page to verify this. And, of course, your characterization of SBIRS as some kind of evil surveillance technology is way off base. There are other factual errors in this article, but I’m too lazy to cite them all. As for the UKUSA relationship, put it this way: I’m pretty sure that GCHQ knows exactly what kind of work is done at Menwith Hill. It’s not NSA’s, or the USA’s, fault if the UK government chooses not to share those details with the UK public.

  • Cuprohastes

    Ok, so Menwith Hill has been there for oh… 30 years now? And for about that long, people have assumed it’s an ECHELON station.
    This story is inaccurate, patronising to the people who live here in Yorkshire and badly researched by someone who appears to get her sources frorm wishful thinking and readi bother amateur blogs.

  • Thank you for making me feel better as a writer. I know I will never create anything as terrible as this article.

  • Anonymous

    Hey was this story linked somewhere in a British website? Lately we seem inundated on this article by a multitude of pretentious people from the UK. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t see you refer to any sources for this information?

  • Dan

    It was linked off a UK blog, and the base is anything but secret here; you can even trace most of the resident personnel who live in the surrounding area if you so choose (look for houses with basketball hoops affixed to the walls; vanishingly rare in Britain, but something of an American fascination). There’s even some masochist who runs a Hummer; he started off with one of the first series ones and subsequently imported others. I say masochist, since UK gas prices are three or four times US prices…

    Menwith Hill also has a waveguide link to the Hunters Stones UK receiving station a few miles away (revealed in open court by a hapless BT engineer, the silly bugger), which started life as part of the Cold War backbone network, and now presumably does something else, we know not what. Add in the Forest Moor UK military site with all its multiplicity of antennae, and the whole Menwith ridge is really quite a spooky place. Also bloody hilly, as I know to my cost whenever the local hunt decide to do the Hampsthwaite hunt (Rowden bank, Gormires wood, then scrabble round every single gorse-bush in sight as there ain’t any more decent woodland up there; look those up on a map).

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the correction Paul – this site confirms it’s around 10,000 (, and I’ve updated the article. Thanks for the comment. However, this is interesting (note 65,000 jobs):

    “Incidentally, Bill S. and I figured there were probably at least 10,000 people doing intelligence-related work around Buckley, because the ADF portion of the base employs at least 4000, and new Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and TRW facilities to the west of the base appear to employ well over 5000. But the Denver Post said this morning that as many as 65,000 people have jobs that are Buckley-related (!!! – does this number include retail businesses serving Buckley?), a number that amounts to one-fourth of the citizens of Aurora.”

  • Anonymous

    Dan – thanks for the comment and info. While the site itself may not be secret, as you point out, much of what they do there is.

    Also, Gabrielle’s main point was mostly that – if the situation was switched around and such a facility was located in the U.S., and primarily (mostly) run by UK interests – would U.S. citizens stand for it? Personally – I don’t think they would.

  • D.D.

    Well of course the work they do there is secret. Much of military and intelligence work is. Should we be saying, “Hey, bad guys, we’re spying on you with these tools at these locations!”

    Come on, this is moronic.

    While we may have assets on their soil, much of the work is jointly done. While they may claim to have no knowledge (wouldn’t you?), I am certain they do. If you think there isn’t a joint presence there, you are sadly mistaken.

    Both countries (good allies, I might add… that whole Hitler thing, if you recall) are winning here. The U.S. has something a bit closer to the action, and the U.K. gets intelligence at a fraction of the cost of building such a thing by themselves.

  • D.D.

    …Because you’ll find that one on paper.

    Please, sir, go find your tinfoil hat and play by yourself in the corner.

  • Anonymous

    It’s funny – for all the attacking Gabrielle for making claims without providing supporting evidence, you’re doing a bit of that right here. Anyone can think anything they want about there being a “joint presence” or not – you have no evidence either way, so you’re speculating.

    And no – obviously those at the facility would not tell anyone what sort of secret methods are being used, but my point was that you saying “there’s nothing secret” about the facility is what is moronic. Of COURSE there is.

    All this is about is attacking an author that dares to question something that hasn’t been questioned for a long time – yet maybe UK residents *should* be asking questions – what exactly is being done “in our back yard”.

    Furthermore – who gets to identify who the “bad guys” are? Hmm?

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure you have plenty to spare.

  • Jay_Crawford

    Quoting from the article:
    “Environmentalists and walkers of the area have had their pretty morning walk through the Yorkshire countryside infinitely spoiled with the erection of ‘star wars’ inspired golf balls that are a blatant symbol of war and destruction.”
    This “symbol of war and destruction” is a surveillance system, just like the latest generation of the Space-Based Infra-Red (SBIR) missile and aircraft detection satelites; together they monitor the skies for potential threats to the UK as well as America. These systems (along with the Echelon communications-monitoring system) are NOT weapons, as everyone can know; therefore, only self-indulgently ignorant IDIOTS can draw such conclusions. (Indeed, just look at the comically-overwrought phrase “infinitely-spoiled”: Does this child even know the meaining of the words she chooses?) Furthermore, if the petulant idots are worried about their cell phones being monitored by the big bad Yanks, they should look at the size (indicated by the domes’ dimensions) and direction in which they are pointed (indicated by the domes’ placement on the hills). This makes it perfectly obvious that the surveillance/communications are directed outside Britain. It is the UK’s own facility at GCHQ Cheltenham which may monitor the worthless chatter of some meandering fools in Yorkshire.

    Again quoting from the article:
    “Local taxpayers also wonder if they have contributed to the $10 billion required to complete the project.”
    If they did, it would be right because the space-monitoring protects them as well as the rest of us from sneak endo-atmospheric and exo-atmospheric attack.

    Still again quoting from the article:
    “Finally, there are many others who fear that space is in danger of becoming militarized.”
    Where has the author been for the last 48 years since the US first tested reconaissance satelites…and the last 35 years since the Soviet Union tested (and deployed) the first co-orbital anti-satelite WEAPONS. Indeed, was she even paying attention when the Chinese officially put the world on notice with their deployment of an actual satelite WEAPON in January 2007. SPACE HAS BEEN “MILITARIZED” FOR YEARS (and space was actually weaponized by the people whom SBIR and other American satelites monitor).

  • Anonymous

    All excellent points (particularly regarding China). Thanks for the comment Jay.

  • Peter Gerdes

    The UK is making a rational choice: trading control and knowledge of US military activities for the benefit of the (heavily US funded) NATO defense shield on the cheap.  We pay a massively outsized portion of our GDP on military, including maintaining substantial defenses in western europe and handling other situations like stabalizing the pacific which western europeans reap the same benefits from as americans.  The UK just decommisioned it’s last aircraft carrier for pete’s sake if they want to exert military influence on the world stage their only choice is by making deals with us.

    Frankly it seems like a good trade to me.  Spend your money on healthcare and social services and we’ll underwrite the defense of western europe and japan, korea etc.  They do support us in our counterinsurgency operations but we stood behind them in Lybia when we clearly weren’t that enthusiastic about the operation and stepped up with precision munitions when the rest of NATO started running low.

    Ohh, and for all we know the US president doesn’t know what they do their either (Clinton had to get approved for need to know access to info about the top secret test site in the west (aka area 51) while he was investigating lingering polution from prior work there) and the British government likely wants a degree of truthful denyability so they don’t have to lie and risk being caught out or tell the people about unpopular activities.

  • Laurie Knight

    Oh so this is all down to the Evil Tories, who have been in power for what a bit over a year, so this has been built from scratch in the last year presumably. Oh what’s that it’s been there for decades? So why all the partisan crap in the article?

  • Anonymous

    Some articles here do include commentary, and I certainly allow writers to express their own views in many stories. If you consider Gabrielle’s views to be partisan, you’re more than welcome to offer your own counter-arguments here. All views are welcome.

  • All of Gabs work has the full backing in works by authors like Nicky
    Hager, Mike Frost, Helen Caldicott and as dodgey as he is James Bamford. I think it clearly shows the Brits being pawns for the US myself.

  • Jbetska

    obviously your thinking is backwards.  If you think the British don’t know about this set up then you are crazy.  If it is what you say it is, then the British are grateful to have this kind of technology in their backyard without having to lift a finger. If you haven’t noticed England and the US are partners, and that means they share the same enemies.  so its safe to say they would want to be protected from a ballistic missle just as the US would want to be protected. Unfortunately, i don’t see how doppler like satelite dishes on the ground could be a star wars program.  think about it, the infrared satelite in space doesn’t need that many satelites to link up with in such a close range.  that doesn’t make a bit of sense.  One satelite on the ground would do the trick in that area if it needed to share info with the satelite in earths orbit.  what you would need are several satelites but spread out of the planet to get continuous info from above, or have multiple earth orbit satelites and only one receiving dish on the ground to get the info.   So something else is going on, not star wars.  

  • Jbetska

    are there alot of UFO sitings in this area, or has any specific sites been of interest in this area to your government

  • Johnharper

    whats new?

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