Integrity Initiative – More Spooks than Goosebumps
By Jac Rousseau
Statecraft is defined as the ‘skilful management of state affairs’; it’s also the title of a 2003 book collating Margaret Thatcher’s speeches and articles. The Institute for Statecraft (IfS) is registered as a charity and runs a government funded project to counter Russian propaganda called Integrity Initiative (II).
On 5th November 2018, Anonymous released a cache of files on cyberguerrilla.org with the following opening statement, “Greetings. We are Anonymous. We have obtained a large number of documents relating to the activities of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ project that was launched back in the fall of 2015 and funded by the British government. The declared goal of the project is to counteract Russian propaganda and the hybrid warfare of Moscow. Hiding behind benevolent intentions, Britain has in fact created a large-scale information secret service in Europe, the United States and Canada, which consists of representatives of political, military, academic and journalistic communities with the think tank in London at the head of it.”
On the 9th December, Chris Williamson MP posted the following Tweet: “What the hell is going on? I tabled a parliamentary question recently and discovered the Foreign Office has given £2m of public money to a shady organisation that’s indulging in black propaganda against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.”
On the 11th of December Kit Klarenberg, a reporter for Russian news outlet Sputnik News, was made aware of invoices leaked by hacking syndicate Anonymous which located the secret base of II at a secluded basement floor of the astonishingly decadent address, 2 Temple Place, London. Upon arriving at the offices of II, Klarenberg was greeted by one Simon Bracey-Lane and upon announcing his press credentials he was unceremoniously turfed out.
In 2015 whilst on a ‘holiday’ in Iowa, Simon Bracey-Lane volunteered as a Field Organiser to campaign for Bernie Saunders’ Presidential campaign. At the same time, in September of 2015, Bracey-Lane was ‘inspired’ to join the Labour Party by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader and volunteered in their election campaigns. During the 2017 General Election, Bracey-Lane worked for several campaigns encouraging people to ‘get out and vote’ where he would gain access to databases of voters’ registration and voting intention, including running Campaign Together – a vehicle for training canvassers and organising vote swaps, as per their own website ‘a platform that reached over 500,000 people in the General Election 2015’. Vote swaps, such as voteswap.org, were used to tactically exchange votes in marginal voting constituencies to give progressive parties better chances of winning elections. It also gives the organisers access to data on hundreds of thousands of Labour/Green voters and an opportunity to influence their voting intentions.
It would come as a surprise then to discover Simon Bracey-Lane in December 2018 manning the secret headquarters of II, a government-funded, military-intelligence staffed, propaganda outlet that regularly smeared Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party – or that Simon signs public letters, ‘Simon Bracey-Lane, Research Fellow, Institute for Statecraft, UK’.
QUESTIONS RAISED IN PARLIAMENT
In parliament, 12th December 2018, Conservative minister Alan Duncan MP responded to a question on II put by Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP, stating, “The IfS is an independent UK-based charity whose work seeks to improve governance and enhance national security. It runs a project called the II, which is working to counter disinformation overseas by bringing together groups of experts to analyse and discuss the problem posed by Russian disinformation.”
“The Government are funding this initiative with nearly £2 million this financial year. That funding covers its activity outside the UK and it does not fund any activity within the UK; nor does it fund the management of the II’s social media account. Recent reports that Foreign Office funding has been used to support party political activity in the UK are therefore wholly untrue.”
Note the similarity in language used by Theresa May in the commitment made at the Eastern Partnership summit last November, to spend “£100m over five years in the Eastern Neighbourhood to counter disinformation.”
Klarenberg claims the hacked Anonymous files show the think-tank to be: “an ‘information war effort’, run by British military intelligence specialists, and funded by the British state and NATO.”
He writes that: “A bid for Ministry of Defence funding submitted by the II to the UK Ministry of Defence in 2017 lists a ‘tougher stance in government policy towards Russia’ and ‘more information published in the media on the threat of Russian active measures’ as key performance indicators for the organization.”
“To achieve this end, the Institute via its Initiative is amassing ‘clusters’ the world over – groups of politicians, businesspeople, military officials, academics and journalists – who ‘understand the threat posed to Western nations’ by Russian ‘disinformation’ and can be mobilised to influence policy in support of the ‘Anglo-Saxon worldview’, and against the interests of the Russian state.”
Klarenberg highlights leaked invoices, impact assessments and schedules connecting IfS/II with various academics and journalists. Namely, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, Ben Nimmo, Guardian feature writer, Carole Cadwalladr, and Defence Editor at The Times, Deborah Haynes, who, as well as helping to promote the ‘Anglo-Saxon worldview’, dedicate serious social media and column inches to discrediting Jeremy Corbyn.
II has also come under fire for its use of public money to spread negative and misleading information about Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, online via its own platforms. These include articles titled, ‘The Kremlin has weaponised doubt in Syria – and Labour is helping’, ‘Skripal Poisoning: It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem’, ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s sickening support for Soviet empire’, retweeting journalist Nick Cohen and adding the quotation: “Unlike Galloway Corbyn doesn’t scream conspiracy, he implies it”, insinuating that Corbyn was ‘a useful idiot’, a Czech spy, associated with the StB, etc, etc. Articles and posts such as these were spread through social media associated with ‘clusters’ of networks across the world in coordinated WhatsApp groups, including via friendly journalists embedded in mainstream press outlets. A later release of hacked files by Anonymous revealed that these Corbyn smears are not incidental or accidental – invoices reveal Chris Hernon was paid to deliver briefings to IfS/II staff on the demographics of Corbyn supporters.
As well as staffing military-intelligence officers who have infiltrated left-wing campaigns in the US and UK, II have also been accused of interfering
with political appointments in the socialist Spanish government.
On the 7th June 2018, II launched operation Moncloa to prevent the nomination of the left-leaning and internationalist army-reserve, Colonel Pedro Baños, as Spain’s Director of National Security. As reported in the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), “In Spain, [II] encouraged pliant journalists to write hatchet pieces – to prevent the nomination of a Spanish official to Director of National Security, one of Spain’s top advisory roles.”
A hacked debriefing records the operation beginning at 14:00, with coordinated social media attacks on Baños followed up with articles in El Munde, El Nacional and El País to be published over the next two days; the operation was concluded by 19:45. The leaked II debriefing was summarised, “contacts in the Socialist party confirm the PM has received the message”. Pedro Baños was not appointed following accusations of being a Russia supporter, association with UFO theories and questions raised about his mental health.
II operates clusters from UK Embassies and High Commissions in France, Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Serbia and Spain. It also plans clusters in Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland and Portugal.
The document detailing UK contacts lists 108 individuals including personnel from the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, as well as parliamentary staff at the Defence Committee. This includes the names of at least nine journalists from The Times/Sunday Times, Guardian, Financial Times, Sky, and the BBC. It also includes publishers and think-tanks, the Henry Jackson Society, Royal United Services Institute, and Demos. Most interestingly, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw.
In response to these allegations, II published tweets and articles claiming that they have had information stolen from their website, which has currently been taken down ‘pending an investigation into the theft of data from the Institute for Statecraft and its programme, the Integrity Initiative’. II claims that some of the files have been fabricated and inserted into a staged leak as part of a Kremlin led disinformation programme; but they cannot show which ones are fake because it would confirm which ones are real.
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