Cyprus Military Intelligence | the importance of the Sovereign Base Areas

Cyprus Military Intelligence | the importance of the Sovereign Base Areas

MI5 HQ in London

A recent Wikileak document reveals that the US government believes that if the British were to lose their Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus then this would pose a threat to their national security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean:

The Embassy does not believe that the loss of Cyprus-owned physical infrastructure, nor the interruption of key resource exports from the island, would immediately affect the security, national economic security, and/or public health or safety of the United States. A Connecticut-sized Mediterranean island some 5000 miles from the East Coast of the United States, Cyprus simply is too small, too distant, and too lacking in natural resources to affect U.S. interests in that fashion. […] Under the terms of the 1960 independence treaties, Great Britain was allowed to retain two “Sovereign Base Areas” (SBAs) and several isolated sites scattered throughout Cyprus, such as the RAF radar dome on Mt. Olympus, the island’s highest point, and various antenna arrays in Ayios Nikolaos, near Famagusta. Via varied formal agreements and informal arrangements, the United States enjoys some access to and benefits from these UK facilities. Unlike the Cyprus-owned infrastructure noted above, the damage or complete loss of SBA-housed facilities would pose a threat to our national security interests in the eastern Mediterranean.”

The SBAs comprise 254 sq km or approximately 3% of Cyprus territory and monitor communications in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, Russia and beyond. Cyprus became a listening post in June 1947 with the transfer of British personnel and equipment from Palestine to the Ayios Nikolaos Station near Famagusta, housing the 2 Wireless Regiment, later renamed as the 9 Signal Regiment. Soon afterwards a British Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) station was moved from Iraq to the village of Pergamos, near Ayios Nikolaos, where it operated until September 1968. Details of the way Ayios Nikolaos operated in the 1960s were revealed to investigative journalist Duncan Campbell by Corporal John Berry on 18 February1977. Berry had served at Ayios Nikolaos from 1966 until 1970 and gave Campbell an extensive account of his work there:

“We were responsible for Iraqi, Egyptian, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot illicit communications. We also intercepted some Israeli, although I was never really sure who was basically responsible for Israeli interceptions, whether it was us or the Americans. There was certainly a task – there was a bank of sets in the intercept room that picked up Israeli communications. But we also got stuff fed back from NSA that they picked up as well. We had an American at 9 Signals. A guy called Dave Mallory who was NSA. I was involved with Iraqi intercept. And we had specific tasks, which were allocated to us from GCHQ. We had to intercept Iraqi Diplomatic, Air Force and Military traffic. Once you’ve identified a net, as an Iraqi Army net, it’s fairly elementary, especially the Arab countries, to keep track of it. I mean the Russians employ very sophisticated techniques with changes of frequency and everything else. The Arabs employ much less sophisticated techniques and it’s fairly easy to break their frequency rotas and times of new schedules, the times at which they transmit. Most of the Intelligence that we derived from Arab communications was concerned with whereabouts of units and the buildup subsequent to the Middle East War. We were very anxious to have information about the sort of Iraqi presence in Jordan in the 18 months following the June war in ’67. […] I certainly saw lots of other NATO countries intercept. Which was – well I mean a lot of it was casual, because the operators would be tuned in to a particular frequency, would pick up some Italian Diplomatic traffic or some French. […] It was possible to get quite a lot of information about what the state of arms in the Turkish Cypriot fighting units was. Quite a lot of the communications were concerned with – and also interestingly – with illegal acquisition of British arms, because there was quite a leak at one point. And various people were court-martialled selling British Army rifles to Turkish Cypriots.

Duncan Campbell and Corporal John Berry were being monitored by the MI5 and were immediately arrested. Their first trial was halted when it was revealed that one member of the jury was a former SAS officer. Eventually they were found guilty, along with another journalist, but received non-custodial sentences.

[Editor: a section containing sensitive material relating to current US intelligence in Cyprus has been removed. However, it is available to read in the source listed below]

So, it looks as if those in power in south Cyprus might be in a position to use intelligence assets to their advantage but as to how is a different matter. What is worrying, in my opinion, is the current cosiness between Russia and the government in the south.


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