The National Security Agency, like any empire, has its own security force, its own subservient news media team, and, increasingly its own overseas colonies. For two groups of islanders, NSA’s penchant for secrecy and security forced them into exile from the islands of their birth.
In 1970, the United States and Britain agreed on the construction of a major U.S. military base on the British-owned Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to include an air base, naval base, and several intelligence facilities, including an NSA signals intelligence collection site. The project was code named Project REINDEER STATION.
Some 400 Diego Garcia islanders known as “Ilois,” whose ancestors had worked on copra plantations since the 1700s and who maintained a church and a school on the island, were relocated to Mauritius by the British government against their wishes. The main reason behind the relocation was that U.S. Navy security did not want foreign nationals on an island that would soon be brimming with NSA antennas and teeming with NSA personnel, in addition to hosting U.S. Polaris missile submarines. Since military tours on the island were unaccompanied, NSA security did not relish the idea of NSA analysts and linguists with high-level security clearances co-mingling with single Ilois on the island.
Not only were Ilois from Diego Garcia removed but other islands in the Chagos Island chain were also depopulated, including Peros Banhos, some 130 miles to the northwest of Diego Garcia, and the Salomon Islands, and their combined populations of about 700 were exiled to Mauritius.
Diego Garcia came under the firm grasp of the United States in 1972 when the airbase runway was opened for the landing of the first U.S. Air Force plane, a C-141 Starlifter, carrying Bob Hope, Dolores Hope, Redd Foxx, Miss World, and Hope’s USO dancing and singing troupe of buxomous females for a Christmas show for the new American military tenants on the island.
Today, Diego Garcia is part of the worldwide NSA surveillance network and NSA uses the island to listen in on the communications of nearby Indian Ocean islands, including Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, the Yemeni island of Socotra, the French territory of Reunion, Comoros, and Madagascar.
Diego Garcia’s Ilois were forced to abandon their island homes (left) to make way for NSA’s infamous radomes (right)
Halfway around the world, in the South Atlantic, the British government is in the process of depopulating the civilian residents of Ascension Island, a British territory that is constitutionally part of the overseas territory of St. Helena. Some 700 British citizens from St. Helena, known as “Saints,” live and work on the island, in addition to a few dozen British citizens from Great Britain, call Ascension Island their home. The British government now insists that there is no “right of abode” on Ascension, something that shocked longtime residents and retirees on the island.
Ascension Island’s long runway, which was extended to be an emergency landing site for NASA’s Space Shuttle, is a prized possession for the United States Air Force. There are reports that in 2016 Britain will turn Ascension Island over to the United States, which maintains a joint NSA-British Composite Signals Organization (CSO) signals intelligence station on the island. NASA also continues to use Ascension as part of its Eastern Range. CSO is a sister organization of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, NSA’s British “Five Eyes” alliance partner.
Britain wants to depopulate Ascension of all non-cleared foreign nations in preparation for an expansion of the NSA-CSO facility to handle data from a new fleet of signals intelligence and other U.S. spy satellites.
Britain’s depopulation of Ascension Island to make way for expanded NSA presence. Current NSA facility on Ascension (above).
Many Saints on Ascension claim that the British government reneged on a promise of continued residency on Ascension without the need for a work permit from the British authorities. First offered residency on Ascension by Britain, the Saints were double crossed in 2006 when British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw issued a new policy that forbade Saints from living on the island without a work permit and prohibiting them from owning property. Straw’s predecessor, Robin Cook, promised Ascension islanders full democratic rights, including self-government and the right to reside permanently and own property on the island.
In addition, many British government jobs on Ascension have been outsourced to the private firm Interserve, the builder of the London “Eye” Ferris wheel, resulting in redundancies in the Saints’ work force because Saints are being replaced by British contractors on short-term contracts. Saints who have not lived on Ascension for at least 20 years but who have retired are being denied pensions because of failure to meet the 20-year residency requirement. Businesses on the island are being forced to close because their owners are being ordered to leave. The Island Council, which is airing the grievances of local islanders, is merely advisory. Britain has shown that it is perfectly willing to reverse decolonization in its remaining overseas possessions, as seen already in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, and Pitcairn Island, all of which have seen their self-government infringed upon by colonial master appointed by London.
Recent revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in the Uruguayan media have pointed to the importance of Ascension to NSA. From Ascension, NSA eavesdrops on the civilian government, military, and commercial communications of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Venezuela, including the personal communications of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, both former left-wing guerrilla leaders.
From Ascension Island to Utah and Australia to Colorado, NSA is expanding its terrestrial footprint and becoming the master of its own colonial empire.