Most people would expect intelligence operations to operate in the utmost secrecy, with agents surreptitiously entering inconspicuous locations, as is the case in all spy movies.
Yet set in 605 acres of Yorkshire countryside is a secret RAF base, with more than 30 giant spheres, each over 30ft tall.
But despite its noisy exterior, no one (apart from the people involved) really knows what’s going on there. And since its construction in the 1950s, it has become one of Harrogate’s most notable secrets.
The base, called RAF Menwith Hill, is known for its giant weatherproof white globe structures nicknamed “the golf balls” because of their dimpled appearance. They were designed to protect and protect radar equipment.
RAF Menwith Hill occupies 605 acres of Yorkshire countryside is a secret RAF base and features over 30 giant spheres, each over 30ft high
Despite its noisy exterior no one really knows what’s going on there and since its inception in 1950 it has become one of Harrogate’s best kept secrets.
Not much is known of its day-to-day operations, but hundreds of employees work there and it is said to be an integral part of Allied communications.
Little is known about its day-to-day operations, but old planning documents submitted to Harrogate Borough Council claimed the site was set up to serve as a ‘communications interception and intelligence support service’ for the UK and the United States.
It has been described as the largest electrical monitoring station in the world and is one of the United States’ largest overseas monitoring bases according to the Yorkshire Post.
Although the site is owned by the Department of Defense, the land is made available to the US Department of Defense under the 1951 NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has the right to own the site and retains control of its use and facilities, although administration is controlled by US authorities with support from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
Menwith Hill began in 1954 when the British War Office purchased 246 acres of land from Nessfield Farm and construction began in 1956.
The base’s operations and location have frequently sparked controversy, with protesters objecting to the nature of its work and the presence of international military personnel.
The site is owned by the Department of Defense but operated by the US Department of Defense. Her Majesty’s Government is also authorized to access the site.
It was purchased by the British War Office, who purchased 246 acres of land, and construction began two years later in 1956.
Local people first raised concerns about the site in 1951 and in the 1980s a small group of protesters called the Otley Peace Action Group campaigned tirelessly to publicize the base.
Since then, the Campaign for Accountability at US Bases (CAAB), which was established in the 1990s, has worked to bring public scrutiny, awareness and accountability to the site.
In recent years, the Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign (MHAC) has been set up to further protest against the site.
Their website states: “The MHAC recognizes a significant risk to the people of Yorkshire and the wider UK from US surveillance activity at Menwith Hill, as it is an important military target.”
Although many suggest that the site was created as a spy center during the Cold War, the question remains: what is it used for today?
Due to its clandestine operations, many protest groups have emerged over the years, the most recent of which is the Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign (MHAC)
The group believe the location of the site puts Yorkshire and the rest of the UK at risk of being a military target
The UK government in 2017 reported that 1,205 people worked at the stations, including 33 US servicemen, 344 US contractors, 250 US civilians, 85 UK contractors, 7 UK servicemen and 486 UK civilians.
As well as distinct golf balls scattered along the moors, the site would have a football pitch-sized operations building and an auditorium for meetings, according to Yorkshire Live.
He said the base has a school for the children of personnel, as well as a billiard room, restaurant, shops, bowling alley and even a bar.
Despite ongoing demolition work at the site in 2019, it was reported that RAF Menwith Hill would “remain an integral part of joint UK-US security” and “has a secure future”.
The continued use of the site is also supported by recent reports that the United States plans to invest $40 million in expanding spying and surveillance capabilities at Menwith Hill.