The US's secret military deployment on British Cyprus: Declassified UK
Declassified UK reveals that the US is increasing its military presence in Cyprus, where it has been stationed surreptitiously for years.
In an exclusive report by Declassified UK, the outlet discloses that the US military has plans to deploy at least 129 airmen to British territory on Cyprus by next year.
Occupying 3% of Cyprus' landmass, the number of US troops on the UK's so-called Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) [parts of the island that remained under British occupation] has long been classified. That said, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) recently revealed to parliament that the number of US personnel participating in current or future operational activities will not be revealed.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense claims that it has only 14 personnel deployed in Cyprus, including nine Marines and just one airman, according to Declassified. However, the news source obtained a US Air Force (USAF) document containing information about a development project at RAF Akrotiri, the UK's air base on Cypus from where it flies bombing missions across the Middle East.
The document, which dates back to March 2019, mentions the existence of 87 US airmen deployed to RAF Akrotiri in 2018, including 12 officers. However, the US planned to increase the number of personnel by 48% over the next six years. The US plan was to have 129 airmen deployed to the base by 2024, including 15 officers.
What is the US spy squadron?
The US military planned to demolish eight properties in order to establish a new dormitory for its airmen on 1.5 acres for $27 million (£22 million), according to Declassified, adding that the dormitory will house servicemen from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron (ERS).
The US spy squadron is the US military's oldest flying unit, and it is in charge of training all high-altitude intelligence and reconnaissance crews for the CIA's U-2 spy plane.
The report reads that the ERS, based at Beale Air Force Base in California, also conducts 2,400 hours of "combat support" missions every year with the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a surveillance drone produced by Northrop Grumman.
Concealed US presence
The Declassified report revealed that US forces have been stationed at RAF Akrotiri since 1974 when a surveillance operation in support of Middle East peacekeeping procedures began. However, the ministry has always refused to provide US deployment levels, an anomaly compared to its other reporting.
The UK's military commitment to Cyprus, for example, is well known, with the MoD recently revealing that 2,490 British servicemen are permanently posted to the island's SBAs, according to the report. Similarly, the US military deployment in the United Kingdom is public, with the Ministry of Defense recently stating that 12,147 US military personnel are deployed across 11 facilities in England.
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The US keeping the number of their personnel on British bases in Cyprus, however, is another example of the extreme secrecy under which the UK military directly rules the territory.
It is worth noting that the US military claims it only has 14 personnel deployed in Cyrpus, indicating that the more precise level of American troops is being kept away from the American public. Moreover, according to the USAF paper, the American forces in Cyprus are part of USAF-Europe, whose commander is James Hecker, who formerly led NATO air operations in Afghanistan.
Under pretext of security
The report states that the confidentiality around the US presence in British Cyprus also includes US bombing missions being flown from the territory.
The UK MoD recently said that “UK authorization would be required for any [US] operations involving the use of the Sovereign Base Areas”, but it added that for “security reasons” it could provide no detail on US operations run out of the SBAs.
A #US-based spy firm has been helping the #UK military provide intelligence in the #Ukraine war, this information was used in multiple acts of sabotage, including the bombing of the Kerch Bridge. pic.twitter.com/mzSZKif7cY— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) January 14, 2023
Since 2001, the US has bombed countries near Cyprus, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen. According to Declassified, however, information never revealed the involvement of the British SBAs in those missions.
However, the British government concedes that the sole US equipment on the SBAs is the U-2 aircraft, which has been permanently stationed at RAF Akrotiri for nearly 50 years. But other US military troops appear to be present in British Cyprus. According to a DoD newsletter, Major Troy Roberts of the US Air Force served as the Chief of Security Forces Detachment 1, a US military enforcement unit, on RAF Akrotiri.
Moreover, it appears the US is the only foreign country to have personnel based permanently on the SBAs.
‘Wide range of intelligence facilities’
Declassified mentioned that the UK also refuses to disclose which other US agencies have a presence on the SBAs, but Edward Snowden’s leaks in 2013 revealed the extensive US National Security Agency (NSA) presence across the British territory of Cyprus.
"Cyprus hosts a wide range of UK and US intelligence facilities," according to a top-secret paper from GCHQ, the UK's largest intelligence agency.
These facilities are claimed to include a communication interception facility at Ayios Nikolaos in the Eastern SBA of Dhekelia, which is expected to intercept calls, texts, and emails from all over the Middle East and North Africa, according to Declassified.
A measurement and signatures intelligence, or MASINT, component is also housed within the Ayios Nikolaos site, according to Declassified. This highly sophisticated field recognizes and describes the unique properties of target objects and sources.
According to the report, two other MASINT stations working in collaboration with the US can be discovered on the Western base, including an unmanned installation at Cape Gata, just up from RAF Akrotiri.
The US operates another listening post at RAF Troodos, a British "retained site" near the border with northern Cyprus, that uses covert electronic intelligence gathering.
Additionally, the Troodos location "has long been considered as a 'Jewel in the Crown' by the NSA as it offers unique access to the Levant, North Africa, and Turkey," according to GCHQ.
The intelligence obtained at these four British Cyprus stations "benefits numerous strands of reporting" for the NSA, according to the GCHQ dossier.
It added, “We continue to sustain and strengthen our partnership with the US/NSA…GCHQ’s Cyprus collection facilities are acknowledged by NSA as important assets that make a major contribution to UKUSA.”
What is UKUSA?
UKUSA is a top-secret agreement signed by the two countries in 1946 for information exchange and cooperation. The GCHQ indicated it aimed to "increase performance" from its intelligence facilities through more "effective coordination of [communication satellite intelligence] assets" for both the UK and the USA.
The top secret paper also noted that the NSA funds half of the UK's listening post at Ayios Nikolaos.
The report adds that between GCHQ and NSA, the knowledge of forward-deployed workers in Cyprus and the implementation of "shared architectures" will ensure a continued positive relationship, with perhaps increased prospects for interoperability and cooperation between them.
According to one Snowden document, US intelligence personnel are compelled to dress as tourists around the bases since the UK has guaranteed the Cyprus government that only British personnel will work there.
GCHQ has never acknowledged its presence in Cyprus, according to Declassified.