Pentagon reconsiders plan to relocate key US intelligence hub within Britain
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2019
STUTTGART, Germany — A U.S. intelligence gathering hub at RAF Molesworth, one of several American bases that had been slated for closure, could stay where it is as the Pentagon reconsiders a plan to move the center to a different site.
“The Department of Defense is currently re-assessing the future location of the Joint Intelligence Analysis Complex and the NATO Intelligence Fusion Center,” Lt. Col. Carla M. Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The center provides intelligence information for the U.S. European and African commands as well as NATO.
The Pentagon stopped short of saying whether it is considering scrapping a plan to build a new center at RAF Croughton, which would include $200 million in upgrades, and keep the intelligence activities at Molesworth.
But the Senate’s 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which still requires House approval, calls for funds to build an “intelligence fusion center” and “battlefield information collection and exploitation system center” at Molesworth.
The Senate NDAA did not specify how cancelling the move would affect the $200 million slated for the Croughton project.
The change is the latest twist in a plan that has been a source of controversy for nearly five years.
Moving to Croughton was part of a broader base-consolidation effort in Europe. RAF Molesworth, which was set to shutter around 2023, was one of many facilities the Pentagon had targeted for closure.
But relocating the intelligence center was met with fierce resistance from Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who said the military failed to consider more affordable alternatives to RAF Croughton. Nunes also accused the military in Europe of providing faulty information to justify the move.
Nunes’ concerns prompted an Inspector General investigation that examined whether U.S. European Command failed to sufficiently consider its options. The IG ultimately cleared EUCOM officials of intentionally misleading Congress, but the probe found that the military’s financial analysis contained inaccurate information.
The military’s joint intelligence center was established in the U.K. in 1991 because there was insufficient space at EUCOM’s Stuttgart, Germany headquarters.
Molesworth was chosen because it had vacant facilities that were ready for use. With the establishment of AFRICOM, however, the mission has grown, leading to concerns that the base’s World War II-era buildings were undersized and unequipped to handle expanding operations.
While the Pentagon has said it is reassessing the move from Molesworth to Croughton, it didn’t offer details.
“This decision does not change the U.S. commitment to strengthen the NATO alliance, deter aggression from potential adversaries, and to support multinational operations,” Gleason said. “We are working closely with the United Kingdom to determine next steps for the future location of the JIAC and NIFC.”
But officials in Britain have said for months that they have information indicating Molesworth will stay open.
Last year, the member of parliament for the area said he was “delighted” after British media reported that the U.S. had notified the British Defense Ministry it wanted to keep the Joint Intelligence Analysis Center at RAF Molesworth.
“The JIAC plays a key role in maintaining the U.K.-U.S. defense relationship and the combined expertise of our two countries working together helps to ensure European security,” lawmaker Shailesh Vara told the Hunt’s Post newspaper in November. “I am also very pleased that as a result of this decision by the U.S. government, the economic benefits to the local community will continue.”
In February this year, senior U.K. Defense Ministry official Tobias Ellwood said in a speech to parliament that Molesworth would not be shuttered, and that the U.S. would continue to use the site.