It’s been over a month since hackers began exposing the Scotland-based ‘Integrity Initiative’ as a UK government-funded propaganda outfit — and gradually new details of the organization’s clandestine activities have come to light.
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The documents were leaked by a group which claims to be associated with the Anonymous hackers. The first batch of leaks revealed the Integrity Initiative (II) was stealthily operating “clusters” of influencers across Europe working to ensure pro-UK narratives dominate the media. The second batch showed that the organization was also running disinformation campaigns domestically — specifically a smear campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn; all done under the guise of combatting “Russian propaganda.”
Now, a third batch of leaks has exposed that the project allegedly operated much like a modern-day version of Operation Mockingbird — a secretive 1950s project whereby the CIA worked hand-in-glove with willing journalists in major media outlets to ensure certain narratives were adhered to. Only this time, it’s a UK-funded organization with deep links to the intelligence services and military passing itself off as a non-partisan “charity.”
1. A “vast and ambitious infowar campaign”
In one of the most revealing leaks yet, a French company called Lexfo allegedly offers a“strictly confidential”proposal to spread propaganda for II across “several hundred existing and credible” news sites in “multiple languages.” Lexfo even offers to create news sites to serve II’s objectives — sites which it says will be “ostensibly independent to assure their credibility.”
Lexfo also suggests monitoring and editing Wikipedia pages, launching aggressive campaigns to “discredit and intimidate” websites or outlet deemed to be promoting “fake news” — including through legal action and encouraging advertisers to abandon those platforms, the documents show. Ultimately, Lexfo offered a “vast and ambitious infowar campaign” which would be “untraceable.”
In a December 16 editorial, the Scotland-based Daily Record, which has been one of the only major outlets reporting on the scandal, suggested that if the II was “gift-wrapping intelligence for journalists desperate enough to pass it off as their own work without proper attribution” then that is “worthy of further investigation.”
Indeed, these new links seem to reveal that this is exactly what has been happening.
Ever feel you missed something? When did the military's role shift from defending us to "influencing" us? Was there ever public discussion? Isn't it an important constitutional matter what the military is for? #IntegrityInitiative
— Tim Hayward (@Tim_Hayward_) December 17, 2018
2. Military intelligence cut out?
The new leaks also unveiled more detail about Chris Donnelly, a key player at the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) — the ‘parent’ of the Integrity Initiative. Donnelly boasts an extensive background in military intelligence. One document, which appears to be a summary of a trip Donnelly took to Paris confirms that the II sought to enlist supposedly independent journalists into their activities. Donnelly gives a list of journalists he feels the project can “safely involve” and “who see things our way.”
Another document reveals that Donnelly had drafted a list of suggested “military measures” that he would implement during the height of the Crimean crisis in 2014 if he was “in charge” — including laying mines in Sevastopol Bay. The question should be asked: Why would a disinformation-busting charity be drafting proposals on UK military measures?
Perhaps because it seems the UK military had a keen interest in promoting the II’s activities. Not only was the project receiving funding from the British Foreign Office, but also the British Army and Ministry of Defense — something which the MoD had denied before a leaked invoice proved it.
In a summary of a “private discussion” between Donnelly and retired British Army officer Gen. Sir Richard Barron, the British Army’s Twitter and Facebook wing, the 77th Brigade is praised for its “exploitation of social media.”
In a document published on the IfS website, Donnelly also suggested special training programs to instill “moral and ethical values” into children as young as eight-years-old, in what appears to be some kind of 1984 Orwell-style effort to indoctrinate children with a pro-government bias.
3. Skripal ‘monitoring campaign’
The II leapt into action after the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in March and supposedly put together a proposal to monitor social media discussion to “evaluate how the incident is being perceived” across Europe. The goal was to establish “key influencers” on social media and determine who is “friendly” to the UK.
Lists of tweets on the Skripal affair were put together, along with country reports detailing how journalists in Europe were responding, the leak suggests. One report noted that in Italy, doubts about the UK narrative had been raised by “high-quality newspapers” and suggested that an “effective, discrete and articulated information campaign” must be directed at key figures in Italian politics and media.
4. Scotland at risk: ‘Nutcases in kilts’?
Some of the leaks also reveal worries about fissures within the UK itself, particularly in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland. “Will the current relationship survive, or will we have a federal relationship, or will some become independent?” one document reads.
In a summary of a meeting with David Leask, a chief reporter at the Herald in Scotland, the II writes that a “looser federal nature” is forming between the UK’s four parts and that the English don’t realize it. Leask feared that some odd “nutcase in a kilt” might go to a separatist conference held in Moscow, but was relieved when that did not happen. There are also concerns that “satisfaction with BBC” is now low among ordinary Scottish people.
Recent reporting by the Grayzone Project suggested that the offices belonging to the IfS seem to be in the basement of a building at Two Temple Place in London — but any effort by journalists to approach staff there have been aggressively rebuffed.
Labour MP Chris Williamson has said the government has “serious questions to answer” about why it is funding “dubious groups that interfere in the affairs of European democracies and distribute misinformation about the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn” — a reference to earlier leaks showing an orchestrated smear campaign against Corbyn.
The Daily Record has called the II revelations “one of the biggest political scandals of the year.”
The #IntegrityInitiative story is insane. If this was a shady org set up in the basement of a building in Moscow it would have been instantly blasted across the pages of the WaPo and NYT. But it's just a British gov-funded disinfo outfit so…silence. https://t.co/sStNzgtF4C
— Danielle Ryan (@DanielleRyanJ) December 18, 2018
It is a wonder then, that the story has not attracted the attention of most of the mainstream media. In Britain, a handful of high profile outlets, including the Guardian, have done the bare minimum in reporting the controversy, but most have shied away. In the US, there has been near total silence on the issue.
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