The latest documents leaked by Edward Snowden show a link between RAF Menwith Hill and US targeted strikes
The documents tie the facility, RAF Menwith Hill, located near Harrogate in North Yorkshire, to lethal US strikes in the Middle East, which could raise problematic legal issues for the facility’s British staff.
Menwith Hill is commanded by an RAF officer with a large contingent of support services provided by the US Air Force and the NSA. It was used to collect Soviet signals during the Cold War and has been described as the world’s largest electronic monitoring station, as well as the NSA’s largest overseas listening post.
According to the documents, during a June 2008 visit to the facility, then-NSA director Keith Alexander asked, “Why can’t we collect all the signals, all the time?”, continuing, “Sounds like a good summer homework project for Menwith!”
As a result of the challenge, between 2009 and 2012 more than $40 million (£30m) on a massive new 95,000-square-foot operations building, with 10,000 square feet set aside for a data centre capable of storing large troves of intercepted data, the documents say.
The new centre used 182 miles of cables and included a 200-seat auditorium for classified operations meetings, say the documents, which were originally collected by Edward Snowden and have now been published by investigative website The Intercept.
The communications equipment in Menwith Hill’s dozens of distinctive white radomes are used to eavesdrop on other countries’ satellite communications, as well as communicating with US spy satellites that capture signals on the ground, including mobile phone and Wi-Fi signals, according to the documents.
The official purpose of the domes stated by the US and UK governments was that the domes provided “rapid radio relay” and to conduct “communications research”, the documents say.
Intercepted data passing from Internet cafes in the Middle East to communications satellites could be used to locate target individuals when they logged on at a particular facility, triggering a military action such as a drone strike, according to the documents.
The programme, called Ghosthunter, was first developed in 2006 and resulted in “a significant number of capture-kill operations”, including one in which “30 enemy” were “killed” in Afghanistan, according to leaked memos.
Another memo speaks of Menwith Hill analysts finding “a new way to geolocate targets who are active at Internet cafes in Yemen”.
The connection to Yemen could pose legal problems, since that country is not a war zone and as such individuals there would have non-combatant status.
As barrister Jemima Stratford QC pointed out in a 2014 analysis of earlier leaked documents, an individual passing data from a British facility that is then used in a lethal US strike on non-combatants would be “likely” to be considered “an accessory to murder”.
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