Category Archives: Media
Deliberately down-played? Belatedly, MSM publishes limited accounts of a government-funded thinktank’s dubious activities
On the 2nd December the Daily Record revealed that Gateshead Mills in Fife, which ‘presents’ as a small ‘design and creativity charity’ operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife, has been revealed in leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail – the sister paper of the Daily Record – as the base for The Institute for Statecraft, whose Integrity Initiative is run by military intelligence specialists and receives £2million from the Foreign Office.
Spokesman Stephen Dalziel said: “It (the IFS) was set up 14 years ago and the Integrity Initiative programme was started three years ago to look at disinformation and malign influence on democratic societies and it just so happens it’s the Russians who are doing most of that at the moment . . . What we have done is to set up this network across Europe of people who understand what the problem is”.
The Integrity Initiative claims to have built a network of networks of people who operate to counter Russia’s ‘disinformation’. The UK cluster has staff from the Institute for Statecraft, people representing hedge fund interests, think tanks like DEMOS, RUSI, Henry Jackson Society, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Chatham House, as well as from the Ministry of Defence (including EU Joint Headquarters at Northwood), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and several journalists.
The link to the Daily Record article is no longer accessible but one dated a week later – and far less revealing – may be read here. Another article, first seen in NY Herald Tribune, reproduced with permission from the UK Column, presents a fully illustrated and even more revealing information and – to date – its link works.
Back to the currently inaccessible Daily Record. The leaks detail Government grant applications and the Foreign Office has now confirmed that they provided substantial funding to the Integrity Initiative. In response to a parliamentary question, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500. This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “The Integrity Initiative is a programme already in the public domain. Our funding helps ensure it can continue producing important work to counter disinformation and other malign influence.”
The investigation has found evidence that the programme’s official Twitter account has been used to attack Corbyn, his strategy and communications director Seumas Milne, the Labour Party and its officials.
Further leaked documents appear to indicate that the Integrity Initiative’s “Spanish cluster” swung into action on hearing that Pedro Banos was to be appointed director of the national security department. The papers detail how the Integrity Initiative alerted “key influencers” around Europe who launched an online campaign against the politician.
The manager of the Integrity Initiative ‘appears to be’ Christopher Donnelly.
A website biography states that he is a reserve officer in the British Army Intelligence Corps who previously headed the British Army’s Soviet Studies Research Centre at Sandhurst. Between 1989 and 2003, he was a special adviser to NATO Secretaries General and was involved in dealing with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and reform of newly emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. He left NATO in 2003 to set up and run the UK Defence Academy’s Advanced Research and Assessment Group. In 2010, he became a director of IFS.
UK column adds many other staff names, including that of the active Andy Pryce.
Pryce had been making statements to the press about Russia (well worth reading in the light of this article), where he was described as ‘Head of Counter Disinformation and Media Development’ at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September 2017. He is said to have taken part in:
- an event called ‘DEMOCRACY AND PROPAGANDA: Can independent media defend universal values?’, said to have been held in the Hilton Hotel in London, though the link advertises a Ukrainian location.. This was organised jointly by the European Endowment for Democracy and the EU Eastern Partnership, which, it turns out, is an FCO programme(link now not working) that “works to counter and reduce the effect of destabilising disinformation”.
- the first round of Ukrainian-British interagency consultationson countering cyber threats held in London in March this year,
- the 2018 EU DisinfoLab, in April and
- in October he took part in the Atlantic Council’s Global Forum on Strategic Communications and Digital Disinformationevent, held in Washington DC. Of note here is that this was a two-day event. Andy Pryce’s contribution came on day two, which has not been made available on video.
UK column journalist Mike Robinson made a FOI request for more information but this was refused on the basis of ‘national security’ – though he noted that the Freedom of Information act says that national security can only be used as grounds for refusal where intelligence services are involved. The FCO’s response is now under investigation by the Information Commissioner.
Some will want to read more about the Integrity Initiative, which appears to be acting in the way that western governments and media claim Russia is doing.
The UK Column adds other staff names, including:
- Ben Bradshaw MP, who has been promoting an anti-Russian outlook, including claiming that Russia “interfered” with the Brexit referendum,
- Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, and one of the founders of Orbis Business Intelligence, the privatised British intelligence operation which features Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump ‘dodgy dossier’ and
- Oliver McTernan, a former Senior Adviser at the Club of Madrid and a Visiting Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. In 2002, he initiated and participated in the first official high-level post conflict talks between NATO and the government in Belgrade. For 25 years he was Executive Committee Member, Pax Christi International, responsible for the movement’s East-West Dialogue programme during the Soviet period. He is the founder and a director of the St Sergius Trust Fund based in London and Moscow, and was earlier a Roman Catholic priest based in the diocese of Westminster.
David Miller, noted professor of Political Sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, says that serious questions need to be answered:
“It seems extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which, for example, ends up soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine because they happen to oppose Putin. It must raise questions with OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator, about breaching charitable rules. It would appear this organisation could have received almost £2million from the FCO, so people have a right to know what’s happening with their money.”
Labour MSP Neil Findlay added: “It would appear that we have a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that is funded by the UK Government and is spewing out political attacks on UK politicians, the Labour Party and the Labour movement. Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”
Two ‘hidden’ reports see the light of day – how many more are buried?
In July, Andrew Gilligan reported that the HS2 high-speed rail project is “highly likely” to go as much as 60% over budget and cost “more than £80bn”. A Cabinet Office report by the government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), classified as “official-sensitive” and “not for publication”, described the scheme as “fundamentally flawed” and in a “precarious position”. A group of Conservative MPs, led by Jeremy Lefroy the MP for Stafford, mounted a new bid to cancel HS2.
Is Britain’s own “deep state” once again covering up mistakes and denying access to critical documents (Carne Ross)?
Yesterday the FT reported that an official report by consultants PwC covering the second phase of HS2, from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, has been kept secret for the past two years. It alleges that Britain’s new £56bn high-speed rail line will cost taxpayers 25% more than similar schemes in other countries. The project was compared with more than 32 other high-speed rail projects, including the 621km Madrid-Barcelona line and the 301km Beijing-Nanjing line.
Since 2016 the management of HS2, which answers to the Department for Transport, has refused to publish the report, despite freedom of information requests from Lord Berkeley, a transport expert.
He said. “The fact that the government is embarrassed by their findings should not be a reason to withhold publication.” The findings included the following factors:
- HS2 will have 25 stations — far more than equivalent schemes abroad — and they are more likely to be in city centres.
- The 10-year hiatus between the UK’s first high-speed line and HS2 meant that the UK did not have the “base, industry and knowledge to deliver the project easily”.
- The UK has a higher population density than some equivalent countries and so has had to pay higher land values, greater compensation and carry out more extensive environmental mitigation,
The benefits of HS2 are becoming harder to discern
The Treasury’s own Infrastructure and Projects Authority has given HS2 an “amber/red” rating for each of the past six years, meaning there is a “high risk” of it not delivering value for money.
A recent report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), which monitors value for money, found that high-speed trains rarely run at the speed they are designed for, with most running at just 45% of top speed, with none running above 250km/h. The study of 10 European lines found that the decision to “build high-speed lines is often based on political considerations, and cost-benefit analyses are not generally used to support cost-efficient decision-making.”
The ECA found that only one of the 10 routes, from Paris to Lyon, have been profitable if construction costs were taken into account.
Brexit, Boris and Trump head the Populus poll which asked which news story, political or otherwise, the public have paid most attention to during the course of that week.
Will Clothier, a senior research executive at Populus, reports in The Times that no more than 5% mentioned the antisemitism story at any point in the past month. In fact, it has never been mentioned by more than 5% since hitting the headlines months ago. He comments (ruefully?):
“ . . . right now this simply is not a big story for most people”
Brexit was outdone though in the second week of the month by one of its architects: the former foreign secretary. His comments about the burka made him the most memorable story of the week for 27% of people.
In August, with Trump’s former campaign manager and his personal lawyer both implicated in financial crimes, the president became the British public’s top story of the week for the second time this year on 20%.
The public may well have seen through the barrage of baseless allegation and innuendo in reports permeating mainstream media. Is their ‘hidden agenda’ now so obvious to the 95% – and even counterproductive?
- the five right-wing billionaires who own the printed press,
- the small group of anonymous Tory strategists running the country,
- the state broadcaster flirting dangerously close to charter compliance
- and about 170 Labour MPs worried about future employment
Hippo presents evidence from two separate academic reports which have concluded that UK news outlets are blatantly biased against Jeremy Corbyn. A study by the London School of Economics found that three quarters of newspapers either ignore or distort Corbyn`s views and comments and act as an aggressive “attack dog” rather than a critical “watchdog”.
A second study by Birkbeck University and the Media Reform Coalition found “clear and consistent bias” against Corbyn in both broadcast and online news feeds with his opponents being allowed double the coverage than his supporters.
Welcomed by socialist leaders in Brussels
The study described a “strong tendency” within the BBC for its reporters to use pejorative language to describe Corbyn and his chums with words such as hostile, hard core, left-wing, radical, revolutionary and Marxist.
Hippo adds: “With my very own ears I heard a senior BBC radio correspondent describe the Labour leadership election as “a battle between Marxists and moderates”. And the strange conclusion is:
“After a year of astonishing negativity, utterly preposterous smears, brutal personal attacks, nasty digs, front bench resignations and a vote of no confidence from Labour MPs who accuse unelectable Corbyn of disloyalty and fracturing the party, the bloke was re-elected as party leader increasing his share of the vote to 61.6 %.
“Unelectable? maybe not if the electorate actually has a full rather than half a brain”.
Read the Plastic Hippo’s article here: http://www.thebrummie.net/strong-message-here/
Media 90: Today, BBC repeats blatant mainstream media error: from the outset, Labour accepted the IHRA definition of antisemitism
As social and mainstream media gave the impression that Ireland has become the world’s first country to fully divest from fossil fuel investments, Clean Technica’s coverage makes it clear that this has not yet happened:
“Ireland is likely to become the world’s first country to fully divest from fossil fuel investments after a bill was approved by the Irish lower house this week, and now awaits approval by the country’s Senate . . .
“The bill will now move on to the Seanad Éireann, the upper house of Ireland’s legislature, the Oireachtas, through which it is expected to pass smoothly”.
Based in London, UK Policy Group is a research consultancy with affiliates in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, which ‘brings clients the tactics and techniques of professional political campaigns’. https://ukpolicy.co.uk/about/ . It was founded last year by Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign manager, and Joe Pounder, a former research director for the Republican National Committee. The pair also run a Washington-based public affairs company. UKPG’s staff includes former senior Tory advisers among its leadership team, including ex-director of policy and research Andrew Goodfellow and former staff from the Conservatives’ research department and media monitoring unit.
“Now the internet kids are coming of age, vetting must be taken more seriously,” Mr Goodfellow said in a post on the UKPG website.
As part of its broader corporate offering to British clients, UKPG offers vetting and due diligence services to high net-worth individuals who are considering becoming political candidates or donors. It can dig into a client’s past to show what a journalist or the cabinet office might uncover if they were to enter the political sphere or were nominated for a gong. UKPG also aims to explain to clients how some idiosyncrasies, such as unusual tax arrangements, might be interpreted in the press.
A classic Murdoch-Times headline: ‘How Tories could unleash US attack dogs to dig up dirt on Labour’
Lucy Fisher reports that this “opposition research” firm with links to Republican party figures and a controversial American campaign group has been hired by the Conservatives.
Their mission: “building up files on left-wing politicians that could potentially be deployed in attack campaigns ahead of elections”.
Ms Fisher continues “While both the Conservatives and Labour Party have in-house research units and media monitoring capabilities, the move to outsource these tasks signals an escalation in aggressive negative campaigning”.
Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) already has sizeable files on Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott so UKPG is “understood to be concentrating on creating opposition research books on figures such as Sir Keir Starmer, and other potential leadership candidates, who have received less scrutiny”.
Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch has branded opposition research tactics “anti-democratic”, arguing that “the free flow of opinions and debate; a robust political opposition; and a healthy media” can be undermined by it.
David Duckworth approved this move but added, “But there is risk if Labour do the same”
Hello Campers: On the other hand looking at the chart spending ££££££ to secure a ‘win’ regardless of ethics/morality/whatever looks as if it works (although not a lot).
Leicht Betrunkener Max: I guess good policies are too hard to come by these days
Mr. Robert Colledge: The same way all Murdoch papers do. Papers subbed by rich non-domiciled billionaire, have an interest in a grateful Tory party. All that money has to buy some influence…Remember It was the Sun that won it! The trouble is that the majority of the press are owned by rich non-domiciled magnates, they have no scruples about being impartial and even handed. Corbyn gets this more than anyone. It undermines democracy as we need more pluralism.
Bertierussell: If they did hire US companies and it became public it might not prove to be such a good idea. It’s just possible that the Tories have more dirt that can be dug up and when that sort of thing gets going it’s hard to stop it. Most organisations struggle to keep things secret; it’s almost as if saying “this is something we don’t want in the public domain” spurs on leakers and whistle blowers.
Tony Sutton: Won’t the Tories ever learn that negative campaigning costs them votes. Cameron and Co lost the referendum thanks to Project Fear and May lost her majority because she offered nothing more than “Corbyn is a commie and I’m strong and stable” The electorate are sick of negativity, back biting, point scoring & smears and are just waiting for a moderate party with well thought out, properly costed policies that will drag politics from the gutter.
The frequency of exposures and the political impact of corruption scandals appear to be increasing all over the world, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times.
Despite their holier-than-thou aura, he notes that bankers, lawyers, real estate agents and PR firms in the US, UK and EU often share in the proceeds of corruption.
As former US vice-president Joe Biden was reported to have said, at a Defend Democracy conference in Copenhagen, globalisation has deepened rifts, divorced productivity from labour and created less demand for low-skilled labour:
“When people see a system dominated by elites and rigged in favour of the powerful they are much less likely to trust democracy can deliver”.
The most recent example of corruption highlighted on this website follows:
After an initial denial (left, Financial Times), Economia confirmed that in an official response to the French government dated 30 March 2017, a HMRC official noted that Lycamobile is “a large multinational company” with “vast assets at their disposal” and would be “extremely unlikely to agree to having their premises searched”, said the report.
The letter from HMRC to the French government added, “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012”.
This is an ongoing saga: in 2016 Economia noted: “The Tories have come under fire for continuing to accept donations of more than £870,000 from Lycamobile since December, while it was being investigated for tax fraud and money laundering”.
Many senior British politicians have taken bribes and many ministers and civil servants move to lucrative positions with companies who have benefitted from legislation supported by these new colleagues – through the revolving door.
The unspoken ethic:
- In South Africa president Jacob Zuma was compelled to resign because of corruption scandals.
- Dilma Rousseff, the President, was impeached in Brazil in 2016.
- The Atlantic Council, whose largest funders include the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Airbus Group SE, Crescent Petroleum & the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom describes the ruling United Russia party as the “party of crooks and thieves”.
- Narendra Modi came to power in India with a pledge to crack down on corruption among the elites. He has since abolished about 80% of the country’s currency, in an effort to ruin the black economy.
- In China, President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive has seen more than 100,000 officials arrested.
- Mariano Rajoy has been forced to resign as prime minister of Spain after seven years in office, following a scandal in his political party.
- Malaysia’s ruling party lost power after allegations that the prime minister, Najib Razak, had embezzled vast sums.
Rachman believes that corruption has become more common and also easier to expose:
“The globalisation of business and finance opened up opportunities to make corrupt profits in fast-growing emerging economies.
“Industries that often need official involvement, such as natural resources and infrastructure, are particularly lucrative targets. There are contracts to be awarded and development projects that need official approval. And the money for bribes can always be deposited offshore.
“But such malpractice can be exposed. Strong, independent prosecutors and judges such as Brazil’s Sérgio Moro and South Africa’s Thulisile Madonsela have done heroic work in driving forward anti-corruption investigations. Press freedom in Brazil and South Africa has also been critical in keeping up the pressure on corrupt politicians. Even when the national media are muzzled, the internet provides an alternative medium for airing corruption allegations. The “Panama Papers”, which detailed the offshore financial affairs of many prominent politicians, was the result of an international journalistic project and based on hacked documents”.
He adds that new forms of international co-operation and transparency have also made would-be crooks more vulnerable to exposure. Changes in the Swiss laws on banking secrecy — made under pressure from the US — were crucial to allowing Brazilian prosecutors to uncover the proceeds of corruption. International investigations by the Swiss and Americans also kept up the pressure on Malaysia’s Mr Razak.
Lasting progress, Rachman writes, requires strong institutions that can survive changes in the political climate:
- independent courts and prosecutors with training and resources;
- a press that cannot easily be bought off, jailed or killed;
- efficient civil servants who cannot be fired at the whim of a corrupt boss.
He points out that if any of those elements are removed, corruption seeps back into the system.
The “clean hands” investigations in Italy in the early 1990s swept away many powerful figures — and were seen as a watershed. But Rachman cites the case of Silvio Berlusconi, tried 22 times on charges ranging from tax evasion and bribery to corruption and association with the Cosa Nostra. He was convicted of tax fraud in an Italian court and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment – served as community service – but has now been cleared to stand for election as prime minister once again.#