The Enigma Of Backbone Essay

5769 words - 23 pages

The Enigma of Backbone The enigma of Backbone has been with us for over 30 years since Peter
Laurie first referred to the use of microwave relay towers in his 1967
Sunday Times article on civil defence. Three years later he expanded
the article into the groundbreaking "Beneath The City Streets" in
which he says "The GPO planned a chain of concrete towers code-named
Backbone which linked the 3 major cities, as well as having
connections with the air-defence chain". Unfortunately, whilst
mentioning a role for Backbone in both civil defence and air defence
he assumed that the system linked "secret sites", a belief founded on
the mistaken, but perhaps understandable assumption that the civil
defence sites the government said it would provide existed but because
they could not be seen they must be secret. Unfortunately, we now know
they they could not be seen because they did not actually exist. Later
editions of the book largely dropped the idea of Backbone as part of a
communications network for "secret sites" but continued to maintain,
correctly, that it had some military function.

Writing some 10 years later Duncan Campbell gave us some more details
in "War Plan UK" saying that Backbone had been conceived in 1954 for a
wartime role but with a peacetime one of feeding international
communications into the US listening base at Menwith Hill. Both
authors mentioned that microwave systems like Backbone would be less
vulnerable than cables to sabotage. With this thought in mind it is
interesting to note a suggestion made in a book called "Roland Perry -
the Fifth Man" which speculates that Baron Rothschild was the fifth
man in the Cambridge spy ring. This book suggested that in the early
1960s the Russians funded a string of petrol stations in Britain under
the name Nafta which were sited in out of the way places where they
could be used as sabotage bases to destroy amongst other things the
Backbone stations. This is perhaps not as far fetched as a recent
suggestion that the Backbone masts were sited to coincide with "ley
lines".

There were some early mentions in public documents of Backbone
although these were often vague and it is perhaps only with the
benefit of hindsight that we recognise their true subject. The first
public mention of what we know as Backbone came in the 1955 Defence
White Paper which announced "The Post Office...are planning to build
up a special network, both by cable and radio designed to maintain
long distance communication in the event of an attack".

1. For younger readers, The General Post Office the predecessor of
both BT and whatever...

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