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Part of Government Communications Headquarters
Located near Coombe, Bude, Cornwall, United Kingdom
View of the GCHQ Bude array
GCHQ Bude is located in Cornwall
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Type Satellite Ground Station
Site information
Controlled by GCHQ
Condition Active
Site history
Built 1969 - 2001

GCHQ Bude, formerly called the Composite Signals Organisation (CSO) 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 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]

File:Cleave Camp, old gun emplacement and dish, December 2013.jpg
Remains of gun emplacement with GCHQ Bude dishes behind.

Satellite interception

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 receiving station for the commercial communication satellites of Intelsat was established at Goonhilly Downs, just over a hundred kilometres south-southwest of Morwenstow.[3]

The downstream link from the Intelsat satellites could easily be intercepted by placing receiver dishes nearby in the satellites' "footprint". For that, the land at Cleave was allotted to the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works in 1967 and construction of the satellite interception 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", with "CSOS" standing for Composite Signals Organisation Station. In 2001, a third large dish appeared and the station became known as "GCHQ Bude".[2]

UK-US cooperation

From its inception, the station has been an Anglo-American co-operative project. It was the NSA that paid for most of the infrastructure and the technology. The running costs, like payments for the staff, were paid by GCHQ, who also provided the land. The intelligence that was collected by the Bude satellite station was shared among NSA and GCHQ and was also jointly processed.[3]

Another sign of the close cooperation between both countries was that 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 2010, the National Security Agency paid GCHQ £15.5m for redevelopments at the site.[5]

Cable interception

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]

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

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.[6]

Satellite installations

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. Somewhere between 2011 and 2013, a Torus antenna was installed, which is able to receive the signals of up to 35 satellites simultaneously. This antenna is not covered by a radome.[7]

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.[8]


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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

GCHQ Bude was featured extensively in the September 11, 2014, BBC2 Horizon television programme: Inside the Dark Web.[14] This programme estimated that 25% of all internet traffic travels through Cornwall, England. Dr Joss Wright of the University of Oxford Internet Institute[15] explained how mirror images of the signals running down submarine ethernet cables are used to gather and analyse data. The programme claimed that this procedure involves an optical tap device which is inserted at the submarine cable repeater station. A second copy of the data then travels to GCHQ, while the original carries on its intended journey. GCHQ, it was claimed, then have three days to replay the data. It was stated that everything that comes across the internet can theoretically be accessed, including emails, websites, BitTorrent downloads, films that have been watched etc. Wright added that internal documents show that in 2011, 200 10-gigabit cables coming into Cornwall were being tapped by GCHQ.[16] Dr Wright said that the entire digitised contents of the British Library could be transferred down that set of cables in about 40 seconds. On the same programme, Tim Berners-Lee explained how huge volumes of data are analysed by GCHQ computer programmes to identify trends of communication which are deemed to require further examination.

On November 20, 2014, Channel 4 News broadcast[17] an investigation prepared in collaboration with German broadcaster WDR. This report revealed that a leading UK communications company co-operated with GCHQ to allow access to data, including that carried by a rival Indian telecommunications company. The broadcast detailed an operation centred on fibre-optic cables surfacing at Porthcurno beach and Sennen Cove in Cornwall, with data travelling to a nearby cable landing station at Skewjack Farm, and then onwards to GCHQ Bude.

Related submarine cables

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.[18]

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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 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. 2.0 2.1 London, Pete (11 June 2013). "Slice of life - "GCHQ Bude - we are listening"".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Aldrich, Richard J (2010). GCHQ. London, UK: Harper Press. pp. 342–343. ISBN 978-0-00-731266-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Bamford, James (2008). The Shadow Factory. New York, USA: Anchor Books. pp. 215–217. ISBN 978-0-307-27939-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Nick Hopkins; Julian Borger (1 August 2013). "Exclusive: NSA pays £100m in secret funding for GCHQ". The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Wikileaks.org (Archive)
  7. Electrospaces.net: Torus: the antenna to significantly increase satellite interception, April 8, 2015
  8. "Coverage". Intelsat. Retrieved 31 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. guardian.co.uk
  10. "GCHQ - Explore another world - Bude".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  11. "GCHQ - Explore another world".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Archive copy at the Wayback Machine
  12. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. James Ball; Nick Hopkins (20 December 2013). "GCHQ and NSA targeted charities, Germans, Israeli PM and EU chief". The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "BBC Horizon:Inside the dark web". BBC.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Oxford Internet Institute profile".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world's communications". Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Spy cable revealed: how telecoms firm worked with GCHQ". Channel 4 News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Gill Plimmer; Philip Stafford (6 May 2013). "Cornwall beach buoys London's financial status". Financial Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

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