The story of Menwith Hill begins in the public area, not with a ministerial statement, debate or planted parliamentary question in the mother of Parliaments. It began on 18 July 1980 when the New Statesman published an article by Duncan Campbell and Linda Melvern entitled “The Billion Dollar Phone Tap—America’s Big Ear in the Heart of Yorkshire”.” To suggest, as the Minister has, that there is parliamentary accountability for that spy station in the Yorkshire hills is to torture the truth. Its establishment has been accompanied by lies, evasion, deceit and a persistent refusal by Ministers to provide proper information to elected representatives in this so-called mother of Parliaments. Indeed, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has refused to allow Labour Members around the base. That is a curious change because in 1981 the former Secretary of State for Defence, Francis Pym, gave me permission to visit the base. The only qualification to that permission was a refusal to allow Duncan Campbell to accompany me because he knew something about the spying and procedures going on inside the base.
Parliamentary accountability is virtually non-existent. There is little point in asking questions when answers are refused. On 27 April 1988, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence “if he will list the agreements authorising the use of Menwith Hill communications base, Harrogate, by the United States National Security Agency.” Mr. Ian Stewart replied: “The use of Menwith Hill by the United States Department of Defence is subject to confidential arrangements between the United Kingdom and United States Government.”—[Official Report, 27 April 1988; Vol. 132, c. 203.]” I asked the same question on Thursday 19 July 1990.The then Minister of State said: “I have nothing to add to the answer which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Stewart) gave to the hon. Member on 27 April 1988.”—[Official Report, 19 July 1990; Vol. 176, c. 654.]” I persisted again on Tuesday 16 June 1992 and asked the Secretary of State for Defence “if he will list the agreements governing the use of Menwith Hill by the National Security Agency of the United States of America.” The Minister replied: “The use of Menwith Hill by the United States Department of Defence is subject to confidential arrangements between the United Kingdom and the United States Government.”—[Official Report, 16 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 501.]” In other words, elected Members of Parliament are denied information on the appropriation of more than 200 acres of land by the United States Government, who now run a spy station in the heart of our country which is linked up to a global network. That is inexcusable. If there is parliamentary accountability, the moon is made of green cheese.
The Menwith Hill story starts with the purchase in 1955 of a 246-acre farm on rural moors west of Harrogate. On 15 September 1960, after the expenditure of $6.8 million, the United States army security field station opened. On 1 August 1966, control of the station was transferred to the ostensibly civilian National Security Agency of America. Francis Raven, who was the chief of G group of United States army intelligence until 1975, claimed that the takeover occurred because the army resisted eavesdrop-ping on diplomatic and economic targets. That claim can be found on page 209 of James Bamford’s excellent work “Puzzle Palace”. At least the Ministry of Defence is helpful in some respects. The copy of that book has disappeared from the House of Commons Library, so it secured one from the MOD library—it was the only piece of useful information that the MOD has provided on the matter.
Menwith Hill is a spy station—a sophisticated version of the man in the dirty raincoat looking through a bedroom window or the pervert spying through a lavatory keyhole. Those who defend the station’s invasion of our land, which has never been approved by Parliament, are no better. There is no glory or wonderful purpose involved in Menwith Hill. That is all the more true now that the cold war is over. Ministers justified the Menwith Hill base by saying it was part of the cold war, but we understand that that has finished. What is their justification for the spy station now?
Yorkshire land has been taken from us to provide an eavesdropping centre that is virtually free from urban, electro-magnetic interference. That is why the station is sited at its current location. The station is part of a chain of such stations that span the globe. Their aim is to assert and retain United States supremacy. For example, exactly opposite to Menwith Hill, on the other side of the globe in a prohibited region in Australia stands the twin of Menwith Hill, Pine Gap station. When Menwith Hill opened, the United States air force security service listening post at Kirknewton near Edinburgh ceased operations and a former employee is quoted on page 210 of “Puzzle Palace” as saying: “I had to keep a special watch for commercial traffic, details of commodities, what big companies were selling, like iron and steel and gas. Changes were frequent. One week I was asked to scan all traffic between Berlin and London and another week between Rome and Belgrade. Some weeks the list of words to watch for contained dozens of names of big companies. Some weeks I just had to look for commodities. All traffic” — interception material—
“was sent back to Fort Meade in Washington.” Menwith Hill took over those functions and continued to pursue military eavesdropping.
Its spying grows. The cold war has ended, but the radomes number 21 after recent expansion. About 1,200 staff, who are mainly American, are employed there—the number has grown from 400 in 1980. United States staff are ordered never to mention the National Security Agency of America and to report all outside contacts with foreign nationals—the British people who live in the region—to ensure that supervision of such contacts is maintained. The base has a few carefully controlled public relations contacts to camouflage its isolation and secrecy, but many British people continue to oppose the base, for which there is no longer any justification, if there ever was.
Throughout the time of the base’s existence, Otley peace action group has held demonstrations and campaigned against it. A group of women, including Lindis Percy and Anne Lee, has focused particular attention on this foreign intrusion and has repeatedly entered the base and obtained valuable information—more power to their elbow. If Parliament will not provide accountability, people outside always will. While Parliament remains inert, it is people outside this place who have pushed Parliament along the road to democracy. …
Read more: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1994/mar/25/menwith-hill-station-north-yorkshire