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It is, of course, really good news that Anne Sacoolas has been charged with causing death by dangerous driving after 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn was killed when his bike was hit by a car being driven on the wrong side of the road at the exit of RAF Croughton near Brackley in Northamptonshire.
Despite the best efforts of Teresa May and Donald Trump to put the matter aside quietly, Harry’s family — his parents and twin brother – despite their deep grief have succeeded in their campaign to bring the matter to court.
The US driver still refuses to return to face the charge which, if proven, can carry a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment but usually carries a much lesser sentence.
The 14-year sentence is not proportionate, says Sacoolas’ lawyer Amy Jeffress. That same lawyer has said the Sacoolas will never return to the UK voluntarily.
Jeffress said they had been talking to the UK authorities about how Sacoolas could “assist with preventing accidents like this from happening in the future, as well as her desire to honour Harry’s memory.”
The chief crown prosecutor, Janine Smith, said: “Following the death of Harry Dunn in Northamptonshire, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has today authorised Northamptonshire police to charge Anne Sacoolas with causing death by dangerous driving.”
The CPS said has now started extradition proceedings. It said: “The Home Office is responsible for considering our request and deciding whether to formally issue this through US diplomatic channels.”
The US Department of State responded by saying the CPS statement was “disappointing and will not bring a resolution closer.” It reiterated that it believed Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity.
Trump tried to intervene in the matter. He brought Sacoolas to the White House when the Dunn family were meeting him. She was waiting in a different room for Trump to call her in to meet them. The family, having no warning, said no.
Sacoolas had been in the UK for only three weeks when the crash occurred. She has been interviewed by British police in the US.
Now I want to concentrate on other blatant crimes happening in this quiet rural corner of Northamptonshire.
When Washington wants to hack into Angela Merkel’s mobile phone it is the spooks and spies at Croughton who do the job.
The hacking of Merkel’s phone caused former MP Tom Watson to state as early as 2013 that there was “an urgent need for public scrutiny” of the activities at RAF Croughton. The US Air Force station is a major hub for US military and clandestine communications.”
I know the Croughton base quite well, at least from the outside. I often drive past its vast white golf-ball-shaped domes so strangely set in the soft Northamptonshire countryside. I am always forced to speculate what amazing electronic equipment might be hidden inside and just what it might be listening to.
You can still drive past the base but in 2014 special local byelaws were passed that prohibited various activities in and around the base.
This top-secret US base handles huge quantities of data from the global network of US embassy spy posts. Some say a half to a third of all secret US spy data is routed through Croughton.
Across the globe vast quantities of information is captured by the US Stateroom system of listening-stations in diplomatic missions and embassies. These include the output of electronic eavesdropping on phone calls and wi-fi links. All are sent back to spy chiefs in the US via the vast and sophisticated communications hub at Croughton.
We know the facility at RAF Croughton has been identified as a relay centre for CIA clandestine and agent communications and, thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, we also know it plays a key role in embassy-based spying.
The base is one of two centres used by the Special Collection Service (SCS) — the joint Central Intelligence Agency/National Security Agency unit which runs a network of about 100 listening posts. These relay back to headquarters at College Park, Maryland, and all this traffic goes via the secure facility at Croughton.
This whole spying network is operated in parallel with an identical British sister scheme overseen by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and RAF Croughton. This network has a direct link to GCHQ’s Cheltenham base, which has been operating for more than a quarter of a century.
Although Croughton is officially a British RAF base it is also home to the US 422nd Air Base Group, whose role includes processing at least a quarter of all US military communications covert and open, in Europe.
The base has been used by the US since the depths of the Cold War in the 1950s. Then it relayed nuclear bomber communications including of events like the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that so nearly saw the world destroying itself in a nuclear war.
In 2014 Croughton hit the headlines when British Telecom won a £14m contract to supply a secure fibre-optic link between Croughton and a US air base in Djibouti. This was suspected to be used to co-ordinate drone strikes over Yemen. Our Ministry of Defence insisted that US Air Force (USAF) staff at RAF Croughton “neither fly nor control” any remotely piloted aircraft. Others were more doubtful.
There are well over a 1,000 US staff and their families working at Croughton. How many of them are spooks or even drone pilots is something we can never know — strangely the base issues no figures.
The US base commanders do what they can to keep in with the locals. The base even employs a community-relations adviser whose job is to promote friendship and understanding between local British people and the base personnel. The recent road death has made that job a great deal harder.
British-US quiz nights held in the local village school don’t really cut the mustard. The Yanks have even made a promotional video for the base which signs off by saying “The majority of our folks live off-base in the local community, so they are fairly well integrated into the local village.”
All of the military staff at Croughton voluntarily gave up their diplomatic immunity in the 1960s but, strangely, family members still seem able to claim that immunity – as indeed Sacoolas did before she was hurriedly shipped back to the US.
It isn’t even known if she is just a family member. Local speculation on and off the base suggests she might have been just as much of a spook as her husband.
RAF Croughton was built in 1938. For many years it was a training field with pilots from Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand learning to fly Hampden, Blenheim and Wellington bombers on night flights over Europe.
In 1940 it was designated an emergency airfield. It would remain open with its flare paths illuminated irrespective of enemy activity. Glider pilots trained here too, ready for the 1944 Allied Operation Market Garden and the mass parachute landings of the Battle of Arnhem.
In 1950 the USAF took over the station. Its mission would be developing ever-more sophisticated communications as the world moved into the electronic age.
It is still at work today, listening, interpreting and passing on all kinds of information that might be helpful in President Trump’s ambition to rule the world.
Today Trump and his twin brother Johnson just wish the case of Sacoolas and Dunn could be swept under the security carpet and RAF Croughton could return to being a little-known secret spy base again.
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