Tag Archives: Ben Norton

the counter-revolution will be televised (by its cheerleaders): on the latest attempted coup in Venezuela

Background

A 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the US-backed but failed Venezuelan coup of April 2002. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Hugo Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil and turnaround:

The Youtube upload has since been taken down, however, I have embedded another version below:

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If at first you don’t succeed…

NEUMANN: Thank you very much. Vanessa Neumann, Asymmetrica. I am a dual America and Venezuelan citizen. So here goes my question, because we’re not covering anything about Western Hemisphere in this forum. Obviously Maduro in Venezuela regime change looks to be, we hope imminent or spiraling down until we either become Cuba in two weeks time or – and die forever or there’s a change in 60 to 90 days. I’m interested in your open assessment on American interests in or threats from Venezuela and which of course has Russian, Iranian et cetera interests and – for the region. Thank you, sir.

POMPEO: So I appreciate the question. At any time you have a country as large and with the economic capacity of a country like Venezuela, America has a deep interest in making sure that it is stable, as democratic as possible. And so, we’re working hard to do that,

I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there’s a lot of stories.

(Laughter)

POMPEO: So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others. The Colombians, I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.1

This exchange between Mike Pompeo, then-Head of the CIA, and businesswoman Vanessa Neumann took place during a Q&A session at a security forum organised by the foundation funded Aspen Institute ‘think tank’. It is an admission that the US is once again covertly engaged in a regime change operation in “America’s backyard”.

Click here to read more in an article entitled “CIA chief hints agency is working to change Venezuela government” published by The Independent on July 25th 2017.

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The night before Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela, the opposition leader received a phone call from Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Pence pledged that the U.S. would back Mr. Guaidó if he seized the reins of government from Nicolás Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country’s constitution, a senior administration official said.

Click here to read the full article published by The Wall Street Journal entitled “Pence Pledged U.S. Backing Before Venezuela Opposition Leader’s Move”.

The clause in question is Article 233 of Venezuela’s Constitution. It reads as follows:

“The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.”

“When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.”

None of this is applicable of course. Nicolás Maduro is not and never has been absent in any way whatsoever. Moreover, he was re-elected only eight months ago in May 2018 having won 67.8% of the vote in free and fair elections monitored by European observers, when Guaidó chose not to stand. Unlike Maduro, Guaidó has never stood in any presidential election. In short, this is the flimsiest of fig leaves to cover a flagrant breach of international law.

As former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, writes:

But I can think of no precedent at all for recognising a President who does not have and has never had control of the country – and has never been a candidate for President. This idea of the West simply trying to impose a suitably corrupt and biddable leader is really a very startling development. It is astonishing the MSM commentariat and political class appear to see no problem with it. It is a quite extraordinary precedent, and doubtless will lead to many new imperialist adventures.

Click here to read the full article posted by Craig Murray on Thurs 24th entitled “The Coup in Venezuela Must Be Resisted”

Wikipedia quickly fell into line adjusting its entry for Juan Guaidó and validating his illegitimate claim to being “interim president” of Venezuela:

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Update:

On January 29th Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen released an extended exposé on The Grayzone Project detailing how presidential wannabe Juan Guaidó is “the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers”. Here is just one of incidents documented in their article:

Around 43 were killed during the 2014 guarimbas. Three years later, they erupted again, causing mass destruction of public infrastructure, the murder of government supporters, and the deaths of 126 people, many of whom were Chavistas. In several cases, supporters of the government were burned alive by armed gangs.

Guaidó was directly involved in the 2014 guarimbas. In fact, he tweeted video showing himself clad in a helmet and gas mask, surrounded by masked and armed elements that had shut down a highway that were engaging in a violent clash with the police. Alluding to his participation in Generation 2007, he proclaimed, “I remember in 2007, we proclaimed, ‘Students!’ Now, we shout, ‘Resistance! Resistance!’”

Guaidó has deleted the tweet, demonstrating apparent concern for his image as a champion of democracy.

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader”.

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It’s the economic war, stupid!

The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market.

Images and portrayals of Venezuelans rioting in the streets over high food costs, empty grocery stores, medicine shortages, and overflowing garbage bins are the headlines, and the reporting points to socialism as the cause.

The Chicago Tribune published a Commentary piece titled: “A socialist revolution can ruin almost any country.” A headline on Reason’s Hit and Run blog proclaims: “Venezuelan socialism still a complete disaster.” The Week’s U.S. edition says: “Authoritarian socialism caused Venezuela’s collapse.”

So begins an article by Caleb T. Maupin published back in July 2016. Maupin continues:

In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution.

Starting in 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. This is not a mere business decision, but a calculated move coordinated with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy goals. Despite not just losing money, but even falling deep into debt, the Saudi monarchy continues to expand its oil production apparatus. The result has been driving the price of oil down from $110 per barrel, to $28 in the early months of this year. The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports.

Venezuela remains a deeply divided country and there is no doubt that the government under Maduro is at fault in part for the current economic crisis, but as Maupin points out, the opposition is extremely fractured and many do not wish to see a return to the rampant neo-liberalism of the pre-Chavez era:

The artificially low oil prices have left the Venezuelan state cash-starved, prompting a crisis in the funding of the social programs that were key to strengthening the United Socialist Party.

It is odd that the mainstream press blames “socialism” for the food problems in Venezuela, when the food distributors remain in the hands of private corporations. As Venezuelan political analyst Jesus Silva told me recently: “Most food in Venezuela is imported by private companies, they ask for dollars subsidized by the government oil sales to do that; they rarely produce anything or invest their own money.”

According to Silva, the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the U.S., in addition to the oil crisis, have made it more difficult for the Venezuelan government to pay the private food importing companies in U.S. dollars. In response, the food companies are “running general sabotage.”

“Venezuela’s economy depends on oil sales. Now that oil prices are dropping down, the challenge is to get other sources of economic income,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the opposition is garnering electoral support due to the current economic crisis.” […]

While a clear majority cast a voto castigo (“punishment vote”) in December, punishing the government for mismanaging the crisis, the Maduro administration has a solid core of socialist activists who remain loyal to the Bolivarian project. Across Venezuela, communes have been established. Leftist activists live together and work in cooperatives. Many of them are armed and organized in “Bolivarian Militias” to defend the revolution.

Even some of the loudest critics of the Venezuelan government admit that it has greatly improved the situation in the country, despite the current hardships.

In December, I spoke to Glen Martinez, a radio host in Caracas who voted for the opposition. He dismissed the notion that free market capitalism would ever return to Venezuela. As he explained, most of the people who voted against the United Socialist Party — himself included — are frustrated with the way the current crisis is being handled, but do not want a return to the neoliberal economic model of the 1999s.

He said the economic reforms established during the Chavez administration would never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez insisted.2

Click here to read the full article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart”

On January 25th, Sharmini Peries hosted a discussion for ‘The Real News’ on this latest attempted coup in Venezuela with Abby Martin, Greg Wilpert and Paul Jay:

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The Empire never gives up

‘Dictator’ is the epithet of choice the corporate media dishes out whenever it wishes to denigrate foreign leaders not fully subordinate to western interests. Likewise, ‘regime’ operates as a preferred synonym to denounce the members of every government hostile to Anglo-American imperialism. Hugo Chavez was routinely branded a ‘dictator’ even though he fought and won more elections than any other contemporary world leader. Like Chavez before him, Nicolás Maduro is the elected head of a democratic state.

Conversely, the media has its blinkers firmly attached whenever exalting those in opposition to a targeted ‘regime’. ‘Rioters’ become more benign ‘protesters’, and ‘insurgents’, ‘separatists’ or ‘terrorists’ are elevated to the level of ‘freedom fighters’. Thus in Libya, the murderous salafist gangs who lynched black Africans were portrayed as the valiant ‘rebels’. In Ukraine the brown-shirted brigades that gathered under wolfsangels and swastikas were heralded as Europhile crusaders for democracy – at one point the BBC actually embedded one of its journalists within the ranks of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. And in Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliated ‘rescue workers’ known as the White Helmets became the ‘indomitable first responders’ of an Oscar-winning documentary – they have also been promoted by human rights organisations including Amnesty International. Indeed, with the arrival of ISIS, some purportedly less savage though self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militia have come in for more favourable mainstream coverage – take for instance this BBC Newsnight report.

Yet the propaganda coverage of the crisis suddenly engulfing Venezuela is arguably more egregious again. For unlike each of the cases cited above, the West is not (at least not officially) engaged in any conflict inside Venezuela. Indeed, the fog of war offers no excuse for comparable lapses in journalistic integrity. Furthermore, recent history ought to make all journalists extremely cautious when it comes to covert US-led intervention in Latin America and suspicious of opposition claims in Venezuela especially given what we know about the last failed coup. Here is a New York Times editorial the day after Hugo Chavez was kidnapped and military junta briefly installed in April 2002:

UPRISING IN VENEZUELA: THE GOVERNMENT; VENEZUELA’S CHIEF FORCED TO RESIGN; CIVILIAN INSTALLED

By JUAN FORERO APRIL 13, 2002

A transitional government headed by a leading businessman replaced President Hugo Chavez today, hours after military officers forced him to resign. It was a sudden end to the turbulent three-year reign of a mercurial strongman elected on promises to distance his country from the United States while uprooting Venezuela’s old social order —

Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela’s most important business association, was installed as interim president at a ceremony at 6 p.m. He promised that the new government would adhere to “a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law, the state of law.”

Elections will be held within a year, officials said. The Bush administration laid the blame for Mr. Chavez’s overthrow firmly with the ousted leader. Officials portrayed the ouster as a victory for democracy —

And here is the New York Times offering a retraction (of sorts) the following day:

Popular Uprising Allows Chavez to Reclaim Venezuelan Presidency

By GINGER THOMPSON and JUAN FORERO APRIL 14, 2002

Two days after one huge political movement forced President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela out of power, a countervailing uprising that swept like wildfire through the slums surrounding the capital carried the populist leader back to the presidency today.

Once in power, the short-lived interim government, led by a prominent businessman, Pedro Carmona Estanga, dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding.

The new government announced that Mr. Chavez had resigned from power. But word began to spread mostly through international television news reports that Mr. Chavez had not resigned. His followers in slums and poor towns across the country began to worry for his safety. They took to the streets to demand that Mr. Chavez be freed. And they won.

The extracts above are drawn from a well-sourced article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear and published on August 6th, 2017. Note that even after the coup which admittedly “dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding” has failed, the NYT continues to describe the criminals behind the coup as a “short-lived interim government”.

As Pear says:

The Bush Administration, the New York Times and the mainstream media showed no remorse or shame—the U.S. government continued to watch and undermine the Chavista movement, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Socialism, in any way that it can. The U.S. continues to be involved and fund a long-term regime change project. The Empire never gives up. 3

Click here to read a post entitled “the Latin American Spring they never mention” published to mark the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013.

Also on January 25th, Ben Norton of ‘Moderate Rebels’ spoke with Jordan Chariton to discuss the US-led coup in Venezuela:

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Final thoughts

As America struts about the world stage bullying the poorest nations into submission, a complaisant media can always be relied upon to leap to the defence of every imposition of sanctions and every regime change operation. Even a president as weakened and reviled as Trump (loathed by a supposedly hostile liberal press) can command support just as soon as he calls for the leader of any enemy state to be deposed. Quick to abandon any pretence to upholding international law, senior political figures in the West can also be relied upon to follow suit. America’s allies are ever eager to carry water for the empire. Indeed the leaders in Europe responded to Trump’s latest call for regime change by issuing their own ultimatum:

Three major European countries – Germany, France and Spain – have come out on Saturday saying they are ready to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president if elections are not called within eight days.

“The government of Spain gives [President] Nicolas Maduro eight days to call free, transparent and democratic elections,” said Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in statement.

“If that doesn’t happen, Spain will recognize Juan Guaido as interim president in charge of calling these elections.”

In what appears to be a coordinated message from European Union countries, at almost the same time French President Manuel Macron sent a tweet echoing Sanchez’s comments.

Macron’s tweet reads: “The Venezuelan people must be able to freely decide their future. Without elections announced within 8 days, we will be ready to recognize @jguaido as “President in charge” of Venezuela to initiate a political process. We are working on it between European partners.”

Yes, this is the same Macron whose government is deploying water cannon, tear-gas and rubber bullets to crackdown on the Gilets Jaunes protests sweeping France during the last three months.

From a Reuter’s report entitled “Germany, France, Spain poised to recognise Venezuela’s Guaido”.

This post is a reworking of an earlier post entitled “as the empire strikes back in Venezuela, our news media does its bidding (again)” published on August 9th 2017.

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Additional: Hands Off Venezuela

The Stop the War Coalition released this statement on January 28th:

“The United Kingdom believes Juan Guaido is the right person to take Venezuela forward. We are supporting the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina to make that happen”. Jeremy Hunt’s comments last week are solid proof that the UK remains fully on board with US-led regime change In Venezuela as with other parts of the globe. Such statements show utter contempt for even the most basic democratic principles and demonstrate an open willingness on behalf of the Conservative government to use its ‘soft power’ to bolster those aligned with Donald Trump.

The briefest glance at the catastrophic history of US intervention in Latin America proves that this latest attempted coup is motivated purely by self-interest on the side of the US and its puppet politicians in Venezuela. Whatever the failings of Maduro’s regime a US intervention will do nothing to improve the lives of Venezuelans and must be opposed.

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign have organised an emergency rally this Thursday at which Stop the War’s Convenor, Lindsey German, will be speaking alongside Tariq Ali and Kate Hudson.

Please also sign the Stand up to Trump & Pence’s threats of ‘regime change’ in Venezuela petition here.

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On Jan 18th, Democracy Now! interviewed Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza, who said:

“You see this man, who nobody knows in Venezuela—you ask in the streets, “Who is Juan Guaidó?” and nobody knows him—but he’s being pushed to say that he is the new president, by the U.S. He hasn’t said that, but Pompeo says it, Almagro from the OAS says it, and other presidents say that now he’s the president. They are trying to push a political conflict in Venezuela. They are calling the armed forces to make pronunciations against President Maduro. That’s what they want, a coup d’état in Venezuela. They want a war in Venezuela. And it’s not going to happen.”

Asked about the role being played by the United States, Arreaza replied:

“They are the bosses of the opposition. They tell them what to do. Nothing that the opposition does is without the permission or authorization of the State Department, at least, here in the United States. And they confess this. They say, “We have to make consultations with the embassy. We have to make consultations with the Department of State.” It happens. I mean, they are not free. They are not independent.”

Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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On Thurs 24th, Democracy Now! spoke with Alfred de Zayas who visited Venezuela as a United Nations rapporteur in 2017:

ALFRED DE ZAYAS: Well, the mainstream media has been complicit in this attempted coup. The mainstream media has prepared, through a conundrum of fake news, an atmosphere that the public should accept this regime change imposed by the United States on the people of Venezuela because, ultimately, it’s supposed to be for the good of the Venezuelans.

Now, this reminds us of the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003. Now, the mainstream media supported all the lies, all the manipulations of George W. Bush and of Tony Blair to convince the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And on this excuse, it was made somewhat palatable to world public opinion that you would enter Iraq and change the government by force. Now, the fact is that here you had not only a crime of aggression, not only an illegal war, as former—the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in more than one occasion, stated. Here you have actually a revolt of 43 states, the “coalition of the willing,” against international law. If there is one tenet of the U.N. Charter that is jus cogens, that is peremptory international law, it’s the prohibition of the use of force. And this attack on Iraq was conducted by 43 states in collusion, breaking all the rules of international law. Now, that was preceded by this media campaign.

Now, we have had, for the last years, actually, a media campaign against Venezuela. And I am particularly familiar with it, because before I went to Venezuela, I had to read everything and all the reports, not only of The Washington Post and of The New York Times, but also the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., proposing that there was a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Now, when I went to Venezuela, I again took the opportunity to interview representatives of Amnesty International and PROVEA and the other opposition NGOs, but I also had the opportunity to study the documents, to compare, to see the statistics, etc., etc. And, of course, there was no humanitarian crisis. There was hunger. There was, what we say in Spanish, zozobra. There was suffering. There was malnutrition, etc., etc. But it’s not just stating that there is an economic crisis. That’s not the crucial point. The crucial point is which are the causes of that so-called humanitarian crisis. And certainly, those who are crying humanitarian crisis should be the least to say that they should now solve the problem. There’s a principle of international law called ex injuria non oritur jus, which is the principle to estoppel. So they should be estopped from demanding regime change when they themselves are the ones who are aggravating a situation, caused initially by the dramatic fall of the oil prices.

I wanted to make a reference to a professor, Pasqualina Curcio, of the University of Caracas. I had the opportunity of seeing her for a couple of hours when I was there. And she published a book called The Visible Hand of the Market. This is a book that documents the financial blockade, documents the whole complex economic war being waged against Venezuela, which reminds you of the economic war that was waged against Salvador Allende. And what’s interesting is, after three years of economic war against Allende not succeeding in toppling Salvador Allende, it took a coup d’état by General Augusto Pinochet, which brought the Chilean people 17 years of dictatorship.

Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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1 From official transcript of “Aspen Security Forum 2017: The View From Langley” on July 20, 2017, published by The Aspen Institute. http://aspensecurityforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-View-from-Langley.pdf

2 From an article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart” written by Caleb T. Maupin, published in Mint Press News on July 12, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-led-economic-war-not-socialism-tearing-venezuela-apart/218335/

3 From an article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear, published in Off-Guardian on August 6, 2017. https://off-guardian.org/2017/08/06/venezuela-regime-change-project-revealed/

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‘Integrity Initiative’ c/o Institute for Statecraft — the UK government’s own troll farm

Update: Inside the Integrity Initiative

On Boxing Day, independent journalists Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton invited propaganda expert Professor David Miller from the University of Bristol to discuss the scandal surrounding UK government-funded think tank The Institute for Statecraft and its ‘Integrity Initiative’ on their podcast Moderate Rebels (E32).

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Last week I received a response to a parliamentary question I’d tabled asking the government if the ‘Integrity Initiative’, a so-called think tank dealing in disinformation, had received government funding. The response was stunning. I was met with the admission that in the last 18 months or so, some 2.2 million has been awarded by the Foreign Office to this organisation.

Staffed by former security and military personnel, its agenda seems to include the denigration of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. Their approach is to connect media with academia and politicians to influence policy in certain countries.

Leaked documents revealed numerous examples such as Pedro Baños, an army reserve colonel and author, who the Spanish Socialist Party wanted to make the country’s Director of National Security. That was before the Integrity Initiative’s Spanish cluster for involved, putting a stop to the appointment altogether.

That’s right a Foreign Office-funded British think tank stopped the appointment of a public official in a fellow European democracy. And these are the people defending freedom?

Now it seems similar tricks are being played here at home. Ben Nimmo, a core member of the Integrity Initiative’s UK cluster was even quoted in The Sun newspaper saying Russia was supporting Corbyn against his opponents both in the Labour Party and outside it. The newspaper used this to support its assertion, which had no other evidence, that “a twisted Russian cyber campaign which has back Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is aiming to sow division across the UK”.

How many other stories like this have been entirely fabricated, and with government funding too? Well we don’t know, because after I submitted a follow-up question, Minister of State Alan Duncan refused to provide any further information claiming it could “disrupt and undermine the programme’s effectiveness”.

Effectiveness at what? Interfering in the politics of other countries while undermining the leader of Britain’s opposition? Because that’s precisely what it’s doing. That’s why I’m calling for a public enquiry into the Integrity Initiative and similar information war efforts being funded by our government.

Their approach of silencing and suppressing aspects of public debate doesn’t strengthen democracy, it debases it. — Chris Williamson MP

Click here to watch a video presentation of the statement on Chris Williamson’s facebook page uploaded on December 11th.

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Even the mainstream media has been forced to give a few paragraphs to the outrageous Integrity Initiative, under which the MOD-sponsored Institute for Statecraft has been given millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by the FCO to spread covert disinformation and propaganda, particularly against Russia and the anti-war movement. Activities include twitter and facebook trolling and secretly paying journalists in “clusters of influence” around Europe. Anonymous helpfully leaked the Institute’s internal documents. Some of the Integrity Initiative’s thus exposed alleged covert agents, like David Aaronovitch, have denied any involvement despite their appearance in the documents, and others like Dan Kaszeta the US “novichok expert”, have cheerfully admitted it.  — Craig Murray

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft” published on December 13th.

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Did Jeremy Corbyn mutter words to the effect that Theresa May is a “stupid woman”? I don’t know because I’m not a lip-reader. Neither do I care.

May is a woman and she was (as is increasingly her manner) behaving stupidly. As for the buffoons behind her, ‘stupid’ fails to do justice to their infantile efforts to divert attention from the irremediable divisions within their own ranks and the shambolic failures of this callous and inept Tory government. Given the seriousness of the current political situation, Wednesday’s Commons pantomime was more than a national embarrassment, it was an unspeakable disgrace, and ought to have been reported on as such. But what we got instead were the feeble rumblings of another smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.

The BBC led the way as they so often do. Thus sham allegations of misogyny against Corbyn made during the Commons debacle became headlines to every news bulletin and in the 24 hours since featured in no less than three articles. So today if you google “stupid woman BBC” you will find a full page of hits:

On the other hand, if you search for “integrity initiative BBC” a mere four of google’s hits are actually linked to the BBC and just one of those links reaches an actual article:

The reason for this disparity is straightforward. Since the release of the leaks at the beginning of November and the ensuing ‘Integrity Initiative’ scandal, the BBC has only ever published one article on the matter. An article it has since revised on no less than four occasions.

The article in question published back on December 10th is headlined “Russia hack ‘bid to discredit’ UK anti-disinformation campaign – Foreign Office” and credited to Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale, however, an earlier version was in fact released four hours prior and entitled “Foreign Office probes Russia campaign over ‘anti-Labour tweets’”. The difference between these twin versions is striking:

The original piece centres attention on the FCO’s investigation into the Institute and quotes Sir Alan Duncan saying “he would ‘totally condemn’ any UK-backed organisation ‘involved in domestic politics in that way’”.  This is strong language for a government minister. The updated version opens instead with a strident assault on “Russia state media” and asserts that it is “trying to discredit a government-funded body that works to counter Kremlin disinformation”. In this new telling the serious charges levelled against the IfS are neatly brushed over and an organisation that in different circumstances would be decried as a troll farm is instead recast as the more or less innocent victim of Kremlin villainy!

Click here to compare versions at News Sniffer.

So the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) is what precisely? It declares itself “independent” and somehow holds Scottish charity status (this is finally under investigation too). If it were not for the current scandal it would have surely remained just one of a burgeoning multitude of so-called “political charities”. But as its “Integrity Initiative” has suddenly been exposed (by whoever was behind the hack – Anonymous have claimed credit) what we discover with each fresh tranche of leaked documents is how UK government money is being diverted for nefarious purposes: not only to smear the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but to meddle in democracies abroad. We learn in fact that “clusters” of its agents are embedded throughout Europe and beyond:

One such cluster operates in Spain, where the II [Integrity Initiative] successfully obstructed the appointment of a reservist colonel, Pedro Baños, who was preferred by the socialist government as the country’s next head of national security. Despite his strong resume – Baños was once head of counterintelligence and security for the European army – his admission on Twitter that Spain ‘would not gain anything from provoking Russia’ was apparently a stretch too far.

writes Aaron Bastani in an excellent piece for Novara Media. He continues:

The operation itself was named ‘Operation Moncloa and proved successful in less than 24 hours. Around midday on 7 June 2018, the Spanish cluster learned that Baños would soon be appointed to the role. […]

By 19.45 the Spanish cluster noted the campaign had raised significant noise on Twitter, with contacts in the Socialist party confirming the matter had been brought to the attention of prime minister Pedro Sanchez. Not long after the Partido Popular and Ciudadanos asked the prime minister to halt the appointment. They were successful.

Listed as the operatives working within its UK “cluster” we find Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council – home also to Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat notoriety – and usual suspects including Edward Lucas and Anne Applebaum. Another name on the list is that of Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw:

Alongside military personnel the bedrock of the cluster are individuals working in think tanks, with Demos, RUSI, Chatham House, and the Henry Jackson Society all represented. Among the military names are high ranking officials including a captain in the Royal Navy and a colonel. On Twitter the II is followed by some interesting names, including Tom Watson, Luke Akehurst and Mary Creagh.

writes Bastani in the same piece for Novara Media, continuing:

Among the organisation’s top three ‘deliverables’ to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the first is to develop and prove ‘the cluster concept and methodology, setting up clusters in a range of countries with different circumstances’. The II is essentially a proof-of-concept in how to exert influence in an era of hybrid war where information can be a critical variable. Subsequently, its model should be viewed as mirroring that of Russia, the morphology of influencers, narrativistic ‘poles of attraction’ and the leveraging of backchannels (WhatsApp groups, text messages and email) to coordinate a front-facing response: this being composed of a ‘swarm’ on social media which synergises with legacy formats in broadcast and print.

That such an approach is being applied by a British organisation to the politics of a European neighbour is cause for grave concern – and by itself merits an enquiry. What’s worse, however, is the possibility that the same approach has been used against Corbyn’s Labour. One only need look on the II’s Twitter feed to see the low regard it holds Corbyn and his leading advisers in. Intriguingly, the organisation was founded in the autumn of 2015 – the same time Corbyn became Labour leader.

Click here to read Aaron Bastini’s full article entitled “Undermining Democracy, Not Defending It: The ‘Integrity Initiative’ is Everything That’s Wrong With British Foreign Policy” also published on December 10th.

The list of individuals associated with the UK-based cluster also includes the names of seven journalists (see update below for further information on this):

Deborah Haynes, David Aaronovitch and Dominic Kennedy all from The Times.

Natalie Nougayrède from the Guardian.

Neil Buckley from the FT.

And (like the final piece of a jigsaw fitting inevitably into place) Jonathan Marcus who is a Diplomatic Correspondent at the BBC…

As Craig Murray writes:

[But] One of the activities the Integrity Initiative sponsors happens to be the use of online trolls to ridicule the idea that the British security services ever carry out any kind of infiltration, false flag or agent provocateur operations, despite the fact that we even have repeated court judgements against undercover infiltration officers getting female activists pregnant. The Integrity Initiative offers us a glimpse into the very dirty world of surveillance and official disinformation. If we actually had a free media, it would be the biggest story of the day.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft”.

And here to read Tim Hayward’s article “Integrity: Grasping the Initiative”.

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Update: on UK journalists named in documents

The following is republished from the “Briefing note on the Integrity Initiative” published by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media on December 21st.

7.1 UK journalists named in documents

  • The Times – Deborah Haynes (now with Sky News), David Aaronovitch, Dominic Kennedy
  • The Guardian – Natalie Nougayrede, Carole Cadwalladr
  • The Economist – Edward Lucas
  • FT – Neil Buckley
  • BBC – Jonathan Marcus
  • Paul Canning – blogger with a focus on Ukraine, who has contributed to The Guardian
  • David Leask – Chief Reporter, Herald Scotland
  • Borzhou Daragahi – The Independent – appears as the only individual listed under ‘Turkey’ in the document xcountry.pdf that tabulates countries and election dates.

We have asked journalists listed in the documents whether they have had any contact with the Integrity Initiative. It may be relevant that the Integrity Initiative Handbook states that members of clusters are ‘to sign code of conduct & non-disclosure’.

Their responses can be grouped into four categories

7.1.1 I know nothing

  • David Aaronovitch – When asked over Twitter whether he knew of or had had contact with Integrity Initiative, Institute for Statecraft or the UK Cluster, Aaronovitch replied

I have never heard of any of these three exotic entities. I think you have been hoaxed.

  • Jonathan Marcus (BBC) – the BBC provided a statement to the Scottish Sunday Mail (print edition 16 December 2018) that

neither Marcus nor the BBC knew of the list of journalists, nor did he or the BBC consent to be part of any so-called cluster.

7.1.2 I attended a meeting or was on an email list, but was not involved

  • Borzou Daragahi:

I do receive their emails’

it goes to my junk email account’

I systematically subscribe to think tank email newsletters’

7.1.3 I am proud to be associated with them, there was nothing improper

I have not been paid by the institute. But I applaud their work in dealing with the Chekist regime’s pernicious information and influence operations.

He did not confirm or deny the existence of a network, responding to questions on Twitter with:

I don’t see why one lot of people have to explain being on lists compiled by another lot of people

  • David Leask – has been open about working with the Integrity Initiative. He has published two articles quoting “a spokesman for the Integrity Initiative”, one on the visit of Andriy Parubiy and one on Russian media coverage of the Salisbury poisonings. He has endorsed the output of the twitter account @initintegrity and others associated with the Integrity Initiative such as Nimmo. He responded to the release of documents with a 12 tweet thread on Twitter., acknowledging contact with the Integrity Initiative but denouncing Sputnik for ‘insinuation that I work for for or with a Nato/UK black ops’.

Leask’s description of the Integrity Initiative as ‘a network of researchers and journalists seeking to counter Russian propaganda and boost media literacy” confirms the existence of a network. In response to further questions, Leask asserted that government funding of the Integrity Initiative was ‘hardly a secret’. On this he was mistaken. The official summary of the Russian Language Programme does not list the recipient ‘implementing organizations’ stating that ‘Information has been withheld from publication on security grounds’. Although the government funding of £1.96 million for the Integrity Initiative in the current financial year is now a matter of public record following a parliamentary question, this information was not in the public domain until the documents were released on 5 November 2018. The source of funding for the Integrity Initiative was not mentioned on its public website. It would have been possible for a diligent researcher to infer the total FCO spending on the Institute for Statecraft by going through the monthly expenditure tables for the FCO, but this would not have revealed the specific funding for the Integrity Initiative programme. The accounts filed at Companies House show FCO funding of £124,567 for the year ending 23 November 2017, but not the £1.96 million awarded for the current financial year.

The Integrity Initiative documents include notes of a meeting with Leask on 27 March 2018, allegedly taken by Guy Spindler, Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Statecraft. The main focus of the interview is on Leask’s assessment of the prospects for the Scottish independence movement. The meeting finishes with a briefing on the misuse of Scottish Limited Partnerships as vehicles for money-laundering, which Leask’s own investigative reporting has helped to expose. It is not clear whether he is aware of the unusual use of this business structure by the founders of the Institute for Statecraft.

7.1.4 No response or refusal to answer

  • Deborah Haynes – no response.
    Three of Haynes’ stories between 2016 and 2018 can be linked to internal documents of the Integrity Initiative:

    • For the visit of Ukrainian special forces officers organised by the Institute of Statecraft, a one-hour meeting with Haynes was scheduled at the Institute of Statecraft’s office in 2 Temple Place on 11 July 2016. Haynes wrote a story based on this meeting that appeared in The Times on 11 August 2016. Haynes was the only journalist scheduled for a meeting with the Ukrainian officers: all their other meetings were with military officers except for one with the House of Commons Defence Committee.
    • The draft application for MoD funding dated 20 March 2017 lists under ‘Success so far’ (for the Integrity Initiative) the lead front-page story by Haynes in The Times on 17 December 2016 with title ‘Russia waging cyberwar against Britain’.
    • A document entitled ‘Representative selection of Integrity Initiative staff 2018 presentations and media interviews on Russian disinformation and malign influence’ lists under the outputs of Victor Madeira a report in the Times on 9 March 2018 by Fiona Hamilton, David Brown and Deborah Haynes with the title “Spy mystery: Sergei Skripal’s contact with MI6 in Spain suggests links to Litvinenko case’. Victor Madeira is briefly quoted:

Victor Madeira, a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft in London, said yesterday that links with organised crime were entirely possible. Russia was a mafia state where organised crime and the authorities overlap, he said.

It may be relevant that Haynes is listed as an honorary member of the Pen & Sword club, whose main mission is “the promotion of media operations as a necessary and valued military skill in the 21st century.” This may be an appropriate aspiration for military officers, but not for journalists. The club has 334 members, including Steve Tatham (listed in the UK cluster), Paul Tilley and the former BBC correspondent Mark Laity. Almost all other members have a military background or are NATO officials.

  • Dominic Kennedy – In response to an email asking whether he had heard of or was involved with the Integrity Initiative, Kennedy stated that he had not read the leaked documents, but did not answer the question.

On 14 April 2018 Haynes and Kennedy launched an attack on members of the Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media in the Times, including a front-page article, a two-page spread and an anonymous editorial. Two members of the Working Group hold posts at the University of Edinburgh. Unable to find anything tying them to Russia, Kennedy attempted to suggest that the university was under Russian influence (based on a grant from the Russian cultural institute Russkiy Mir), and even that the city of Edinburgh was a base for Russian influence (based on the presence of Sputnik’s office).

  • Neil Buckley (FT) – No response when asked over Twitter whether he had had contact with the Integrity Initiative.
  • Carole Cadwalladr – Identified in the third tranche of leaked documents as scheduled to talk at an event at the Frontline Club in early November 2018, co-organised by the Integrity Initiative and Foreign Desk Ltd. She confirmed that she had spoken at the event and did not receive a fee, but did not answer a question on whether she had been involved with the Integrity Initiative or its parent the Institute for Statecraft.
  • Natalie Nougayrede – No response when asked over Twitter if she was involved with the Integrity Initiative. She appears also in the French cluster list. In the same list, with a note that he is Nougayrede’s partner, is Nicholas Roche, whose current post is Director of Strategy at the Directorate of Military Applications of the French Atomic Energy Commission. It may be relevant that in May 2013, when she was editor of Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrede had a role in information operations in Syria. Under her direction, two Le Monde journalists acted as couriers to transfer samples provided by the opposition, allegedly from chemical attacks, to French intelligence agents in Jordan. Le Monde was then given the scoop of reporting that these samples had tested positive for sarin at the French chemical weapon detection lab at Le Bouchet.

Click here to read the full briefing note at the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media website.

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Additional:

On December 22nd Afshin Rattansi interviewed John Pilger for a special end of year Going Underground episode. In the first half they discuss the Integrity Initiative and what it reveals about the lack of true integrity in journalism. In part two topics range from the genocide taking place in Yemen, the “canonisation” of George Bush Sr., and Donald Trump:

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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, John Pilger, Spain