This site is devoted to USAF/RAF Croughton (and Barford St. John), the USA's communications and surveillance base on the border of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. Croughton is part of a global system of electronic communications, control and surveillance that works on behalf of the US military and intelligence establishment; in turn it is an active part of both US foreign policy, the military projection of American power across Europe and the Middle East – and as part that, the increasing use of electronic surveillance and unmanned weapons systems (aka. 'drones'). The site brings together information about what Croughton is/does, those working to highlight its role in conflict and the use of advanced surveillance and weapons technology, and recent reports/articles which highlight the role of Croughton.
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The old uplink dish at RAF Croughton (built early '80s)
During the Cold War, the USA used Britain as a base for military operations – primarily to station aircraft, early warning radar and missile systems. With the ending of the Cold War in the early 1990s, many of these bases have wound down their operations or closed altogether – for example, the former USAF Upper Heyford nuclear bomber base (one of the bases from which the 1986 air strike on Libya was launched) a few miles to the south-west of Croughton closed in 1991.
RAF Croughton, 2012
During the 1990s, seeking to consolidate their advantage in the post-Cold War world, and moving on from the over-ambitious Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative (a.k.a. "Star Wars") programme, the US military instituted a new policy called "full spectrum dominance". This was an attempt to introduce new, practical technological capabilities to the military which sought to control not just land, sea and air, but also space, the radio spectrum and computer networks. This involved far more than just networking US military installations; the technology grew symbiotically with the development of the Internet itself. And as the use of digital and mobile communications has increased around the globe, so the use of ground- and space-based information gathering to monitor these networks has grown alongside them. And with these new capabilities, the agencies which used that information, such as the NSA and CIA, swelled too (one curious note, the CIA's headquarters is based in Langley, Virginia, and the main road through USAF Croughton is called "Langley Avenue").
RAF Croughton from Portway Lane
As the use of the Internet and social media services has grown, the govern-mental monitoring of these networks has grown to exploit the new mass surveillance capabilities that these systems create. From the recent revelations about the organised state surveillance of Western citizens by Edward Snowden, to the indiscriminate war-fighting techniques documented in the classified files disclosed by Chelsea Manning, to the greater use of drones and computer technology to track, target and destroy "the enemies of freedom" – all these developments have evolved from the impetus for greater technological capabilities ushered in by the "full spectrum dominance" policy... ...and Croughton is an important way-station in maintaining the operation of those systems.
The end of the Cold War, and the shift in emphasis in foreign policy to the Middle East, has led to a change in the technology that the USA deploys in Britain. One task which the USAF specialise in is the provision of radio communications links – and as technology and foreign policy has changed, so the USAF's use of their bases has changed to reflect this. In the 1980s most military radio communications used the high- (HF) and very-high-frequency (VHF) wave bands. This was because radio signals could be bounced-off the Earth's ionosphere (similar to the way light is bent/reflected by water) in order to skip the signals for greater distances around the curvature of the planet. The problem was, just like everyday weather at ground level, the "weather" for radio propagation changes from day-to-day and season-to-season. That meant a lot of equipment had to be maintained to use different radio frequencies, and the amounts of information which could be reliably communicated varied all the time.
Croughton used to have one large microwave satellite dish, giving it direct communications to the USA. Microwaves pass straight through the atmosphere, usually unaffected by the weather, meaning that they can be relied upon at most times. This meant that the low bandwidth information gathered by Croughton and Barford – and other associated bases such as the USAF's intelligence detachment at Chicksands – could be bundled up and sent via satellite back to the US for analysis. Communications could also be sent from the US via satellite and then relayed at lower frequencies to diplomatic missions and military units around Europe and the Middle East.
Then the Cold War ended, and US foreign policy began to focus more on the Middle East and the geopolitics of oil. Sites such as Chicksands closed (it was no longer required to pinpoint the position of Warsaw Pact military units), and Croughton began to rebuild – reflecting the changing role of the USAF. And as the "full spectrum dominance" policy took hold, the emphasis shifted towards supporting information gathering and intelligence, and latterly to supporting new semi-autonomous weapons systems that enable the US to "project force" around the globe. The large arrays of radio antennas at Croughton and Barford were slowly taken down. In their place more radomes were built. These domes do not just protect the equipment from the weather – they prevent other agencies seeing which of the many communications and surveillance satellites the US now has in orbit are being used at any moment in time.
As computers have taken over more aspects of everyday life, so intelligence gathering has shifted towards capturing more of the digital information they generate. Unlike voice communications, which always required human operatives to listen to each transmission, computers can scan hundreds of digital communications to gather information about the time, location, duration and source/destination of the transmission. The satellites themselves have little computing power, and act merely as signal relays. It's the equipment at the satellite ground stations – such as Croughton – which direct and control the process of communications or surveillance. For the latest autonomous surveillance and weapons systems – such as the Reaper and Predator drones currently used in the Middle East – sites such as Croughton relay the command information which enables them to be operated from their control base at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, USA.
The big difference with the latest weapons and surveillance systems is that they are not government-controlled technologies. They are in most cases designed and built by private contractors in the defence industry. However, many of these technologies are being manufactured using research grants from governments, and then these companies will ultimately sell these systems for civilian use at a large profit (as is happening now with drones). Also, as these systems are manufactured by private companies, other governments are buying them and setting up their own surveillance and remote attack capabilities. For example, Britain has bought 500 drones and has established a control centre for them at RAF Waddington.
Around Britain, we've seen the same kind of changes taking place. Britain's GCHQ has a new high-tech headquarters in Cheltenham – packed to the gunnel's with high-powered computer systems. The sister facility to Croughton, RAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire (click for a map), has also undergone a large expansion to it's surveillance capabilities. Other bases have also seen wholesale change. For example: RAF Molesworth (click for a map) lost its cruise missiles and is now the US Air Force's intelligence centre for Europe; likewise RAF Alconbury (click for a map) lost its aircraft and now houses the headquarters for the USAF squadron which operates the intelligence facilities at Croughton and Molesworth.
Croughton is one of a number of bases operated across Britain (including Menwith Hill, Alconbury, Molesworth and Fairford) by the United States Air Force's (USAF) 501st Combat Support Wing (501CSW). It's the headquarters for the 422nd Air Base Group22 (422ABG), as part of which it co-ordinates communications support operations for the US Department of Defence and "civilian agencies" (which includes other US government departments and agencies, such as the FBI or DEA, but also the NSA and CIA). According the 422ABG's own publicity information, Croughton handles a quarter to a third of of all the US military traffic between Europe and the continental USA, and supports over twenty different communication and defence systems. According to the US Department of Defense's guide to military installations –
In November 2013, The Independent newspaper identified Croughton as a "relay centre for CIA clandestine and agent communications" – which was used to ferry the intercepted data from Chancellor Merkel's mobile phone back to the USA. It also noted that Croughton is used as a way-station for communications with the US forward operating base in Djibouti, used to co-ordinate drone strikes over Yemen – a claim elaborated upon in an article in the Mail on Sunday.
RAF Barford St. John's directional antenna masts
Together Croughton and Barford make us a "transceiver complex" – one site mostly transmits signals, whilst the other receives, and the few miles distance between the two prevents excessive interference occurring between the transmission and reception of signals. The two bases are tied together with a point-to-point microwave link – easily recognised at the identical tall masts at the centre of each site, and which are lit with red warning lights at night.
However, since the end of the Cold War, changes in technology have meant that whilst Croughton has grown to become a globally important satellite waystation, Barford St. John has been slowly winding down as its HF (shortwave) and VHF equipment has become progressively obsolete. Barford is being maintained, but it may be that at some point in the near future the site is used for a new type of communications development – perhaps augmenting the functions of Croughton, or to support a wholly new communications system.
RAF Croughton was built in 1938. Originally known as Brackley Landing Ground, and then RAF Brackley, in July 1941 it became RAF Station Croughton. The station became a satellite for RAF Upper Heyford to provide the unit with extra airfield space for night-flying training for Commonwealth pilots. From 1947 to 1950 the site was largely redundant.
At the end of 1950 the USAF took over the station – and this began RAF Croughton’s new communications mission until the present day.
The original use as a Second World War airfield is almost visible today – as shown in the Google Maps satellite image on the right (note, you can zoom in/out and drag this satellite image around to get a more detailed view of the site). Much of the concrete runway/taxiway of the former airfield has been removed in recent years and grassed over.
You can view the site on the Ordnance Survey map via the Streetmap site at –
Note, the arrows in all the above maps points to the location of main gate for the site, where local peace rallys/Quaker meetings for worship are held.
In 2012 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) launched a public consultation on the creating of new military byelaws for the site. Military byelaws – as with other types local byelaws – create criminal offences in relation to land controlled by the MoD.
Click here to view/download a PDF copy of the proposed new byelaws.
The new byelaws define two areas (click the map to view/download a higher-resolution version) –
Note that the new military byelaws operate outside of other civil and criminal public order/trespass laws, and in many ways are designed to facilitate the control/curtailment of any process within or on the perimeter of the site – and can be enforced by "appointed" uniformed staff, not just by the civil police.
If you would like to park a vehicle and view the site, the best place to head for is Portway Lane on the western side of the site. This also gives access to the bridleway (marked 'green lane' on the byelaws map) which allows you to walk around the southern edge of the site – although trying to cross the busy A43 on the other side of the site for a longer country walk is fraught with danger! The view from the B4031 along the north side of the site is not very good, and it's a very narrow/busy road to walk along; and it isn't safe to stop on the A43 to the east except at the road junctions.
RAF Station Barford St John was opened in July 1941 as a training facility. The airfield was closed briefly at the end of 1941, rebuilt with paved runways and equipped for night operations, and then reopened in December 1942 as an RAF Bomber Command airfield. Given its secluded rural location, in 1943 it was chosen as the base for top-secret tests of Britain’s prototype jet planes, powered by the first engines designed by Sir Frank Whittle during the Second World War. In 1946 the airfield was closed and placed into care and maintenance – although it was briefly used as the outdoor location for shooting the 1949 film Twelve O'Clock High.
RAF Barford St. John main gate
In 1951, as part of the development at RAF Croughton, the USAF opened a transmitter facility on the airfield. Over the years the scale and complexity of the transmitter nests at Barford grew, reaching a peak in the 1980s. Since then, as new digital communication technologies have shifted towards satellite-based systems, Barford St. John's role as a centre for HF/VHF communications has slowly declined.
From the peak in the 1980s (shown in the plan on the right), the masts have been slowly dismantled over recent years. Whilst technically the site is still in use, there is little activity there. Much of the site is used for sheep grazing – and in fact much of the World War Two concrete airstrips and taxi-ways are still intact, as shown in the Google maps satellite view of the site.
RAF Barford St. John 'secure site' building
The perimeter fence encloses a very large area of land, although the secure facility in the middle occupies a relatively small part of the site. The functions the site performs today are largely automated, operating as an outstation of RAF Croughton, controlled via the base-to-base microwave link which can be seen on the tall mast at the centre of the site. There is some occasional activity on the site, presumably for ongoing maintenance of the equipment, but it does not appear to be staffed full-time – although the security of the site is probably monitored remotely from RAF Croughton.
You can view the site on the Ordnance Survey map via the Streetmap site at –
Note, the arrows in all the above maps points to the location of main gate for the site.
As at RAF Croughton, in early 2013 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) launched a public consultation on the creating of new military byelaws for the site. The conditions of the new byelaws are identical to those at RAF Croughton, listed above. The main difference between the two is that at Barford St. John the entire site is considered to be "protected area", with the exception of a small strip of "controlled area" along the south side of the site where a bridleway runs between the Milton Gated Road and Barford St. John village.
Click here to view/download a PDF copy of the proposed new byelaws.
Although the site is largely redundant, that does not mean that Barford St. John may not gain importance in the future. If you read the US Department of Defense's latest plans for the expansion on unmanned technologies – the Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap – the growing dependence upon information networks and remotely operated weapons and surveillance systems is going to require an ever-greater use of digital radio and satellite systems (in particular, see pages 45-49 of the 'roadmap' report). That in turn requires the development of facilities on the ground to control and relay data from those systems to the command staff in the USA.
Croughton is primarily a relay station – and as now it will be an important way-station in the control of these new technologies. However, given it's size and topography the RAF Croughton site has a finite capacity because high frequency line-of-sight communications systems can't be located close together without interfering with each other. If the USAF have to increase global network bandwidth in the future, to support their new cybernetic military dreams, then RAF Croughton may not have the required capacity. It is possible that RAF Barford St. John is being retained as a potential site for locating the ground facilities to support these new weapons and surveillance systems in the future.
If you would like to park a vehicle and view the site, the best place to head for is Milton Gated Road on the eastern side of the site. This also gives access to the bridleway (marked 'green lane' on the byelaws map) which allows you to walk around the southern edge of the site. There is little to see from the road along the northern side of the site, and the road down the western side can be busy at times.
This section lists recent media reports about the operation of the RAF Croughton/Barford St. John bases. Note also – for a more general view of current affairs regarding peace, military technology and drones/surveillance – the Free Range Networks' Peace and Anti-militarism news archive lists a far wider range of recent media reporting on these issues.
BT faces further investigation over link to US drone network
Computer Weekly, 29th August 2014
The UK government is set to reopen a complaint against BT after a Computer Weekly investigation found evidence suggesting the telecoms giant provided communication links that support controversial US drone strikes.
Killer robots a small step away and must be outlawed, says top UN official
Telegraph On-line, 27th August 2014
Killer robots programmed to open fire without human control are just a "small step" from the battlefield and military powers should agree to outlaw them, a top United Nations official has said. Angela Kane, the UN's high representative for disarmament, said governments should be more open about programmes to develop the technology and she favoured a pre-emptive ban before it was too late.
American drone policy could create a state of 'perpetual war', warns top US military officials
Independent On-line, 27th June 2014
The American government's campaign of targeted killings and drone strikes has put the country on a "slippery slope" toward perpetual war, according to a new study from a global security think-tank. The bi-partisan report, authored by a panel including a retired US general and former Head of United State Central Command, said that increasingly sophisticated UAV technology has "fuelled a 'whack-a-mole' approach to counterterrorism" and fostered anti-American sentiment around the world.
Open Democracy, 19th June 2014
After nearly six months, US drone strikes have resumed in Pakistan, with between thirteen and sixteen fresh fatalities reported. The unofficial moratorium had broken an intense, ten-year campaign, the last previous strike taking place on 25 December. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 386 drone strikes have taken place since 2004 and between 2,310 and 3,743 people have been killed – including hundreds of civilians and children – with many more injured.
Call to open RAF base for investigation into NSA tapping of Merkel's phone
Guardian On-line, 18th June 2014
Britain should grant Germany's federal prosecutor access to an RAF base which is alleged to have acted as a relay station for data intercepted from Angela Merkel's mobile phone by the US National Security Agency (NSA), the Labour MP Tom Watson has said. In a letter to the prime minister Watson said that full British co-operation with Harald Range, the German federal prosecutor who has announced an investigation into the alleged tapping of Merkel's mobile phone, would ensure that Anglo-German relations are not damaged.
Drone kill communications net illustrated
Computer Weekly, 13th June 2014
Computer Weekly can illustrate how a UK network connection forms part of a US weapons targeting system that has slaughtered civilians in anti-terrorist attacks gone wrong. The illustrations add credibility to a legal challenge begun last month over a 2012 contract BT won to build the UK branch of the system – a fibre optic network line between RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire and Camp Lemonnier, a US military base in Djibouti, North Africa.
Washington spends £200m creating intelligence hub in Britain
Independent On-line, 18th May 2014
Washington is to spend almost £200m to turn one of its British military bases – already implicated in mass surveillance and drone strikes – into one of its largest intelligence hubs outside the mainland United States. RAF Croughton, a US Air Force (USAF) base near Milton Keynes, which has a direct cable link to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham, is to be the site for an ultra-secure intelligence centre staffed by up to 1,250 personnel and covering operations in Africa, a current focus for US counterterrorism activities.
Analysis: How the UK connects to the US global drone network
Computer Weekly, 2nd May 2014
A single acronym in a US defence contract notice provided the clue that established the role of the UK's telecoms infrastructure in supporting controversial US drone flights. It was buried in an official notice unearthed by legal charity Reprieve last year. The document showed the US Defense Information Systems Agency (Disa) had awarded BT a contract to provide a fibre-optic line between a US military communications base at RAF Croughton, Northamptonshire, and Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti, the base for US operations in the Horn of Africa.
Project Crossbow: How a Norfolk RAF base plugs into the drone wars
Drone Wars UK, 22nd April 2014
A map in the USAF's new 'RPA Vector Report' released on April 4 2014 confirms that 'Project Crossbow' based at RAF Marham in Norfolk is part of the intelligence backbone guiding the growing use of US and UK drones.
UN report calls for independent investigations of drone attacks
Guardian On-line, 10th March 2014
A report by the United Nations Human Rights Council has called for independent investigations to be carried out into drone attacks after a series of strikes that result in unexpected civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Most of the attacks involved US drones. In a 21-page report, the UN special rapporteur on human rights, Ben Emmerson, records a dramatic reduction in drone strikes in 2013 in Pakistan but increases in Afghanistan and, towards the end of the year, in Yemen.
Minister in row over BT's link to US drones' war
Independent On-line, 26th March 2014
The former chief executive of BT, who is now a senior Government trade minister, is at the centre of a row over Britain's alleged role in America's secret drones' war. Ian Livingston was head of the telecoms giant when it won a contract to set up a top secret £15m communications link between an RAF base in Northamptonshire and America's headquarters for drone attacks in Africa. Last year he was made Lord Livingston and four months ago started a high-profile trade job in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Death By Metadata: Jeremy Scahill & Glenn Greenwald Reveal NSA Role in Assassinations Overseas
Democracy Now!, 10th February 2014
In the first exposé for their new venture, First Look Media's digital journal The Intercept, investigative journalists Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald reveal the National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes. The NSA identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cellphone tracking technologies, an unreliable tactic that has resulted in the deaths of innocent and unidentified people.
Why I stood in the rain for hours outside Brize Norton
Oxford Mail, 6th February 2014
The reason I stood in the rain holding a bed sheet? Drones. There aren't many topics, save Marmite, where very few sit on the fence. Either people think they're an appalling invention, killing more people than we realise and terrorising people in Yemen, or they're great because they save Our Boys (along with MoD money, cheaply training pilots who won't need replacing).
Scrutiny of US airbases in Britain is stuck in the 1950s
Guardian On-line, 5th February 2014
Almost all first impressions of RAF Croughton – a small airbase that sits amid green fields, about 20 miles north-east of the prime minister's Witney constituency – are misleading. From the road running out of the nearby Northamptonshire village from which it takes its name, it is visible as a series of anonymous, barn-like buildings. An understated sign on a low brick wall and a couple of cold-war-era jets, no longer in use, would appear to mark it out as a relic; a sleepy airbase whose heyday has passed. But scratch the surface and the reality is very different. RAF Croughton, which despite its name has in fact been a US base for more than six decades, is a crucial hub for the operations of today's "war on terror".
Britons Rail Against Laws That Ban Protests Near Military Bases
Mintpress News, 9th January 2014
In the U.K., a set of laws that protects American bases from protesters has become the target of criticism. These laws – passed without the consent of Parliament under the 120-year-old Military Lands Act of 1892 – have many arguing that the "outrageous and undemocratic" act has been done to curry favor from the U.S. Since the Ministry of Defense confirmed that the Royal Air Force has carried out more than 2,000 missions with "borrowed" U.S. drones in Afghanistan, protests have escalated.
Dog-walkers beware! Draconian UK law to protect US 'drone-operating' bases
RT, 31st December 2013
Britain's Ministry of Defense has passed harsh laws to protect US air bases in the UK that are suspected of wide surveillance and drone warfare, British media report. The new measures could land a person in jail for merely walking their dog nearby. There are dozens of sites where the new by-laws are going to be introduced, the Independent revealed Monday. But among them are several which are widely believed to be involved in NSA mass surveillance, as well as relaying spy data on Europeans (and their leaders) back to Washington.
MoD tightens security at American spy bases linked to drone strikes
Independent On-line, 30th December 2013
The Ministry of Defence is set to introduce "draconian" new powers to tighten security and limit access to US airbases in Britain implicated in mass surveillance and drone strikes, The Independent can reveal. The measures, which include powers to arrest for offences ranging from taking photographs to failing to clean up dog mess, would be put in place through a little-known project to overhaul the by-laws surrounding military facilities across the country.
Drones, cyberwarfare and democracy
Action AWE, November 2013
It may seem a jump from drones to the revelations about surveillance by US whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, but what both they and the UN's Special Rapporteur are describing are the same system. When we look at the "networked state", surveillance, cyberwarfare, the use of military drones, and the machines which enable all those systems to function together, they are one and the same. And when we consider the use of drones for targeted strikes against "insurgents", again, considering recent military doctrines, it is difficult to separate the both the intelligence hardware which directs those strikes, and the long-term technology, foreign and security policies which have created it.
RAF Croughton base 'sent secrets from Merkel's phone straight to the CIA'
Independent On-line, 5th November 2013
Data from the global network of US embassy spy posts implicated in the eavesdropping on Angela Merkel's mobile phone is funnelled back to Washington through a secret hub in Northamptonshire, The Independent can reveal. Vast quantities of information captured by America's "Stateroom" system of listening stations in diplomatic missions – including phone calls and data sent over wi-fi links – are routed back to spy chiefs via a communications hub within the US Air Force base in Croughton, near Milton Keynes.
MOD refuses to rule out BT drone link
Computer Weekly, 2nd August 2013
The Ministry of Defence has refused to rule out the possibility that a controversial fibre-optic BT comms line between US military bases in the UK and Africa carries command and control signals that direct US drone missions blamed for civilian deaths in Yemen. After legal charity Reprieve complained under OECD rules that BT had ignored its human rights obligations to question its contract to provide the comms link, the MOD firmly denied that the UK base it connected led drone missions out of Africa.
Officials examine BT link to drone deaths
Computer Weekly, 25th July 2013
Allegations that BT is involved in an assassination programme in the Middle Eastern country of Yemen may come as a surprise to anyone more familiar with the image it likes to portray in television adverts: a supplier of home broadband to fashionable young professionals. But while BT customers flounce carefree round their Duran Duran downloads, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has opened an investigation into allegations that it also does the communications behind US drone attacks that have slaughtered civilians.
The links below connect to various local campaigns/group which share an interest in the issue of peace/anti-militarism, advanced US military technology/drone warfare, Internet surveillance, and the increasing use of electronic and cybernetic systems as a means of repression and control.
Ideas for a Change
Ideas for a Change are a group of like-minded people in the Banbury area who are working to address the imminent changes to our "modern" lifestyle that will manifest themselves over the next few decades. You might hear a lot in the news about climate change, but this is just one of a number of equally problematic development trends – such as peak oil, minerals depletion, soil erosion and population – that will constrain the development of the human species in the future.
For over 30 years Paul Mobbs has been a freelance campaigner, activist, environmental consultant, author, lecturer and engineer. Today his work mostly involves writing, research and speaking around the theme of ecological futures – examining present economic, energy and development trends and considering what these mean in the ongoing debate about the human species and their relationship to the environment which supports them.
Contact details for Oxford CND.
Banbury and Evesham Quakers: RAF Croughton meeting for worship
Information from the local Quaker Area Meeting on the peace vigils/meetings for worship held outside the Croughton main gate each month.
501st Combat Support Wing
The 501st Combat Support Wing was reactivated May 12, 2005, at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom, to provide better support to seven geographically separated units in the UK (including Croughton/Barford St. John).
422nd Airbase Squadron – RAF Croughton
Welcome! RAF Croughton is a communications base in Oxfordshire, England, near the village of Croughton. The 422 Air Base Squadron (ABS) provides the very best in quality of life initiatives, programs, events, and activities to the RAF Croughton community.