9 March 2013
An RAF base in Britain is being used by America in its controversial drone warfare campaign, it was claimed last night.
Documents seen by The Mail on Sunday reveal that the United States has established a drone ‘operations centre’ in the heart of the Lincolnshire countryside which could be used to co-ordinate attacks in the Middle East and Africa.
Last night, the revelation sparked claims of British complicity in the US Airforce (USAF) assassination programme which is being investigated by the United Nations.
One document requests US security-cleared staff to work at RAF Waddington on a USAF drone called the Predator. The weapon has killed hundreds of people in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
A second document describes a role for a communications technician at the same base ‘supporting 24/7 operations of critical real-time USAF/ANG [Air National Guard] mission operations’.
Bosh Global Services, the US company recruiting personnel, designs and maintains key drone equipment for the American military and has established a base in Lincolnshire, believed to be at RAF Waddington.
The site has been designated Britain’s first drone centre and will have five fully armed Reapers from next year.
Politicians and human rights groups have demanded to know the extent of America’s use of British bases to support its operations.
Clive Stafford Smith, the head of legal charity Reprieve, said: ‘The US drones programme operates from secret bases without regard to law.
‘The evidence that UK bases, subject to RAF oversight, are supporting US drones appears to implicate the UK in terrorisation and destruction.’
Professor Noel Sharkey, of the University of Sheffield and Britain’s foremost expert on drones, said the documents demanded an explanation from the UK and US military.
He said: ‘It is very important the British public know what foreign strikes are being delivered from UK soil.
'Current operation of the US Predator drones in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa is conducted from the US, which requires a communications link between the US base station and Europe and can cause control delays.
'These delays could be minimised by controlling the Predators from the UK, which has excellent satellite coverage of all of the conflict zones.’
Baroness Sarah Ludford, the Liberal Democrat MEP for London, said: ‘Assassinations even of suspected terrorists outside a recognised framework of war breach long-established norms of international law.
'Not only must Britain refuse to co-operate with illegal targeted killings, it must publicly challenge American attempts to move the legal goalposts.’
The wider claim of UK complicity in US drone missions is supported by evidence of a deal between the US military and British Telecom.
It has been paid by Washington to link a second RAF base to the Pentagon’s drone headquarters in Djibouti, East Africa.
Redacted documents seen by The Mail on Sunday show that the US-run former bomber station at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire has been fitted with equipment capable of supplying secret data to the drone centre in Africa where American unmanned aircraft have killed scores of civilians and extremist militant suspects.
The BT document, obtained under America’s Freedom of Information laws, is a contract with the US military for a link which can provide a secure route for passing intelligence between the two bases.
Catherine Gilfedder, a lawyer for Reprieve, which obtained the contract, said: ‘In facilitating communications between US forces in the UK and Djibouti, BT is profiting from this campaign of death.’
The contract, which names Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and RAF Croughton, specifies that the communications link must avoid any connections to Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
In a letter, Mr Stafford Smith asked the telecoms giant to explain why it was supporting the drone programme.
Last night, the company said: ‘BT provides telephony and communications which link up governments and organisations all over the world.
‘Whether it’s a government organisation, bank or manufacturing firm their work is confidential.’
A US Embassy spokeswoman said that it did not discuss communications infrastructure linked to its military bases.
The Ministry of Defence added: ‘There are no circumstances under which UK military assets, including bases made available to the US, could be used by the US without the agreement of the Government.’