Military Wiki
RAF Menwith Hill

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Air Force ISR Agency.png

Part of USAF Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (AFISR)
Located near Harrogate, Yorkshire, England
Menwith Hill from the air
Type Communications & Intelligence
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1954
In use 1954-Present
Royal Air Force
Controlled by Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (AFISR)
Garrison 451st Intelligence Squadron

RAF Menwith Hill is a Royal Air Force station near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England which provides communications and intelligence support services to the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The site contains an extensive satellite ground station and is a communications intercept and missile warning site[1] and has been described as the largest electronic monitoring station in the world.[2]

RAF Menwith Hill is commanded by a Royal Air Force Officer, supported by an RAF element, whilst the majority of support services are provided by the United States Air Force, 421st Air Base Group.

The site acts as a ground station for a number of satellites operated by the US National Reconnaissance Office,[3] on behalf of the US National Security Agency, with antennae contained in a large number of highly distinctive white radomes, and is alleged to be an element of the ECHELON system.[4]


A Menwith Hill radome.

Menwith Hill Station was opened on 545 acres (2.21 km2) of land acquired by the British War Office in 1954 and leased to the United States. The United States Army Security Agency established a high frequency radio monitoring capability, monitoring communications emanating from the Soviet Union, operating from 1958.

In 1966 the National Security Agency (NSA) took on responsibility for the U.S. operation of the site, expanding the capabilities to monitor international leased line communications transiting through Britain. The site was then one of the earliest to receive sophisticated early IBM computers, with which NSA automated the labour-intensive watch-list scrutiny of intercepted but unenciphered telex messages.

In March 2012 researcher Dr. Steve Schofield produced a 65-page report called "Lifting the Lid on Menwith Hill",[5] funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and commissioned and published by the Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disaarmament (CND). Menwith Hill's primary mission is to provide "intelligence support for UK, US and allied interests". The base's multimillion-pound expansion, Project Phoenix, is "one of the largest and most sophisticated high technology programs carried out anywhere in the UK over the last 10 years". Of the 1,800 employees in 2012, 400 were British and 1,200 were American employees of the NSA.[6]

During an interview with the Russian government funded broadcaster Russia Today in April 2012, Schofield alleged that Menwith Hill was "involved in drone attacks". He said: "The UK’s providing a facility here that’s involved in drone attacks that we know, from independent assessments, are killing and injuring thousands of civilians, and because of the covert nature of that warfare, it’s very difficult to provide information and accountability through the UK parliament. And yet these are acts of war. And normally when we have war, parliament should normally inform people that we’re involved in those. And we’re not being informed. We’re kept entirely in the dark about them."[7]

During the 2009 G-20 London Summit NSA intercept specialists based at Menwith Hill attempted to target and decode the encrypted telephone calls of the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.[8]

ECHELON Interception System

Investigative journalist, Duncan Campbell, revealed in 1988, in an article entitled "Somebody's listening" and published in New Statesman, the existence of the ECHELON surveillance program, an extension of the UKUSA Agreement on global signals intelligence Sigint and detailed how the eavesdropping operations worked.[9] Duncan Campbell presented a report commissioned by STOA concerning the ECHELON system, at a "hearing of the Committee on Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs on the subject ‘the European Union and data protection" which prompted the European Union to set up the Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System.[10]

On 5 July 2000, the European Union set up the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System stated that the global system for the interception of private and commercial communications was operating by means of "cooperation proportionate to their capabilities" among the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the UKUSA." "It seems likely... that its name is in fact ECHELON." The Committee raised concerns about the incompatibility of the interception of private and commercial communications with the fundamental right to respect for private life (Article 8 of the ECHR). They were also concerned that interception of commercial communications could be used for "competitive intelligence-gathering rather than combating corruption."[10] During the early 1970s, the first of what became more than eight large satellite communications dishes were installed at Menwith Hill.[11]

In 1999 he wrote a report on COMINT entitled Interception Capabilities 2000 for the European Parliament.[12]

In 1996 author and investigative journalist, Nicky Hager in his book entitled Secret Power, New Zealand’s role in the international spy network, provided a detailed account of ECHELON, the world-wide electronic surveillance system used by an intelligence alliance of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.[13]

In 3 November 1999 the BBC reported that they had confirmation from the Australian Government of the existence of a powerful "global spying network" codenamed Echelon, that can eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet" with Britain and the United States as the chief protagonists. They confirmed that Menwith Hill was "linked directly to the headquarters of the US National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade in Maryland."[14]


Between 1984 and 1995 a number of peace camps were established in close proximity to the station. A number of other individual protests have also taken place, predominantly related to nuclear proliferation and strategic missile defense.[15] Protests also occurred at other US military locations in the UK such as Greenham Common.[16]

Objections to the Strategic Defense Initiative have led to demonstrators storming the perimeter fence.[17][18] and to demands in 2007 from Labour MPs for a full debate about missile defence and Menwith Hill.[19] Actions continue into 2006.[20]

One particular local activist, Lindis Percy, was prosecuted, over a protracted period, under a number of different laws.[21][22][23][24][25][26]

In April 2012 activists affiliated with the global Occupy Movement held a four-day campsite at Menwith Hill.[27] Protesters said they hoped the camp would "reignite the debate locally, nationally and globally about whether the subversive and undemocratic nature of activities at the base are acceptable, or indeed accountable, to the British public."[28]

See also


  1. RAF Menwith Hill
  2. "UK agrees missile defence request". BBC News. 25 July 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  3. NRO-FOIA request
  4. Bamford, James; Body of Secrets, Anchor, ISBN 0-385-49908-6; 2002
  5. Steve Schofield (March 2012). "Lifting the Lid on Menwith Hill: The Strategic Roles & Economic Impact of the US Spy Base in Yorkshire". CND. 
  6. Richard Norton-Taylor (1 March 2012). "Menwith Hill eavesdropping base undergoes massive expansion". The Guardian. London. 
  7. "Occupy 'spy base': UK activists cry espionage over US surveillance center". 19 April 2012. 
  8. "GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summit". The Guardian. 
  9. Campbell, Duncan (1988-08-12). "Somebody's Listening" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-06-19. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Rapporteur Gerhard Schmid (11 July 2001). "Report on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system)". European Parliament. 
  11. Echelon", 60 Minutes, 27 February 2000
  12. Campbell, Duncan (1999-04). "Interception Capabilities 2000". European Parliament, Directorate General for Research, Directorate A, The STOA Programme. Retrieved 2007-06-19. 
  13. Hager, Nicky (1 August 1996). Secret Power, New Zealand’s role in the international spy network. 
  14. Bomford, Andrew (3 November 1999). "Echelon spy network revealed". BBC. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  15. "Menwith Hill - The Campaign of Opposition". Retrieved 14 January 2009. 
  16. "From Greenham to Menwith: The women's peace campaign at Menwith Hill". The f Word Contemporary UK Feminism. Retrieved 14 January 2009. 
  17. "The Battle of Menwith". BBC News. 4 July 2001. 
  18. "Menwith Hill protests continue for second day". The Guardian Newspaper. London. 4 July 2001. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  19. "Why has the US base at Menwith Hill created such a political storm?". Belfast Telegraph. 3 August 2007. 
  20. "Keighley grandmothers arrested over spy base protest". Yorkshire Dales Country News. 6 April 2006. 
  21. "Who are you calling anti-social?". The Independent. London. 17 May 2005. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  22. Laura Smith-Spark (17 May 2005). "Can Asbos curb the right to protest?". BBC News. 
  23. Michael Dickinson (19 May 2005). "The Trouble with Menwith". CounterPunch. 
  24. Courtnews, cndyorks
  25. "Peace protest at Menwith Hill". Harrogate Advertiser. 20 January 2009. 
  26. Ian Herbert (29 January 2007). "Veteran peace protester sent to jail despite prisons crisis". The Independent. London. 
  27. Tim Cook (18 April 2012). "Protest camp looks to raise awareness of Menwith Hill". Harrogate News. Harrogate. 
  28. "Occupy Menwith Hill - Why?". Occupy Menwith Hill. 19 April 2012. 


  • Bird, Kenneth L., Menwith Hill Station-A Case Study in Signal Intelligence Gathering During the Cold War-Monitoring Times- February 1997

External links

Coordinates: 54°00′29″N 1°41′24″W / 54.00806°N 1.69°W / 54.00806; -1.69

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