The Pentagon have announced plans to build a new £200 million spy center in the UK this week, which will act as the U.S. military headquarters for all military data in Europe and Africa.
The Joint Intelligence Analysis Center will be located at RAF Croughton, and will become the headquarters for all European and African military communications, staffing 1,250 people and analysing intelligence from over 50 countries.
Many of these functions are currently carried out at RAF Molesworth, the Cambridgeshire air base under the control of the US Air Force, which is being closed down as part of a cost-cutting drive by the American military.
The decision to create a giant intelligence centre in the UK by merging the facilities of Croughton and Molesworth will be controversial in the US, where there has been a prolonged campaign to set up a headquarters in the Portugese- controlled Azores islands in the north Atlantic. That campaign is being led by Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees all aspects of the US intelligence community.
Mr Nevin, a third-generation Californian whose family emigrated from the Azores to America, argues that it would be much cheaper to base the centre in the Portugese islands. He wants the facility to be based in the air force base at Lajes Field on the island of Terceira.
“What we are trying to do now is put some sunlight on this, so it can be exposed in the public, so people can debate and look at this again. We want thorough questions to be asked,” Mr Nunes told The Wall Street Journal.
The US Department of Defence declined to comment yesterday.
However, when the Molesworth closure was announced last year, a spokesman for the US European Command said: “The planned replacement facility will consolidate intelligence operations into an efficient, purpose-built building, which will save the US Government $74m (£51m) per year and reduce significant operational risk associated with current, substandard, deteriorating facilities.”
By contrast, moving the base to Lajes would cost $1.14bn upfront and cost an extra $43m a year to run, according to Pentagon estimates.
Mr Nunes dismisses those assessments, claiming they ignore issues such as the much higher cost of living in Britain and large supply of houses in Lajes – which he said could eventually save the US taxpayer $1.5bn.
RAF Croughton has a direct cable link to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham and serves as a relay station for CIA agent communications. Once the centre is completed, it will be at the front line of intelligence activities and will include personnel from unnamed British agencies, according to US Air Force briefing documents.
The Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK also declined to comment on the new centre yesterday.
The US Air Force announced last year that it would leave RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, RAF Alconbury in Huntingdon and RAF Molesworth as part of a programme to save £320m a year.