Schneier on Security
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July 1, 2011
Article on the NSA's Menwith Hill listening station in the UK.
Posted on July 1, 2011 at 8:52 AM
• 40 Comments
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Browsing Conspiracy Theories says it all.
I agree - the irony is that this "top secret" site people think is the heart of whatever conspiracy theory they like today, is well known, well publicised and frequently reported on.
If that is top secret, then I think we need a new classification system.
"You might also like:
The Horror of an Alien Abduction Story – No One Believes You (Part 2) "
Anyway, four years ago the RAF happily admitted Menwith Hill is used as part of US missile defense as well as missile warning.
I'd be more impressed with the source if the "Related Articles" section at the bottom of the article didn't link to "The Horror of An Alien Abduction Story - No One Believes You (Part 2)."
In any case, Menwith Hill is small beer beside the gigantic RAF Fylingdales, which is explicitly part of the missile shield and always has been.
I was unaware that radomes are "blatant symbol[s] of war and destruction." Good to know!
That is one poorly written article. The title asks the question "How does NSA..." but nowhere in the article do I see evidence of NSA doing anything.
There is a statement in the article that the site "has now been reported as the site for “Echelon”..." but no further details about what/who the source would be linking the site to Echelon.
With that sort of insinuating writing they can make any claims about any place on earth.
OK so sure I do believe that UK and US do 'eavesdrop' their own citizens (although not in real time, they probably just store the communications for later need) and have what-ever agreements with each other. But an article that only cites its own self is useless.
If I recall correctly, a commenter some time back stated Echelon had been renamed to Facebook.
Sounded plausible to me.
100,000 military personnel at Buckley AFB? That's more than a quarter of the Air Forces' total manpower.
What a daft article!
1) As a previous comment noted, there has been signals intelligence stuff going in that area for years.
2) These wild, remote areas often get used by military/defence purposes. E.g. if you go walking in Snowdonia it's not unusual to bump into very fit-looking, monosyllabic blokes who always seem to be called "John", and probably come from Hereford, home of the SAS.
3) The days when US defence installations in the UK were genuinely controversial are long gone. You have to go back the 1980s to find examples, e.g. Greenham Common.
At any rate, those "golf balls" both on Menwith Hill, and at Buckley AFB, must be near lots of reliable infrastructure to supply enough electric and communications lines to acquire, store and deliver the information they collect.
A few years ago, in 2004 I think, there was an article in The Denver Post, that described what was inside the golf balls at Buckley. Surprising to see that information in a world where information that was once available through FOIAs, was now restricted. But, it could have been a way of showing us that our government was doing "things" to protect us, and our giving up of some of our privacy was for the common good.
As part of a cross-agreement, the UK stations some people in Sugar Grove, West Virginia.
@ Bruce Schneier
You're a bit time pundit now. Posting articles like this hurts your credibility in the eyes of the public. Most people who look at this article will find out that Echelon is well-known/researched, this article isn't, the Menwith site is well-known, and the author of this article has questionable credibility. That can rub off on you. I'm not a public relations expert or anything, but I'd advise you not to post articles like this. Just sayin...
Otherwise, you've posted a lot of good stuff this month. Plenty of great discussions, etc. I'd say this has been your most active month in a while. Less conferences and interviews to attend in June? ;)
"Listening station"? I recall the (US) base-commander of Menwith Hill being interviewed on the radio here in the UK last time there was a fuss about it (maybe back in the '90s). He explained that all it is is "a communication forwarding station" :-)
You'd think a propaganda piece could do better on facts:
"The project at the RAF Menwith Hill base is linked to Buckley, in Colorado, a military Air Force base that houses approximately 100,000 military personnel, as well as the 460th space wing of the US Air Force Space Command."
From Fact Sheets 460th Space Wing
( http://www.buckley.af.mil/library/factsheets/... ):
"uckley Air Force Base currently supports more than 92,000 plus people throughout the Front Range community. This includes 3,156 active duty members from every service, 3,300 National Guard personnel and Reservists, 3,800 civilians, 2,400 contractors, and 36,000 retirees and approximately 40,000 veterans and dependents."
76,000 of that vaunted 100,000 is comprised of retirees, veterans and their dependents. I'd imagine very few of that number are actually housed on the Air Force base.
Of course the blurb for an article on alien abductions could go far in setting your expectations for the level of journalism exhibited.
"Such an (attack) would inevitably rouse further outrage amongst many other people in the UK, not just the sheep farmers of Yorkshire."
Sheep farmers? Hey, what about us sheep-shaggers?
@ Nick P.:
"You're a bit time pundit now."
Despite what I've said about us all making typos, was "bit pundit" an IT-Freudian slip? :-)
Perhaps the British, too, appreciate whatever protection this system may offer, especially if it reveals a missile launch aimed at London? That's a closer target than the US for certain potential enemies. (coughsubwayattacketc.cough) They certainly didn't seem to mind allowing US soldiers and airmen to use their airbases to launch bombing raids on the Third Reich, or the Normandy Invasion...
I would assume that there are other stations elsewhere around the world, for the sake of redundancy if nothing else -- the "attack" on the golf balls/ears that were so feared. Much ado about nothing. (Shakespeare)
Bruce, this saddens me. You usually choogoo insightful pieces for the blog. The article implies the Brits Are kept out, but it's a joint effort.... Huh? Tinfoil hat stuff at best.
The bit that keeps ringing in my head is 'doesn't the UK have a right to know?'
And as I understand it, no. The UK doesn't have a right to know. The UK has a right to hear what The Crown chooses to share, but between the lack of an explicit free speech law, combined with the Official Secrets Act, means pretty much that, well, no.
Of course, I readily concede that I could be wrong.
This....isn't this blog's finest hour.
First of the BRitish USA agrement (BRUSA) is now so old and creaky that it has been pensioned of a couple of times.
Essentialy the US spied on British Citizens and the British spied on US citizens and then swaped the Intel. This started in the 1940's and still continues today, the reason is simple it enables politicos to state on the record "We do not nor have we ever spied on our citizens".
The original BRUSA agreement has over the years grown and now includes most WASP nations.
As for ECHELON this is also very long in the tooth and has been enquired into by the EU. And yes Menwith hill was mentioned in evidence presented.
You gan google a lot of it.
Having followed this blog for a long while via the RSS feed now, I was quite shocked when I saw the quality of the journalism on the linked post, and was not expecting it to be linked from this blog.
Mr. Schneier, please return to the high quality of analysis that we have come to enjoy from you.
"Despite what I've said about us all making typos, was "bit pundit" an IT-Freudian slip? :-)" (tommy)
"This....isn't this blog's finest hour." (Zaphod)
lol x 2
Reminds me of LCO Viborg Communications complex being dug and built over ten years. North of Karup AB, Denmark and west of Viborg DK8800, Denmark.
A hole large enough to bury the five story complex deep enough in the ground in rural Jutland, Denmark to be nuclear impact proof. Took me half hour to climb back up the stairs that were wrapped three quarters around the underground complex (no elevators).
This uber secret NSA complet was attributed to Echelon back in the early 1980s. Now there is no reference or sign of this three hundred person underground complex.
The link is a google map of what is left above ground of the entrance of the underground facility in the country side of Denmark near Finderup, DK.
And I bet similar facilities exist in other Scandinavian countries as well.
Funny how these complexes may survive multiple different government elections.
Over the years, I've grown kinda bored with all the wild theories, conspiracy and other, about places like Menwith Hill, Area 51 and the like. Today, pretty much everyone knows that it's part of Echelon with the RAF acting as a front-end for both NSA and GCHQ.
The really interesting question here is actually to which extension it has become redundant with companies as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple now doing the administration's dirty work for them while in parallel running secretive programs like Romas/COIN under provision 215 of the Patriot Act.
I wouldn't entirely dismiss the "alien abduction" stuff either. There are a number of UFO researchers who suspect a lot of that stuff is being done by the government for its own reasons, and has nothing to do with aliens.
Personally I subscribe (partially) to John A. Keel's theories that UFOs per se have nothing to do with aliens and everything to do with the human mind. Which doesn't preclude it being more along the lines of "The Matrix" than just purely human mental dysfunction.
But yeah, I read that 100,000 figure and went WTF?
The real problem is the size of the "black budget" variously listed as $50 billion or more per year.
With that kind of money, I could take over the world by Tuesday before lunch. So what ARE they doing with all that money besides burning it up on nonsense? Is it just like the rest of the defense budget - pissed away to corporations for crap so some general or ex-spook can get a board seat when he retires at half a mil a year?
If I was a taxpayer I'd be ticked off that with $50 billion a year they couldn't find bin Laden for ten years...Really, it took $500 billion plus an estimated three trillion for the Iraq and Afghan wars to "protect us"?
Give me an equal share of that money and I'll protect myself, please.
A good morning to you (you appear to be another denizen of the US up early this morning).
With regards "alien abduction" it is very very unlikely for a simple reason time&energy.
If we assume that intelligent life that would have any real intrest to us would be sufficiently similar that they live on a plannet in the "goldilocks zone" around their sun then they are several light years away at best...
With our present knowledge then the time and energy required to get a being of approximatly our size and needs even one light year would exceed the lifetime of the individual or consume more energy than is viable just to come and look let alone abduct humans (for whatever it is they supposadly do).
So the question then becomes what is the human motivation for the idea of "alien abduction", and I suspect that if we get to the bottom of that one then we will know a whole lot more about ourselves than we realy would wish to know.
Clive: And good morning to you. I just haven't gotten to bed yet - getting caught up on Web browsing after a long day messing with broken client machines. Although I did get to see the latest "Pirate of the Caribbean" movie.
As I said, I doubt "aliens" are involved at all.
As for the human motivation, John Keel and others have pointed out the very close similarities between so-called "alien encounters" and similar encounters with "fairies" or "demons" or whatever throughout history. The stories are remarkably similar when you get down to the details. The question is whether these events arise from some need of the human mind or whether they arise from external phenomena impinging on the human mind.
There's a theory by a fellow at a university up in Canada - see "God Helmet" in Wikipedia - that it's all caused by magnetic field influences on the human brain.
My theory is both more mundane and more fantastic. I believe that before humans achieved conceptual processing ability that another proto-human species did it first. They advanced rapidly in the space of a few tens of thousands of years (a drop in the bucket in prehistory) to the level we are at today, discovered nanotechnology and, as K. Eric Drexler predicted, jumped thousands of years ahead in technology within the space of a few tens of years - probably before humans even developed the earliest civilizations (which would explain various human legends about advanced civilizations predating human civilizations.)
The reason you don't see any evidence of that past civilization is simple: nanotech reduced it to dust scores of thousands of years ago. Once they achieved Transhuman status, they didn't need it. Transhumans wouldn't need anything but 1) matter, 2) an energy source, 3) nanomass, 4) computing power, and 5) knowledge-bases.
By now, fifty or a hundred thousand years later, their technology is so advanced they are essentially godlike and can do whatever they want within the limits of the laws of physics (and they can probably bend some of them.)
But they originated here and they still hang out here (and probably all near interstellar space) on occasion, doing whatever they like with the capability of completely controlling any human who happens to wander by and forcing said human to either see nothing or see some fantasy dredged up from the human subconscious.
This theory has the benefit of merely relying on two known facts:
!) We know there were multiple proto-human species before us - why assume we were the first to achieve reasonable intelligence?
2) We now know nanotech is possible. And the implications of ubiquitous general assembler nanotech are so powerful that the end result of its applications would be a species pretty much capable of doing anything the laws of physics allow.
It would be theoretically possible for such a species to embed nanotech computers of the type described in Drexler's "Engines of Creation" in every cell of the human body, creating a massive AI hive mind that could control and edit the human brain and nervous system in real time. Total control - like "The Matrix" - when desired. I mean TOTAL control over every sensory input and every brain neuron firing.
It would be easy. And that could explain absolutely everything about so-called "UFOs" and "aliens" as well as every other paranormal phenomena humans experience. It's just "smoke and mirrors" to keep humans out of the way of the Big Dogs. Otherwise, these Transhumans couldn't care less about humans, just as advanced "aliens" wouldn't.
Of course, it's as unprovable a hypothesis as every other. :-) But it doesn't rely on breaking any physics limitations such as the speed of light or explaining "alien psychology". Nor does it rely on "extra-dimensional beings" or mysticism or religion or anything else - just two simple known facts and a hypothesis linking the two.
I used to be involved in UFO research way back in the late '60's and early to mid '70's. I hung out with John A. Keel and some others at that time. Keel was the main guy challenging the alien hypothesis about UFOs. He was a journalist with a very pragmatic bent and like you he really didn't buy why aliens would be doing what they were alleged to be doing. So he went looking for patterns and similarities. He went literally door-to-door in places where UFOs were being seen frequently and he found all sorts of alleged paranormal phenomena occurring on the ground, not in the sky. He discovered that it was all linked together in some weird, unfathomable way. There was no doubt it was linked, but none of it made any sense. So he theorized that it was more an effect of the human mind being stimulated externally somehow by some phenomena, perhaps intelligence, perhaps not.
The guy in Canada has proven that he can produce a similar experience as an "alien abduction" just by putting people in a chair hooked up to a helmet that manipulates magnetic fields around the brain. So it's absolutely proven to be doable.
Add nanotech to that and it becomes an easy explanation.
But today the UFO talk is the same as it has been for the last fifty years - all about "aliens". It hasn't moved on at all except among the more conspiracy or mystical bent followers. And it probably never will because the alternative theory - that Transhumans are the real owners of this planet - is even more frightening.
That's why "The Matrix" was such a great movie - it proposed a physical explanation for things like poltergeists, werewolves, and odd feelings like deja vu that came out of the blue. "The Machines did it." Dues ex Machina for real.
I came up with my theory before The Matrix movie came out. And I think The Matrix is probably closer to the truth than any other theory (although I don't think humans are sitting in tanks somewhere hallucinating while machines harvest them as batteries - that whole bit was ridiculous - worst part of the premise.)
Do they have Menwith anything else? Menwith Hats, perhaps?
@RSH Close, but no cigar.
It's already been 'proved' to near mathematical certainty that we 'live' inside a simulation. None of which rules out your proto-humans of course.
@ Bruce Schneier - I just wanted to thank you for mentioning the article. I know some of the folks don't appreciate Gabrielle's take, or the fact that we chose to cover a facility that has a long history. But the only point of the article was that if the situation was flipped around - if a facility essentially operated by the UK existed within the United States, you can be certain U.S. citizens wouldn't stand for it.
As for the commentators above that mention the "conspiracy theory" section as a method to discredit the site, please actually do more than just browse and you'll see that we take an extremely critical, skeptical and analytical view of each topic - yes, even the "alien abduction" story. If you actually clicked the link you would see that I was critical of the story - and actually discredited Hill's age-old abduction story with her comment that she wanted to "make millions" off of the story.
Anyway Bruce - thanks for the nod and I'll be following your posts from this point on.
"if a facility essentially operated by the UK existed within the United States, you can be certain U.S. citizens wouldn't stand for it"
I suggest you do a little digging on the BRUSA later UKUSA agreement and then have a dig around.
As I mentioned further up one of the major aspects of BRUSA and later agreements was that it was not "home nation" personnel doing the actual front end work of evesdropping.
In the UK you will find that sites like Menwith and Chicksands to name but two were and in many cases still are UK Bases with UK personnel and US "guests" doing the actuall evesdropping.
One reason that many people belive incorrectly that they are US Bases, is the equipment used and the maintanence and support personnel used are US. Also for some reason various US agencies like to keep analytical staff on site.
Part of this was to do with the Cold War and the shear volume of information being captured, much of it not from the UK but continental europe and in quite a few cases forwarded from other European sites. This is due in the main to the UK's geographical position and the conciquent time zone it is in. [It's also one of the reasons London is a major commercial and financial hub.]
Now if you look around carefully you will find that there are quite a few UK staff working in US Bases. However the UK staff tend to use US equipment and logistics for a number of reasons and also send back raw data for analysis in the UK (google Hanslop Park for some of it).
With targeted monitoring where the analysis is split out abroad and with the sort of front end equipment in use today the southern half of the US could be quite happily "monitored" by as few as six front end staff from just a couple of rooms on some base tucked away in a hole in the ground next to a training establishment etc. The Northern half could again be monitered by a couple of teams in an adjoining nation.
As it happens you will find UK staff doing this sort of work in many of the WASP nations many of whom are "Commenwealth" countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada to name but three. Likewise the US has personnel working in some of these establishments.
The big change came with the Bush administration various members of whom wanted to move away from intel led targeted monitoring, to wholesale monitoring. By putting the whole US under observation 24x7 for every means of communication and where possible movment and commerce as well.
The scale of this work is so vast that the likes of the NSA don't have the personnel to do either the monitoring or analysis. Much of which has now been farmed out to others (compare numbers with TS or above clearence in the various sectors).
These days the free market rules and you can go and start your own small start up and get fairly freely available NSA anonymised data to crunch in your own algorithms etc. If you find things of interest the NSA will quite happily look at it and if they like it will talk to you about funding etc.
One of the largest collectors of online data and people processing it in interesting ways is not the NSA but Google. They have come up with some quite astounding work on their own that realy interests many TLA's both in the US and other places.
For instance one of Google's technologies on machine translation of language to language is not dictionary based and appears to be streets ahead of other systems. As you will appreciate that sort of technology has many many advantages for the intel communities (especialy as due to the way it works it can fairly easily recognise distinct outliers on web pages etc that could well be being used to pass hidden information).
Likewise face recognition software used by Apple and Facebook can not only recognise individuals rather well these days, it can also tell if people are members of the same family rather better than most people can...
Clive, I just wanted to tell you that I smiled at seeing the phrase "streets ahead" actually being used in the wild.
Ryan, the big issue I have with the article is that it's poorly researched and, if it were a Wikipedia article, would be littered with "citation needed" and "weasel words" tags. The alien abduction article doesn't help.
Clive: Indeed, as the Washington Post article on the intel community established, most of the intel work is being done by private contractors these days.
Which is a godsend for hackers, both private and state, because undoubtedly - as HBGary proved - most of those companies probably have crap security themselves. Why bother trying to hack the main CIA and NSA systems when you can hack Joe Blow Intel Contractor much more easily?
I'm amazed nobody has mentioned Mark Thomas' hot air balloon tours over the site. You were banned from taking pictures from outside, but nobody remembered to restrict the airspace, so he took hot air balloons over it :)
Well, of course this was a very daft story, as so many people have already pointed out.
But what I found so pathetic about the whole thing was this claim that if there was a UK intelligence station in the US, American citizens would not "tolerate" it.
Would they even know? And if they did know, would they find it so terrible compared to Abu Graib, or Guantanamo, or torturing prisoners, or assassinating "suspects" by drones?
Come on, get real. If the US Government agreed to ahve a UK intelligence station in the US, there would be one, and whether individual Americans decided to "tolerate" it would be of no moment at all.
@Richard Steven Hack re: Joe Blow Intel Contractor
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