RAF intelligence base linked to US drone strike on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani

Research concludes it ‘was probable’ that Menwith Hill was used to assist in the controversial assassination

Campaigners have called on ministers to explain whether the secretive Menwith Hill intelligence base in Yorkshire is involved in recent drone strike assassinations, after the publication of a report that raises questions about UK involvement in US attacks.

A foreword to the research, written by the Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign, concludes it “was probable” that Iranian general Qassem Suleimani was killed in January last year using information obtained from the British site, essentially an outpost of the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Qassem Soleimani
Qassem Suleimani was killed in a US drone strike. Photograph: AP

The full report also raises questions about whether British personnel on the site are involved in assisting deadly US drone strikes – in particular in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, all conflict zones where the UK is not formally at war.

Barnaby Pace, an investigative journalist, complains in the report that the US and UK forces at Menwith Hill “operate beyond public scrutiny and accountability” – and that, unless there were change, “Orwellian surveillance systems and extrajudicial executions exposed in recent years will likely continue”.

The report, presented at a special meeting of the Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign, demands “any US military activity or US security agency activity carried out at Menwith Hill be carried out in such a way as to make those responsible fully accountable to the UK”.

Menwith Hill is eight miles west of Harrogate on the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales, known for its distinctive large white golf ball domes housing radar equipment. Although nominally an RAF base, it is in fact the largest known overseas site of the NSA, with 600 US personnel and 500 British civilians on site.

Leaked documents from the Snowden files have shown that Menwith Hill is part of an eavesdropping network, able to collect data from hundreds of millions of emails and phone calls daily and of pinpointing phones on the ground.

Information obtained can be used in “capture-kill” operations, including the tracking of Taliban targets in Afghanistan in 2011 – leading to “approximately 30 enemy killed” – and again in 2012, according to previously published analysis of the Snowden files summarised by Pace.

Another programme, Ghostwolf, sought to identify terrorists in Yemen. Evidence obtained was used to “capture or eliminate” targets – during the Trump administration US drone strikes in the country killed at least 86 civilians, including 28 children.

“Intelligence programmes at Menwith Hill have reportedly played a key role in operations to ‘eliminate’ people in Yemen, as part of a deadly drone bombing campaign that has resulted in dozens of civilian deaths in a country that neither the UK nor US has declared war with,” Pace added.

The US says its drone strikes in Yemen are legal, citing the Authorisation of Military Force Act passed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. But no similar law exists in the UK and MPs have only voted for military action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, where the RAF remains engaged in a bombing campaign.

In light of the leaks, Pace concludes it was likely that Menwith Hill had a role to play in the killing of Suleimani in January 2020, an action that briefly threatened to plunge the US into a wider conflict with

Iran. British ministers have refused to comment on whether the Yorkshire base did have a role in the drone strike, in the light of a longstanding policy that “we do not comment on the details of the operations carried out at RAF Menwith Hill”.

But Pace argued that such secrecy raises serious questions. “The involvement of the UK and Menwith Hill in an assassination that threatened to spark a war should be of great concern. The UK government’s failure to assure the public that the base was not involved raises deep questions about the accountability for actions at the base,” he wrote.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “RAF Menwith Hill is part of a worldwide US defence communications network, with the base supporting a variety of communications activity. For operational security reasons and as a matter of policy, neither the MoD nor the [US] Department of Defense publicly discuss specifics concerning military operations or classified communications regardless of unit, platform or asset.”

• This article was amended on 3 October 2021 to clarify that it is the introduction to the report which states as “probable” that Iranian general Qassem Souleimani was killed using information obtained from Menwith Hill.

Contributor

Dan Sabbagh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
US personnel ‘targeting killer drones from Britain’
Campaigners say the UK is complicit in activities that may be in breach of international law

Jamie Doward

29, Oct, 2016 @11:38 PM

Article image
US bases in Britain should be closed | Letter by Lindis Percy
Letters: In the light of the Senate vote it is imperative that the plug is pulled on Menwith Hill, Croughton and Morwhenstow

Letters

02, Jun, 2015 @6:18 PM

Article image
Call to open RAF base for investigation into NSA tapping of Merkel's phone
Labour MP Tom Watson calls for German prosecutor to be allowed access to RAF Croughton, used by US intelligence

Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

18, Jun, 2014 @5:36 PM

NSA surveillance: Merkel's phone may have been monitored 'for over 10 years'

As German officials prepare to travel to the US, Der Spiegel cites a previously secret NSA document

Kevin Rawlinson and agencies

26, Oct, 2013 @7:19 PM

Article image
How a team of social media experts is able to keep track of the UK jihadis
A team of analysts at King’s College in London is building an exhaustive database of western Islamic State fighters – through Twitter and Facebook

Mark Townsend

17, Jan, 2015 @8:59 PM

Article image
NSA leaks: US and Britain team up on mass surveillance
Latest revelations from Edward Snowden show that the state risks crossing ever more ethical and legal boundaries

Peter Beaumont

22, Jun, 2013 @6:44 PM

Article image
UK faces massive rise in costs to fix stealth fighter
Trump tweets and software problems heighten concerns over advanced stealth fighter

Ewen MacAskill

04, Feb, 2017 @9:31 PM

Article image
Snowden spy row grows as US is accused of hacking China
Whistleblower charged with espionage reportedly claims US authorities accessed millions of private text messages in China

Toby Helm, Daniel Boffey and Nick Hopkins

22, Jun, 2013 @6:30 PM

Article image
Military wives demand action on psychological wounds of war
Families driven to breaking point by strain of caring for husbands back from Afghanistan

Matthew Green

26, Feb, 2017 @12:05 AM

Article image
Russian jets intercepted heading to UK airspace
RAF deploys six Typhoons to force fighter aircraft to change course from north-west coast of Scotland

Lin Jenkins

08, Mar, 2020 @12:04 AM