aquila | dumb procurement

Main Entrance - click to enlarge

Data Centre Location - click to enlarge

I stood on the stage and reflected on the trip. At that point, Aquila was still mysterious and we knew little about its history and purpose. But as Iíve gradually uploaded it to the site, itís become one of the most popular (if not the most popular) for ex-workers to find. Gradually its importance became apparent.

"I'd like to share with you my own "civillian" experience at MOD Aquila. I hope it's of interest to you."

"It must have been in the late 1980s whilst I was working at Honeywell. I was a third level technical specialist on the GCOS6 operating system (long since defunct) and amongst other things had the joyous job of examining memory dumps from crashed computers to find out what had gone wrong. This was very much a skilled activity - there was a rudimentary dump analysis tool and it typically printed out hexadecimal tables on 600 to 800 sheets of fanfold paper on a line printer. One day, a critical system had crashed at Burghfield. Not surprisingly, they would not let the memory dump off site and wanted me to go there to analyse it. I'd actually refused to sign the official secrets act when I joined Honeywell, because I'd been involved in CND whilst at university and had actually been arrested in a protest at Faslane. The immorality of nuclear weapons (and WMD in general) and the hypocrisy of the British in wanting them for themselves whilst seeking to deny them to others has given me a healthy contempt for political power, that persists in me to this day."

"The last thing I was going to do was sign the Offical secrets Act and forever sign away my right to be a "whistle blower". So, unsurprisingly, as I'd not signed the act, I was not allowed to visit Burghfield either and there was aquite remarkable phone call lasting about 3 hours where the guy at Burghfield provided the eyes and I provided the brains to find out why the system had crashed. It turned out to be a complex but known problem and a patch got them up and running again."

"However, in a colossal breach of security procedures, I was despatched to MOD Aquila, at Golf Road, Bromley in Kent. Honeywell had various computers there providing databases to the MOD. The location was unmistakable, as it's next to a compex railway junction with trains passing all the time."

"Guess what - nothing on the OS map even now."

"But zoom in and turn on the aerial photo and there are the unmistakable geometric government buildings."

"Now switch to Google Earth and look at the same location. Knock me over with a feather - it's a residential building site. The MOD site is rather clearer in the GetMapping web site."

"But it comes into its own on Microsoft Earth. The building of particular interest is one of two pretty tatty L-shaped single storey buildings, close to the main car park, surrounded by a separate razor wire fence. Actually, the whole site was pretty secure, but this building was notably more secure than any other, enclosed within a third layer of fencing. It was there that I took an "Exabyte" 8mm tape data cartridge (same as the 8mm video tape format) which was the newest tape technology in those days, to install a database software update and where I was left alone in the computer room..... Utter madness. At GCHQ I was even escorted into the loo, but at MOD Aquila I was left alone with the computers!."

"After updating the system, I asked what the database was used for. I went white as a sheet when I was told. It was the nuclear weapons logistics database. I could have backed it up to the tape and gone off the site with a copy of what must have been some of the most sensitive data conceivable.."

"I attach annotated pictures from the Microsoft Earth, showing the main entrance on Golf Road and the data centre."

"I've done web searches on MOD Aquila several times over the years and there was never anything about it. I've kept this story to myself and a few confidants for nearly 20 years. Even though I never signed the official secrets act, I still felt bound by it, in case any disclosure could be traced back to me. However, I feel happy to disclose it now, in the safe knowledge that the location is being or has been redeveloped and that database is now held elsewhere (perhaps at another "constellation"?)."

"So, altogether fascinating, if terrible. I hope you are equally intrigued." - Roderick