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.”