The UK-based independent charity Institute for Statecraft (IoS) and its recently uncovered disinformation project, Integrity Initiative (II), constitute a secret propaganda network tied to the UK security services. They bring together high-ranking military and intelligence personnel, journalists, and academics to manufacture and disseminate propaganda serving the geo-political aims of British imperialism and its allies. The campaign is heavily reminiscent to a modern-day, much more sophisticated, insidious, and aggressive online reincarnation of Operation Mockingbird from the 1950’s Cold War era, in which the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) covertly infiltrated media organizations through whom they surreptitiously spread their carefully sculpted agenda, with the aim of controlling and limiting public discourse by applying their filters to the information that is released to the general public. Among the witting and unwitting collaborators were distinguished journalists, prolific authors and poets, artists, performers, intellectuals, and other high-profile persons of influence. The CIA’s payroll included top editors and reporters at such prestigious and widely distri buted newspapers as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major print publications and television news outlets to “put out propaganda and misleading stories” promoting the imperialist foreign policies of the US government while smearing its adversaries.
The IoS was founded in 2006 and the II project was started in 2015, but their secret role in promoting fake news and disinformation was exposed only in November and December of 2018 by a faction of the hacking group Anonymous called The Collective. The group shared their initial revelations, supported by a now-removed link to a trove of hacked documents, in the following video:
A document published by Anonymous shows funding for the II totalled £582,635 in 2017-18, with £480,635 coming from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the rest from NATO.
Funding shot up to £2.6 million in 2018-19, with £1.96 million from the FCO and the rest from the US State Department, NATO and the American neoconservative Smith Richardson Foundation. Facebook, which plays in integral role in imposing censorship on behalf of US imperialism, donated £100,000.
The Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) produced a briefing on the II last month documenting the role played by leading figures in the UK Ministry of Defence, US Army and senior intelligence figures. It noted, “The involvement of these senior officers from military intelligence and information warfare units suggests that the MoD rather than the FCO is driving the Integrity Initiative programme.”
On January 4, a fourth trove of documents (click to download) was made public by the Anonymous collective, taken from the internal servers of the IoS and II. These include many documents related to the poisoning last March of former Russian agent-turned-British-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.
One of the documents is a “private and confidential” report by Harod Associates, a company hired by the Initiative to conduct “mainstream & social media analysis” of the Skripal scandal coverage. The entire undertaking was dubbed “Operation Iris.”
Within the archive of documents were plenty of references to Russian trolls (as seen in screenshot below), including real human Twitter users from Western countries expressing dissident perspectives being labeled as Russian troll bots.
The document dump also contains the April 14, 2018 email from Andy Pryce (shown below; click to download), whom the hackers describe as “chief propaganda man” at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, containing the official government narrative of the Skripal affair and the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria. Pryce ends the email by recommending “good sources of further information” on alleged Russian propaganda, including the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab, Bellingcat and Stopfake.
Documents obtained and published by the hackers also show connections between Skripal’s recruiter and neighbor Pablo Miller, the Institute for Statecraft, and the so-called rescue group White Helmets, created in militant-held areas of Syria by a former British official in 2013.
Operation IRIS Begins
On 4 March 2018, former Russian military officer turned British agent for MI6 Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, without citing any evidence, immediately accused Russia of attempting to assassinate the pair using the nerve agent Novichok, thereby ramping up global tensions. The II leaks indicate that the moves against Russia over the Skripal affair were scripted well in advance, with the IoS planning a detailed anti-Russia propaganda war, including suggested achievable objectives.
Within days, the Institute had submitted a proposal to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, “to study social media activity in respect of the events that took place, how news spread and evaluate how the incident is being perceived” in a number of countries.
The bid was accepted, and the Initiative’s ‘Operation Iris’ was launched. Under its auspices, the Institute employed ‘global investigative solutions’ firm Harod Associates to analyze social media activity related to the Skripal story.
Among those who found themselves listed as nefarious thought criminals and Kremlin agents in the report were Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa and a gentleman from Kent who goes by Ian56 on Twitter.
Neocon Fascist, al-Qaeda Supporting Treasonous Scumbag @Benimmo is having a laugh with £2m of Taxpayers money.
Nimmo should be IN JAIL for Fraud & Treason pic.twitter.com/ynQbwf942U
— Ian56 (@Ian56789) January 4, 2019
Another document, dated March 11, 2018, contains a “Narrative” of the Skripal incident, blaming Russia and President Vladimir Putin personally and containing a number of recommended actions, such as boycotting the 2018 World Cup, starting campaigns to boycott the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany and block Russian access to the SWIFT international banking system, but also to “ban RT TV and Sputnik from operating in the UK.”
Other suggestions include propaganda directed at British Muslims “to publicise what has been happening with their Muslim brethren in Crimea since the Russian invasion” (sic) and getting members of UK Parliament to publicize the “threat Russia poses.”
It opens by setting out “The Narrative” of the incident – namely “Russia has carried out yet another brutal attack, this time with a deadly nerve agent, on someone living in Britain”.
“Use of the nerve agent posed a threat to innocent British subjects, affecting 21 people and seriously affecting a police officer. This is not the first time such an attack has been carried out in the UK…14 deaths are believed to be attributable to the Kremlin…Russia has poisoned its enemies abroad on other occasions, most notably then-candidate for the Presidency of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, in 2004. Russian political activist Vladimir Kara-Murza has been poisoned twice; and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya was also poisoned and later shot dead. Since Putin has been running Russia, the Kremlin has a history of poisoning its opponents in a gruesome way,” the “narrative” reads.
The file goes on to declare the British response has been “far too weak…it’s essential the government makes a much stronger response this time” – and then lists “possible, realistic, first actions”, including banning RT and Sputnik from operating in the UK, boycotting the 2018 World Cup, withdrawing the UK ambassador from Moscow and expelling the Russian ambassador to the UK, and refusing/revoking visas to leading Russians within Vladimir Putin’s “circle”, and their families.
The section on sports also suggests “advocating the view [Russia] is unworthy of hosting [sporting] events” — and the section marked “information” recommends the sanctioning of ‘Russian’ media “in West for not complying with regulators’ standards”.
In the section marked “intelligence”, Madeira suggests the simultaneous expulsion of “every RF [Russian Federation] intelligence officer and air/defense/naval attache from as many countries as possible”—citing ‘Operation Foot’ as a precedent, in which over 1000 Soviet officials were expelled from the UK in September 1971, the largest expulsion of intelligence officials by any government in history. One of the actions by the UK, US and several other NATO countries in the wake of claims that Russia used a nerve agent against the Skripals was a mass expulsion of Russian diplomats. More than 100 Russian diplomats were expelled from over 20 countries just days after the Skripal poisoning.
It’s striking that Madeira, who made these recommendations in 2015, made many media appearances discussing the poisoning following the incident routinely documented by the Institute.
Madeira has lectured at the University of Buckingham. The WGSPM quoted the university’s website:
“Dr. Victor Madeira comes to us from Cambridge (where he has been a lecturer and tutor for four years, working with Professor Christopher Andrew and Sir Richard Dearlove and the Institute for Statecraft in London, directed by Chris Donnelly, where he is a senior fellow working on 21st century security architecture.”
Dearlove is the former head of the UK foreign intelligence service MI6.
The head of the IoS is Chris Donnelly, formerly a reserve officer in the British Army Intelligence Corps. He previously headed the British Army’s Soviet Studies Research Centre at Sandhurst.
Between 1989 and 2003, he was special adviser to four NATO secretaries general. An online biography confirms that Donnelly is, among many things, an honorary colonel in Specialist Group Military Intelligence (SGMI) and sits on the official team responsible for scrutinizing the current reform of the UK’s Reserve Forces for the defence secretary. SGMI is a Ministry of Defence (MoD) operation based at Denison Barracks in Berkshire, England. It is part of the 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade, which became operational on September 1, 2014.
Another leaked document shows that in October 2016, Donnelly met UK General Sir Richard Barrons. The account of their meeting is chilling in light of the Skripal affair that followed and the escalation of tensions with Russia, including demands by leading generals that the UK prepare for military conflict.
Either Donnelly or Barrons reportedly stated that “if no catastrophe happens to wake people up and demand a response, then we need to find a way to get the core of government to realise the problem and take it out of the political space.”
The speaker continued: “We will need to impose changes over the heads of vested interests. We did this in the 1930s. My conclusion is it is we who must either generate the debate or wait for something dreadful to happen to shock us into action. We must generate an independent debate outside government. We need to ask when and how do we start to put all this right. Do we have the national capabilities [and/or] capacities to fix it? If so, how do we improve our harnessing of resources to do it? We need this debate now. There is not a moment to be lost.”
The Donnelly/Barrons meeting came just one month after the Financial Times leaked a letter from Barrons to the MoD making clear that the British military had to prepare for a major war. In his letter, Barrons demanded the upgrading of military and intelligence hardware, capabilities and personnel necessary to prosecute an extended air, land and sea confrontation against heavily armed state opponents, particularly Russia.
Just days after the poisoning of the Skripals, the IoS proposed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office “study social media activity in respect of the events that took place, how news spread, and evaluate how the incident is being perceived” in various countries. Within days, the II’s “Operation Iris” swung into operation. As well as monitoring media coverage with its own team, it recruited the global investigative solutions firm Harod Associates to analyse social media activity related to the Skripals affair.
On March 11, just seven days after the poisonings, II set out what it called the necessary “narrative.” It declared, “Russia has carried out yet another brutal attack, this time with a deadly nerve agent, on someone living in Britain.”
The May government’s account of how the Skripals came to be poisoned was shot through with inconsistencies, with the wider public increasingly sceptical at its ever-changing story. The II raised concerns that the government was “far too weak,” declaring, “[I]t’s essential the government makes a much stronger response this time.”
It proposed 11 “possible, realistic first actions,” including such authoritarian measures as banning Russian state news services RT and Sputnik from operating in the UK. Its first demand was to publicly attack the Putin government with a barrage of propaganda “through regular media, social media, and with the assistance of specialists such as those at the Institute of Statecraft.”
A number of senior journalists at the BBC, Times/Sunday Times, Guardian and Financial Times are listed as supportive of the IoS/II in an earlier leaked document. These media outlets each played a central role in disseminating government propaganda throughout the Skripal affair. The named journalists include David Aaronovitch and Dominic Kennedy at the Times, Natalie Nougayrede and Carole Cadwalladr at the Guardian, Edward Lucas at the Economist, Neil Buckley at the Financial Times, and Jonathan Marcus at the BBC.
Security consultant Dan Kaszeta also wrote a number of articles for the Integrity Initiative website about chemical weapons following the attack — including a July 14 puff piece on Porton Down (the UK’s chemical weapons laboratory, which has the capability to produce Novichok), How could Novichok have poisoned people four months after the Skripal attack? — receiving 40 pence per word. His piece insisted that Porton Down, located just a few miles from Salisbury, could not possibly have anything to do with the presence of Novichok in Salisbury. Invoices from his consultancy (example shown below) reveal he was paid over £2,000 to write anti-Russian articles published by the II.