From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Part of Government Communications Headquarters
Located near Coombe, Bude, Cornwall, United Kingdom
Cattle by GCHQ radio station - geograph.org.uk - 412255.jpg
View of the GCHQ Bude array
GCHQ Bude is located in Cornwall
Type Satellite Ground Station
Site information

GCHQ Bude, formerly called the GCHQ Composite Signals Organisation Station Morwenstow, is a satellite ground station and eavesdropping centre located on the north Cornwall coast at Cleave Camp,[1] between the small villages of Morwenstow and Coombe, operated by the British signals intelligence service (GCHQ), on the site of the former World War II airfield, RAF Cleave.


The site of GCHQ Bude is in Morwenstow, the northernmost parish of Cornwall. This parish has a rich history, including many shipwrecks on its shores and a famous association with the eccentric vicar and poet, Robert Stephen Hawker.

During the World War II, the location was used by the Royal Air Force. RAF Cleave was conceived as housing target and target support aircraft for firing ranges along the north Cornwall coast and land was acquired from Cleave Manor. In 1939 it became home to two flights of 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit. In 1943 No. 639 Squadron was established on the site for the remainder of the war.

The airfield was put under maintenance in April 1945, staying under government ownership.[2]

In the early 1960s, developments occurred which appear to have prompted the establishment of the facility now known as GCHQ Bude. In 1962, a satellite tracking facility was established at Goonhilly Downs, just over a hundred kilometres south-southwest of Morwenstow.[3]

In 1963, TAT-3, the first undersea cable linking the United Kingdom to the USA, was laid from Tuckerton, New Jersey, USA to Widemouth Bay, Cornwall, just ten kilometres south of the site at Cleave Camp.[4]

The British General Post Office routinely monitored all communications passing along the TAT-3 cable, forwarding any messages they felt were relevant to the security services.[4]

RAF Cleave steam catapult base with GCHQ Bude dishes behind.

The site at Cleave Camp presented an opportunity to monitor submarine cable traffic from the nearby landing points, while intercepting communications meant for the satellite at Goonhilly Downs.[3]

In 1967, the land at Cleave was allotted to the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. Construction of the station began in 1969. Two ninety-foot dishes appeared first, followed by smaller dishes in the ensuing years. The station was signposted as "CSOS Morwenstow". "CSOS" stood for Composite Signals Organisation Station.[2]

From its inception, the station has been an Anglo-American co-operative project.[3] As a measure of this, Sir Leonard Hooper, GCHQ director in the late 1960s, wrote to his NSA counterpart regarding the two large dishes. He suggested naming them 'Pat' and 'Louis', after NSA director Marshall "Pat" Carter and his deputy, Louis Tordella.[4]

In 2001 a third large dish appeared and the station became known as GCHQ Bude.[2]


The station comprises twenty one satellite antennas of various sizes (including three that have a diameter of 30 m) that could theoretically cover all the main frequency bands: L band, C band, Ku band, X band, Ka band and V band. Calculated on the basis of their position, their elevation and their compass (azimuth) angle the antennae are generally orientated towards satellites of the INTELSAT, Intersputnik and INMARSAT communications networks over the Atlantic Ocean, Africa and the Indian Ocean, as well as towards the Middle East and mainland Europe. Staff are drawn from GCHQ (UK) and the NSA (U.S.) and the station is operated under the UKUSA agreement, gathering data for the ECHELON signals intelligence (SIGINT) network. Comparable stations in operation include Menwith Hill (UK), Sugar Grove (West Virginia, U.S.), Yakima (Washington, U.S.), Sabana Seca (Puerto Rico), Misawa (Japan), Pine Gap (Australia), Geraldton (Australia), GCSB Waihopai (New Zealand) and GCSB Tangimoana (New Zealand) that cover other INTELSAT areas such as South America and the Pacific Ocean.[5]

Up until early 2014, the GCHQ careers website had a page on GCHQ Bude, which said that it employs digital communications experts who play an important role in formulating the United Kingdom Government's response to issues involving national security, military operations and serious crime. The web page mentioned that the site is adjacent to the coastal footpath, which is part of the South West Coast Path.[6] Elsewhere on the website, job applicants were warned that they will be subject to Developed Vetting Security Clearance which could take up to nine months to proceed.[7]


The activities of GCHQ Bude usually remain classified, however, partly in response to concerns expressed by some EU member states that Morwenstow is responsible for industrial espionage and the interception of civilian communications, a report by the European Parliament (referenced below) was made public in 2001 that provides some details about the station. The Intelligence Services Act 1994 grants GCHQ the power "to monitor or interfere with electromagnetic, acoustic and other emissions and any equipment producing such emissions and to obtain and provide information derived from or related to such emissions or equipment." This includes Blackberry Messenger and audio messages.[8]

The TAT-14 undersea cable landing at Bude was identified as one of few assets of "Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources" of the USA on foreign territory in a diplomatic cable leaked to Wikileaks.[9]

In 2010, the National Security Agency paid GCHQ £15.5m for redevelopments at the site.[10]

In June 2013, The Guardian newspaper, using documents leaked by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, revealed the existence of an operation codenamed Tempora, whereby GCHQ is able to tap into data which flows along undersea cables and then store it for up to 30 days, to assess and analyse it. The article refers to a three-year trial set up at GCHQ Bude which, by mid 2011, was probing more than 200 internet connections.[11]

A further Guardian report in December 2013 stated that eavesdropping efforts to target charities, German government buildings, the Israeli Prime Minister and an EU commissioner centred on activities run from GCHQ Bude.[12]

Related submarine cables[edit]

10 kilometres south of GCHQ Bude, at Widemouth Bay, numerous submarine cables make landfall. They, followed by the locations to which they link in brackets, include: Apollo (USA), TAT-3 (USA), CANTAT-1 (Canada), TAT-8 (USA and France - last used in 2002), TAT-14 (USA and Europe), AC-2 (USA), EIG (Europe and India) and GLO-1 (West Africa).

Crooklets Beach at Bude, five kilometres south of GCHQ Bude, is a key submarine cable landing point, in particular carrying financial trading data from New York.[13]

Facing east, sunrise at GCHQ Bude
Facing east, sunrise at GCHQ Bude



  1. ^ The coastal footpath post at the North Western corner of the site states "Cleave Camp. Grid ref SS201 130" at coordinates position 50.8884°N 4.5591°W. The site has been referred to locally as "Cleave Camp" since the Second World War. BudePeeps: (19 June 2011). "A Few Snippets About Bude". Bude People.  There is a second coastal footpath post at approximately the mid-point of the western side of the station which states "Harscott High Cliff (N). Grid ref SS199 127" at coordinates position 50.8856°N 4.5618°W. The cliff headland at this point is Lower Sharpnose Point.
  2. ^ a b c London, Pete (11 June 2013). "Slice of life - "GCHQ Bude - we are listening"". 
  3. ^ a b c Aldrich, Richard J (2010). GCHQ. London, UK: Harper Press. pp. 342–343. ISBN 978-0-00-731266-5. 
  4. ^ a b c Bamford, James (2008). The Shadow Factory. New York, USA: Anchor Books. pp. 215–217. ISBN 978-0-307-27939-2. 
  5. ^ "Coverage". Intelsat. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  6. ^ "GCHQ - Explore another world - Bude".  Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "GCHQ - Explore another world". Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ guardian.co.uk
  9. ^ Wikileaks.org (Archive)
  10. ^ Nick Hopkins; Julian Borger (1 August 2013). "Exclusive: NSA pays £100m in secret funding for GCHQ". The Guardian. 
  11. ^ Ewen MacAskill; Julian Borger; Nick Hopkins; Nick Davies; James Ball (21 June 2013). "GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world's communications". The_Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  12. ^ James Ball; Nick Hopkins (20 December 2013). "GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief". The Guardian. 
  13. ^ Gill Plimmer; Philip Stafford (6 May 2013). "Cornwall beach buoys London's financial status". Financial Times. 

External links[edit]