Menwith Hill, Lindis Percy and the Right to Protest

July 3, 2009

Menwith Hill from sky. Yorkshire CND. June, 2009

Menwith Hill from sky. Yorkshire CND. June, 2009

What is Menwith Hill? And who is Lindis Percy?

 Starting with the basics(and I’m good at asking ‘stupid’ questions..). Menwith Hill is a place in Yorkshire, England. Seen from above, it has certain similarities with a golf course (see photo). I asked someone at random here (in Britain) what they thought Menwith Hill was for.

“An early warning’ system” (‘Joe Bloggs’ said). “An early warning system for what?” I asked.

Well, if someone attacks us with missiles – Menwith Hill picks up on it and tells us, so that we can ‘zap’ the missiles before they get here”.

Right. That’s not what Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) thinks it is. They say it’s:

“…the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. Run by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States, it is one of a global network of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) bases, which monitors the world’s communications and relays information to NSA HQ at Fort Meade in Maryland, USA.

Until a few years ago, the existence of the NSA was a secret and its charter and any mention of its duties are still classified. The American people know very little about it – and they know even less about Menwith Hill”.

 Is it really true that the American people know very little about this? Difficult to tell. I sought enlightenment in the first instance at the Federation of American Scientists.

FAS have an intelligence resource program and even a dedicated web site on ‘Reducing Government Secrecy’. Fascinating. FAS explain the White House has announced an online process for receiving public comments and recommendations for changes to classification and declassification policies.  (I’m right on trend with this one – a public consultation and discussion of declassification policy begins today here.)

I digress. The title of this blog post is ‘Menwith Hill, Lindis Percy and the Right to Protest’. Here is what the Federation of American Scientists  have to say about what Menwith Hill does:

“In the early 1960s Menwith Hill was one of the first sites in the world to receive sophisticated early IBM computers, with which NSA automated the labor-intensive watch-list scrutiny of intercepted but unenciphered telex messages. Since then, Menwith Hill has sifted the international messages, telegrams, and telephone calls of citizens, corporations or governments to select information of political, military or economic value…

…Initially, tapes containing data collected at Menwith Hill were returned via air to the United States for analysis. The Post Office installed two wideband circuits to Menwith Hill in 1975 which were connected to the nearby Hunters Stones microwave radio station, a part of the country-wide microwave network which carried British long-distance telephone calls during the 1970s and 1980s. Starting in 1992 British Telecom [BT] added digital optical fiber cables, which by 1996 were capable of carrying more than 100,000 simultaneous telephone calls.

Let me get this straight. My emails, phone calls, and internet traffic are being intercepted and the information is being shipped to the States without my permission. How did that happen?  And if ‘Big Brother’ is reading all my emails anyway, what’s the point in fretting about Firewalls?

According to the FAS:

“The official cover story is that the all-civilian base is a Department of Defense communications station. The British Ministry of Defence describe Menwith Hill as a “communications relay centre.” Like all good cover stories, this has a strong element of truth to it. Until 1974, Menwith Hill’s SIGINT specialty was evidently the interception of International Leased Carrier signals, the communications links run by civil agencies — the Post, Telegraph and Telephone ministries of eastern and western European countries. The National Security Agency took over Menwith Hill in 1966. Interception of satellite communications began at Menwith Hill as early as 1974, when the first of more than eight large satellite communications dishes were installed.”

Blimey. I’m going to need more than one blog post to chew this one over… 

To read more about what the the FAS say about Menwith click here.

If you’d like to air your views on this, I’d be interested to hear them. Leave a comment at the link.

One Response to “Menwith Hill, Lindis Percy and the Right to Protest”

  1. […] A 24-hour news culture doesn’t always lend itself to putting things in context. But blogging can be usefully reflective and I’m still struggling to answer questions thrown up by Lindis Percy’s talk on ’The Right to Protest’ (see also previous post on Menwith)… […]

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