“Rules Britannia, Britannia Breaks the Rules”

USAF Croughton and the break-down of the international prohibitions on civilian killings and torture

“Rules Britannia, Britannia breaks the rules, Britons ever ever ever are such fools!”
Today there are uncomfortable truths ‘hidden’ in plain sight, not because they are secret, but because political interests will not acknowledge they exist. Recently the media have been complaining that the British Government intends to “break international law” as part of Brexit. In practise these complaints highlight the media’s historic silence when the British Government has routinely broken international law before; in particular, our involvement in foreign conflicts involving the USA and ‘Western’ interests.

Another recent opportunity to explore how the British Government facilitates international law-breaking was the killing of Harry Dunn outside USAF Croughton. Why do American personnel at this site have diplomatic immunity? The detailed answer to that question raises many uncomfortable facts, such as: The fact that far worse acts than ‘dangerous driving’ regularly take place at US foreign bases in Japan or South Korea; or the fact that USAF Croughton has for many years been routinely involved in the killing of civilians on a daily basis.

Why do the civilian staff at this base have diplomatic immunity? Why has the British Government exempted this site from international humanitarian law to facilitate its unlawful abuse of civilians in far flung places around the world?

This is not an ‘RAF’ base, and we should not use that designation. The British Government and the RAF ‘officially’ have no knowledge of what goes on here, especially in relation to this site’s involvement in drone warfare and targeted killing. The day-to-day work of USAF Croughton IS to support the abuses of human rights as part of US foreign policy. The American government sets the rules here; they run and police the site; and American exceptionalism over international humanitarian law has official leave to operate within its perimeter fence.

USAF Croughton’s role is to act as a communications hub for military and intelligence sites across Britain and Europe. It is a global link in the ‘command and control’ chain of the American military’s ‘Network Centric Warfare’ system: By connecting all military sites and hardware to a single network many different operations can be managed by military and intelligence staff anywhere across the world.

As the ‘sharp’ end of military operations now routinely involves the use of armed drones, ‘Network Centric Warfare’ is designed to allow a few people to run a global, covert, low intensity, lethal military campaign using few personnel or resources.

Once the communications hardware is in place it can be used to carry out unlawful acts at any time, with little control or oversight by the nation hosting that installation. The German government recently sought to restrict the use of American bases for drone warfare, as required by international law. Our government will not even acknowledge such operations are supported from here.

From the outside what is most easily seen are the ‘radomes’ – the large grey balls housing satellite dishes. Though highly visible, they are not the largest part of the site’s communications capacity. Croughton is part of a global system of fibre-optic cables that spans the globe, shifting data, telemetry, and voice communications from the continental USA to Europe, and then on to the Middle East and North Africa.

From the hill opposite the base you get a view down onto the site.

Near the centre is a large tower. This connects to the nearby USAF Barford St. John which operates short-wave radio equipment. At the foot of the tower is a group of low buildings. These form the ‘Communications Centre’, managing the flow of data in and out of the site, and hosting the racks of computer servers required to run that.

More significant though is the large, windowless building to the east, protected within its high security enclosure. This is the ‘Operation Centre’, where US military and intelligence staff run the operations of the site and help support foreign missions. That could be anything from running CIA surveillance on Chancellor Merkel’s mobile phone, to JSOC launching drone strikes in North Africa, to US Cyber Command hacking computer networks.

One of the more significant cables that runs from Croughton links directly to the US military’s Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti. This is the site from which US forces launch drone strikes in Yemen and North Africa; and which co-ordinates the many small ‘lilypad’ bases across the Sahara region that undertake ‘counter-terrorism’ operations.

To date, the operations run from Camp Lemmonier and its lilypad sites have routinely broken international humanitarian law and the Laws of War. Camp Lemmonier also has significant involvement supporting the Saudi-led forces bombing Yemen – just across the Red Sea from Djibouti – in the process creating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises today. As the site is instrumental in supporting those operations the staff at USAF Croughton are complicit in those acts too. This is British territory. It is not part of the American sovereign state. British law technically applies to all operations here, but by exempting USAF Croughton from those laws our own government – and by extension, all of us – are complicit in those actions too.

The problem with exceptionalism, and the political expediency of breaking international law to suit national ambitions, is that it can become infectious. Under Donald Trump it has become official US foreign policy. With Brexit, that same approach is now seemingly applicable here too. As part of a less publicised ‘Overseas Operations Bill’, Britain is proposing to exempt our armed forces from the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights. Thing is, once we roll-back historic prohibitions on killing or torture, what international standards are not open to willing abuse? – not just abroad, but at home too?

USAF Croughton is symbolic of the West’s ‘exceptionalism’ in the application of international law. More directly it is a symbolic of the West’s willingness to accept the killing, maiming and mass suffering of civilians in order to guarantee their own national advantage in global affairs. As our government engages in ever-more flagrant breaches of the international rules we all have a duty to oppose and if possible halt these operations.

Croughtonwatch exists to support those wishing to assist in countering the activities of USAF Croughton. For more information on the site and its activities see the Free Range Network’s ‘CroughtonWatch’ website: