A look behind the bars of Northwood military base

by Michael Knowles

Behind the barbed wire of a vast military base in Northwood, a technological battle is being waged against terrorists and pirates as far away as Africa and the Mediterranean.

Senior officers at the NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) gave the Watford Observer a rare glimpse at the top secret work going on at the base.

Under the roof of the Sandy Lane headquarters, intelligence officers are currently engaged in two of NATOs biggest maritime operations.

One, Operation Active Endeavour, aims to prevent a terrorist strike at sea or terrorists infiltrating NATO countries via ships by patrolling the Mediterranean and monitoring shipping patterns.

The second, Operation Ocean Shield, is about using intelligence to help stop commercial ships falling into clutches of pirates around in the Gulf of Aden and in the Horn of Africa.

The result is workers monitoring dozens of screens in base and they are responsible for the safety of more than 55,000 ships.

The work at the base has given NATO spooks leads on some of the most dangerous men alive.

Lt Commander Dale Turetski said investigations into illegal cigarette trafficking in the Mediterranean led to the discovery that smuggling was funding Moktar Belmokhtar, who ordered an attack on an Algerian gas plant in January 2013.

Dubbed the “nerve centre” at MARCOM, the Maritime Operation Centre, which is one of the most secure zones in the base, data is collected here before being analysed and then sent off to other departments.

Lt Commander Jacob Kibsgaard said: “We build up a picture of the world around us.

“We look for anything out of the ordinary, so we like things to be in the norm.”

NATO Shipping Centre, which is also based at the Northwood site, maps the shipping routes across the world and describes itself as the link between NATO and the commercial shipping industry.

Here, seven members of staff from seven different countries, aim to liaise with the shipping community and according to Lt. Commander Rod Drake, “ensures that the military commander achieves his goal” without impacting merchant shipping too much.

Vice Admiral Peter Hudson CBE stressed the important role of the community in the happiness of workers at the base and said that staff often go into Watford or London to enjoy the nightlife.

He said: “If you serve away from your home, it often involves moving across Europe and involves upending and moving your family.

“For me, it‚Äôs important there is the right feel, the right community spirit, you need to feel part of the community, otherwise their minds are elsewhere.

“We are immensely grateful for the support and the way our people are incorporated into the community.

Via: http://www.watfordobserver.co.uk

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