BT indifferent to supporting US drone programme “as long as they pay our bills”

July 16, 2014

Image of drones

Telecoms firm BT today dismissed questions over its provision of support to the US’ covert drone programme, stating that it “does not look at what its customers do” with its equipment, and adding that “we sell our services to governments as long as they pay our bills.”

The questions were raised at the company’s London AGM by legal charity Reprieve, which assists the civilian victims of drone strikes. They follow the revelation that BT has provided a high-tech communications link between Camp Lemonnier, a secretive US base in Djibouti from which drone strikes against Yemen have been launched, and RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, a US military base which provides “communications and global strike operations.”

Such fibre-optic links are crucial in allowing the transmission of video feeds from drones around the world to the bases from which they are flown and the footage is analysed.

Many believe that the secretive drone programme, carried out by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in countries with which the US is not at war, violates international and domestic law.

Speaking at the AGM, Chairman Sir Michael Rake said BT “does not look at what its customers do” with its equipment, and that it was “not our business” to investigate a potential BT role in the US strikes.

Pressed on whether the OECD’s government-backed recommendations on responsible business conduct require BT to investigate, Sir Michael said: “We cannot be held responsible, cannot know, cannot seek to know what people do with our telecommunications equipment.”

Reprieve is currently bringing legal action against the UK government for its failure to investigate BT for a breach of the OECD guidelines. An original complaint in July 2013 to the OECD’s UK National Contact Point for the guidelines (NCP), which sits within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), was rejected after the NCP said it had no duty to “conduct research or interrogate” BT.

Lord Livingston, who was Chief Executive of BT at the time the complaint was launched, is now Minister of State at BIS. Secretary of State Vince Cable has told Reprieve that Livingston “has overall responsibility” for the NCP.

Kevin Lo, CSR Advocate at Reprieve, said: “BT cannot continue to bury its head in the sand over allegations that it is supporting illegal drone strikes. Sir Michael cannot simply wash his hands of the possibility that his company is supporting a campaign – knowingly or otherwise – that has killed hundreds of civilians and violates international law. BT’s leaders must come clean to shareholders and the public about what role it may have had in illegal drone strikes, while its denials today should surely prompt the government to reconsider an investigation.”


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: +44 207 553 8160

2. Further information about the US base at RAF Croughton can be accessed at this US military website.