Lack of integrity

According to an article published by RT on Friday, the hacktivist group Anonymous has unearthed ‘a massive UK-led psyop to create a “large-scale information secret service” in Europe – all under the guise of countering “Russian propaganda.”’ As RT notes, Anonymous has made public documents allegedly originated by a project known as the Integrity Initiative (the ‘psyop’ in question). Despite RT’s breathless claims, I certainly wouldn’t call the uncovered operation ‘massive.’ Nor is it quite as scandalous as RT tries to make out, nor quite as secret, given that the project has a public website. Nevertheless, I do have some concerns about it.

On its website, the Integrity Initiative describes itself as:

a network of people and organizations from across Europe dedicated to revealing and combating propaganda and disinformation. … our members mostly prefer to remain anonymous. … We are not a government body but we do work with government departments and agencies who share our aims.

In the leaked documents, the Integrity Initiative makes it clear that the ‘propaganda and disinformation’ which it has in mind is primarily Russian. Furthermore, the initiative not only works with government departments and agencies, but is largely financed by them. According to the documents revealed by Anonymous, the Integrity Initiative’s funding comes from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), NATO, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence, the US State Department, Facebook, and the German business community. If this was a Russian project, we can have little doubt that Western commentators would denounce it as an ‘arm of the Kremlin’.

An Integrity Initiative handbook, which is among the items revealed by Anonymous, states that the project operates by forming ‘a cluster of well-informed people from the political, military, academic, journalistic and think-tank spheres, who will track and analyse examples of disinformation in their country and inform decision-makers and other interested parties about what is happening.’ This setup is unusual. Normally, academics, journalists, and think tankers operate independently from government. Here, they are collaborating. Among the British cluster members are members of Parliament, diplomats, Ministry of Defence staff, think tank personnel (from Chatham House, RUSI, Henry Jackson Society, etc), and journalists (from the BBC, The Times, and the Financial Times). The network also extends to academia, as the project is run in conjunction with the Free University of Brussels. As one of the leaked documents comments, this provides the benefit of ‘enhancing the academic respectability of the project’. As an academic, this makes me uneasy; I can’t help but feel that giving ‘academic respectability’ to secretive political projects isn’t what universities are for.

Beyond that, an application for funding from the FCO explains that the purpose of the initiative is ‘to counter Russian disinformation and malign influence. … Our programme to date has helped the UK to lead this process. Expanding this success will cement UK’s influence in N. America and in Europe post-Brexit.’ This makes it very clear that this is not a research project but a political one. Those joining the network aren’t neutral researchers, but active participants in a political campaign against Russia led by the British state and NATO. I have trouble understanding why either academics or journalists should consider this to be their job.

The project’s politics are made clear by its starting assumptions, as laid out in the funding request mentioned above. This document states:

Russia’s leaders say that Russia is at war with the West. The existence of democracy poses a threat to their dictatorial system. Undermining and ultimately destroying Western democratic institutions is Russia’s way of neutralising this ‘threat’. … … the Western system of democratic values will benefit for being protected against attack by those powers who would seek to overturn our system and all it stands for.

This statement is extreme even by current standards. For a start, I can’t recall any Russian ‘leader’ saying that ‘Russia is at war with the West’. Of course, that depends on how you define ‘leader’, but for all his frustration with the West, Putin avoids such language and continues to refer to Western states as ‘partners’. Furthermore, the idea that the Russian government’s aim is ‘destroying Western democratic institutions’ is patently absurd. I’m not aware of any Russian leader ever expressing any interest in ‘destroying Western democratic institutions’. As far as I can make out, Moscow isn’t in the slightest interested in what political systems other countries have. Likewise, the statement that Russia ‘seek[s] to overturn our system and all it stands for,’ is completely over the top – not merely unsubstantiated, but also entirely false. The Integrity Initiative’s politics amount to fearmongering.

Furthermore, as the leaked documents purport to show, the initiative engages in exactly the sort of ‘meddling’ in foreign affairs of which its members accuse Russia. In one instance, project members disliked the Spanish government’s choice for the post of director of Spain’s Department of Homeland Security. The Spanish ‘cluster’ set about lobbying against the candidate on social media, and eventually the Spanish government appointed somebody else. One can well imagine what the reaction would be if it turned out that a network of influential people who secretly belonged to a group funded by the Russian government had successfully lobbied to prevent the appointment of an official in Spain because Russia objected to him or her.

It’s a common complaint that Russian media are controlled by the state. By contrast, the Western media, and Western opinion formers, such as academics and think tank members, are considered to be independent and impartial. Yet in reality, the relationship between them is often far cozier than people understand, and sometimes far cozier than it ought to be. I’m sure that everybody involved in the Integrity Initiative believes that they are acting for the best. But if they have been secretly working with government officials in pursuit of political objectives, they shouldn’t be surprised that some people don’t trust them. There’s a reason why people turn to sources of information which are accused of peddling ‘fake news’: they don’t believe traditional sources. Projects like the Integrity Initiative help strengthen the impression of secret conspiracies and double standards. Far from solving the problem, therefore, they accentuate it,

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25 thoughts on “Lack of integrity”

      1. Apart from the fact that the supposed cluster members aren’t actually all members, it’s something of a non-denial. Certainly, it doesn’t make me rethink my critique.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. From their own arse-covering damage control attempt no-brainer containing several self-contradictions in one paragraph:

        “It is of course a matter of deep regret that Integrity Initiative documents have been stolen and posted on line, still more so that, in breach of any defensible practice, Russian state propaganda outlets have published or re-published a large number of names and contact details. We have not yet had the chance to analyse all of the documents, so cannot say with confidence whether they are all genuine or whether they include doctored or false material. Although it is clear that much of the material was indeed on the Integrity Initiative or Institute systems, much of it is dated and was never used. In particular, many of the names published were on an internal list of experts in this field who had been considered as potential invitees to future cooperation. In the event, many were never contacted by the Integrity Initiative and did not contribute to it. Nor were these documents therefore included in any funding proposals. Not only did these individuals have nothing to do with the programme – they may not even have heard of us. We are of course trying to contact all named individuals for whom we have contact details to ensure that they are aware of what has happened.”

        They forgot to add “Oh yeah, well, your mom is soooo fat!” and “beh-beh-beh!”, otherwise it’s a perfectly valid response from the people of a certain mental maturity.

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  1. “As an academic, this makes me uneasy; I can’t help but feel that giving ‘academic respectability’ to secretive political projects isn’t what universities are for.

    […]

    Those joining the network aren’t neutral researchers, but active participants in a political campaign against Russia led by the British state and NATO. I have trouble understanding why either academics or journalists should consider this to be their job.”

    […]

    Srsly?

    [,,,]

    Professor, are you aware that the only reason your field of history (so-called “Russian Studies”) experienced a certain flowering way back during the Cold War, that even now the aftereffects allow you to eke an adequate living by engaging in such studies, is because of the “practical” (read: political propaganda) applications? Naturally, the ideological component must be paramount and screening for deviant thoughts among the clergy academy ruthlessly efficient.

    “The Integrity Initiative’s politics amount to fearmongering.”

    No – they amount to projecting. Everything they accuse Russia of is actually their Freudian slip of the West’s official policy.

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  2. “By contrast, the Western media, and Western opinion formers, such as academics and think tank members, are considered to be independent and impartial.”

    By whom? Don’t know the situation in Canada, but in the U.S. the mainstream media has pretty much destroyed its credibility. It started with their cheerleading for the Iraq War and reached its apex with the way they first turned a fringe candidate into the Republican front runner for the sake of ratings and readership, and then abandoned all pretense of objectivity while trying to destroy the monster they did so much to help create. These days, most Americans I know only “trust” the media if the spin put on a particular story aligns with their own beliefs.

    When it comes to their “reporting” on foreign policy issues, I’ve reached the point where I automatically assume they are obfuscating, misdirecting or flat out lying in order to put forth only that information the Washington power elite want put out out. I realize RT is funded by the Kremlin, but at least when it comes to stories about Russia, I invariably find that what it report is closer to the real truth than anything you see on CNN, MSNBC or Faux News.

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  3. Amusingly enough, in a couple of cases, Radio Free Europe was less propagandistic/russophobe then lets say the New York times.

    I guess the reason was that they are producing for a Russian Audience, which is at least somewhat informed, and thus cant blatantly lie 24/7.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A few think tank people, but no one I recognized from British universities. That fits my own observations which is that academics are generally more moderate in their views than politicians, journalists, and think-tankers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Picky picky, Paul! Clearly, someone is at war with someone. Why be so inquisitive as to who exactly it is?

    To be serious, though, I’d urge readers of your blog (and even more so, I’d urge people who aren’t usual readers of your blog), to listen to the assessment of this very question — whether or not Russia is at war with democracy, etc. etc. — by the former head of the Russia desk at the CIA, George Beebe. Here’s the link — his statement starts at minute 24:15:

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?445974-1/russian-influence-efforts

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    1. Beebe: (27:22) “Understanding the intention of a foreign adversary is critical to understanding the nature of the threat. …”

      When that is the US starting point, there is no wonder it is in deep doodoo. It certainly makes sense though when one considers how deeply embedded the concept of the US hegemon is in the mind of the US regime.

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      1. In noticed that too. Even while criticising the way Americans view Russia, Beebe felt it necessary to talk in terms of threat and adversary. But I let it pass given the rest of what he said.

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    2. Picky picky, Paul! Clearly, someone is at war with someone. Why be so inquisitive as to who exactly it is?

      Inquisitive? What gave you that impression?

      Well, we all cannot get out of our hides, put another way respective “picks” draw our attention more then others. Yes, no doubt George Beebe looks like an interesting man.

      But, if you tell me what made you choose inquisitive, I tell you my own take on matters

      So Beebe thinks a) Russia wants the US to “knock off its Democracy Crusade/s”. b) it wants to corral US power projections?

      Apart from the above more important question for me, what’s your take on those issues?

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  5. Yeah. You know who is that ‘adversary’, hellbent on ‘destroying Western democratic institutions’? It’s FYRM, Macedonia, ugh, sorry, Northern Macedonia.

    Here.

    According to this article, any college kid could make 30,000 euros/month simply by doing this: “After copying and pasting various articles, he packaged them under a catchy new headline, paid Facebook to share it with a target US audience hungry for Trump news and then when those Americans clicked on his stories and began to like and share them, he began earning revenue from advertising on the site.”

    If true, this seems like a much more obvious motivation for the so-called ‘meddling’ than the comically cartoonish desire of “destroying Western democratic institutions” (whatever the hell that is)…

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