On Monday 30th October 2017, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones went to the First Tier Information Tribunal seeking information about the planned large scale expansion of a United States military and intelligence base at RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire.
The hearing’s purpose was to appeal the rejection of a Freedom of Information request for the “Host Nation Notification” (“HNN”) dated 7 January 2015 sent to the Secretary of State for Defence by the United States Department of Defense (“DOD”), and the response of the Secretary of State of the same date.
While dates of communications were disclosed, the appeal was dismissed. The content of the HNN was deemed exempt from the Freedom of Information Request under section 27 of the FOIA as it “would, or would be likely to, prejudice…relations between the United Kingdom and the USA”.
Previous attempts to obtain information on the activities, protocols and safeguarding processes in place at the base have proved unsuccessful. The purpose of filing the Freedom of Information Request was to address concerns about the plans and uses of the base, and more broadly, shed light on the relationship between the U.S. and UK in relation to U.S. bases on UK soil*.
The Tribunal did confirm that the US government’s notification to the UK government about the expansion of the Croughton facility did not address any of the concerns raised about the scale and purpose of the base’s expansion. This underlines the APPG’s concern that the US expansion of its UK facilities in its global drone warfare programme appears to have taken place with minimum consultation with the UK government.
The judgement acknowledged that the “delicacy of the relationship” between the two states was a key factor in deterring the UK from asking the US to formally review the disclosure request, on the basis it would “disrupt” the relationship. The APPG accepts that the nature and severity of any adverse reaction to disclosure was important when considering the public interest in maintaining the exemption, and agrees that good relations with the U.S. are instrumental to UK national security.
Nevertheless, concerns were raised by Timothy Pitt Payne QC, in his submissions for the APPG at the Tribunal hearing, regarding the UK government’s decision not to make any enquiry to the USA before refusing the information request.
Daniel Carey, from Deighton Pierce Glynn, who are representing the APPG pro bono said:
“The judgment pays substantial deference to US government sensitivities under the Freedom of Information Act and it appears that the APPG and other Parliamentary accountability processes need to take particular care to exercise rigour in such areas as a result.”
For further information please contact:
Aditi Gupta, Coordinator, All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones: email@example.com
Camilla Molyneux, Researcher, All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones: firstname.lastname@example.org
*The case for transparency focused on four factors that demonstrated the public interest in disclosure:
- Disclosure would address the public concerns that the proposed expansion of RAF Croughton as an intelligence hub involved its use, or an extension of its current use, as a base from which the US Government controlled flying missions conducted by drones.
- Public interest arose over possible expansion of US intelligence activities, on a more general level.
- The environmental issues surrounding construction work at RAF Croughton and reduced or altered flying from other bases, supported disclosure.
- public interest in details of the process of consultation between the UK and US regarding the expansion plans. The APPG argued that it appeared the process had involved minimal consultation between the DoD and the UK Government. This was of particular concern, given that, on the US side, the planned changes had apparently reached the stage, in March 2014, of having been planned in sufficient detail to have been subjected to budgetary approval processes.