Hackers have released a sixth batch of Integrity Initiative leaks, this time focusing on how the project sought £5.5 million in funding from the British government to establish an influence campaign in the Western Balkans.
According to the leaks, Chris Donnelly, who heads the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) — the Integrity Initiative’s parent organization — used his NATO contacts and extensive background in military intelligence to try to secure the money for the program.
The Integrity Initiative (II) had been positioning itself as an “independent” anti-disinformation charity until hackers began dumping batches of internal documents last November which revealed its government funding and the fact that it was running Europe-wide anti-Russia influence campaigns using “clusters” of cooperative journalists, academics and politicians. In response to the leaks, the II wiped all content from its website and claimed that while some of the documents were “genuine,” others were “falsified” — but did not provide any proof that this was the case.
The latest leaks show that the Balkan program would be run in conjunction with global marketing and communications firm Edelman, which Donnelly said could help produce “advertising campaigns on TV promoting change,” English-language training promoting the “right messages” and even “a TV soap opera looking at the problem of corruption.”
To aid ‘Her Majesty’s Government’
In a letter to former MI6 employee Guy Spindler and good governance expert Keith Sargent — who would be a key figure in the Balkan effort — Donnelly explains how the project would need “local partners” in the WB6 countries. The partners will help find journalists “who can be allies” in their efforts and who could be brought “on trips to London, HQ NATO etc.”
Donnelly’s letter is dated October 15, but no year is given. It appears, however, that it is from 2018, based on the fact that the proposal documents for the Balkan project make reference to the year 2018 and January 2019 as the potential start date.
The letter focuses on the efforts to set up the “anti-corruption” and “good governance” influence campaign across the Western Balkans, which a separate document says would “contribute to the aims and strategy of HMG” (Her Majesty’s Government) and would shield the region from corruption “being used as a method of external influence.”
Stumbling blocks and help from the BBC
Perceptively, the document — which lays out the projected three-year costs of £5.5 million ($7.87mn) — also recognizes that the program itself could be “identified as external interference” in the domestic affairs of the Balkan countries. Another leaked document notes “Russian hostility” and “traditional Soviet ties” as potential stumbling blocks to the Western influence campaign.
One serious concern is that many Serbian organizations “promote friendly ties with Russia” and it is suggested that BBC broadcasts could help to “counter Russian fake news” in the region. The fact that Serbia, Russia and a number of other countries do not recognize Kosovo’s independence is also cited as a “major problem” for the project.
‘A Bellingcat for counter-corruption’
To achieve success Donnelly said they would need to “identify a national goal” that could be used as a “lever”— citing Macedonia’s efforts to join NATO as an example. Donnelly boasts about his efforts in Slovakia in the 1990s using MPs to teach businesses how they could lobby government “legitimately in a democracy” rather than using “their then model of cash in brown envelopes.”
Part of the so-called anti-corruption program would entail building “training courses for journalists, students and wider public activists” to help them obtain the relevant investigative tools. Such a program could be “a Bellingcat for counter corruption,” the proposal document states. Bellingcat shot to prominence as a controversial one-man investigative website, which later expanded, received money from the notorious US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was also linked to the II.
The latest leaks also reveal contacts between IfS fellow Euan Grant and a number of journalists, academics and think tank lobbyists. Grant sent a “memorandum of cooperation” to US writer Martha Bayles after a “detailed Skype call” in July 2018. He was looking for her “input into media documentaries and fictional entertainment” to counter Russian narratives.
Governments seeking help from writers and the entertainment industry to counter Russian narratives is nothing new. The 2014 hack of Sony Pictures revealed that the US State Department enlisted Hollywood’s help with “anti-Russia messaging” for movies and TV shows. It appears from these leaks that the British government is also trying to use thinly-disguised entertainment propaganda to promote divisive anti-Russia messaging onto TV screens in politically volatile regions of Europe.
The leaks say that the II should “alert” the press, radio and TV journalists to the “relevance” of already-made entertainment like the BBC series ‘McMafia’ which focuses on a London-based corrupt Russian family.
‘Sympathy for Russia’ in Scotland
There was also contact between the IfS and Neal Stewart, an adviser to the Scottish National Party’s Westminster front bench about “considerable sympathy for Russia” in Scotland in general, but particularly within academia. The “significant Russian speaking presence in private schools and in the Universities could fuel such attitudes,” the document warns. Another leaked document also cites “academic sympathies with Russia” as an indicator of “malign influence and disinformation.”
Targeting academics and students for their ‘Russian sympathies’ brings up rather negative historical parallels, particularly with the McCarthy era in the US, during which entertainers, academics and left-leaning activists were aggressively accused of being Communist sympathizers or agents and were placed on industry blacklists.
More recently, in Britain, a group of academics were smeared on the front page of the Times for similar sympathies, based on the fact that they publicly expressed doubts over certain anti-Russia media narratives. One of the academics involved called it a”coordinated smear campaign” against anti-war journalists and activists. The authors of the Times report were later named in Integrity Initiative documents, proving the existence of collusion between the British government and pro-establishment journalists to target those who do not stick to certain narratives.
High profile names & media ties
In an II“weekly report,” Grant names University of Exeter Professor Jeremy Black and Sunday Times journalist Roland White as two people who expressed interest in collaborating with the II. Roderick Parkes of the Paris-based ISS think tank and Nigel Gould-Davies, an associate fellow at Chatham House, were also named.
The leaks also say that Deborah Haynes of Sky News (a co-author of the aforementioned Times report) and Jonathan Beale of the BBC attended a speech by Air Marshal Sir Philip Osborn on the future of intelligence and information warfare in May 2018. The speech was described in the document as “manna from heaven for the Integrity Initiative.”
Grant writes that the government-funded IfS has “particular links with the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and BBC TV and radio” but says that it needs to “strengthen” its relationship with the Mail.
Times writer and CEPA lobbyist Edward Lucas also crops up in the latest leaks and due to his “considerable interest” is named as the II’s way into getting “articles and references” in the Times. Lucas recently defended the II in an op-ed for the newspaper and argued that criticism of the project would “play into the Kremlin’s hands.”
NGOs and the ‘Australian cluster’
The documents also reveal that the II wanted to provide NGOs with manuals on Russian corruption. Among the named organizations are Transparency International, Global Witness and the World Wildlife Fund.
One of the newly leaked documents also shows just how far the II has extended its reach, referencing an”Australian cluster.” Given the issue of Russian and Chinese influence in that region, Grant writes that there is “scope for a lot of crossover with media in Europe” and Australia relating to “Russian issues.”
Presenting the new leaks, the Anonymous-linked hackers claim that the Integrity Initiative has been trying to “divert people’s attention from the organisation’s wrongful activity” since the documents were made public. The leakers bash the II’s “pathetic attempt” to cover its tracks and say all its efforts have been “shattered to pieces by irrefutable evidence” of wrongdoing that has been shared with the public.
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