‘America must rebuild understanding of Russia’: How Integrity Initiative drafted US for new Cold War
Shortly after Donald Trump’s election, a UK-funded covert influence group proposed opening a new office in the US to train a “younger generation of Russia watchers” and “strengthen” America’s role in countering Moscow, leaks show.
The latest tranche of documents, anonymously uploaded online last week, include an outline for “developing a US arm of [the] Integrity Initiative Program” and a schedule for a visit to Washington of its director, which details meetings with former senior Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, and top diplomats and officials.
‘West badly needs US leadership’
Despite the elected White House administration tentatively attempting a rapprochement with the Kremlin at the time, the group, effectively a foreign agent on US soil, suggests in the first document, dated to August 2017, that Washington needs to go in a radically different, if familiar, direction, “before it is too late.”
“The West is badly in need of a reassertion of US leadership. The EU has been unable to generate any strategic thinking or to exercise convincing leadership. Russia (& China) are successfully driving wedges between EU Member States and between Allies within NATO,” reads the plaintive precis.
The solution: revive the Cold War-era resistance to Moscow through a Washington-dominated NATO, which is also listed elsewhere as a financial sponsor of the Integrity Initiative, alongside the UK’s Foreign Office.
“The US needs to rebuild its understanding of Russia and how to deal with it,” while “the UK needs reminding how to play its key role of encouraging/enabling US leadership in Europe/NATO.”
To serve these aims, the Integrity Initiative plans to “bring together academics, think tankers, journalists, civil servants, politicians, business people,” who understand “the problem” of Russia, but “have not been working coherently.”
This is a facsimile of the model the Integrity Initiative rolled out in the UK after its founding in 2015, where it used its “cluster” of influential public voices to discreetly sway, manipulate or to outright dictate Russian coverage on such issues as cyber warfare, Syria, and the Skripals. Or, as the text euphemistically puts it, their function is “to ensure the popular support for governments that democracies require.”
With many of the original Cold Warriors now of pensionable age, a vital responsibility of the recruits would be “attracting a new generation of younger analysts to learn from the older generation.”
There also appears to be implicit criticism of how the actual chosen US president is handling foreign policy, with the document urging the US to “improve its own governance at a time of transition.”
But, luckily for America, it doesn’t have to fear foreign meddling, as “the cluster will work completely impartially and not become involved in US party politics.”
Goulash with Gorka
The second document contains the dates and locations of a trip by Chris Donnelly, a UK military intelligence veteran and director of the Integrity Initiative, to the American capital between September 18 and 22 of an unstated year. In the same upload folder, there are several support documents related to some of the events he was set to attend.
The trip involved wall-to-wall meetings, dinners, lectures and workshops, with separate visits to the State Department, National Defense University, and the Pentagon, but several names stand out.
One is breakfast with Sebastian Gorka, the hawkish TV intelligence pundit who served as a deputy assistant to Donald Trump between January and August 2017, and was credited as a key foreign policy inspiration prior to that. Another is a meeting with McCain Institute director Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO who currently represents the US in the Ukrainian peace negotiations.
There is a meeting with officials from the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, an official counter-propaganda department, which, perhaps not coincidentally, has recently switched from fighting jihadists online to combating Russia, having received a boost in funding. On the last day of the four-day trip, Donnelly was due to talk to Dorothy Rayburn, an official at USAID, a civilian aid agency which has been accused by foreign governments of operating as an arm of US intelligence, and has been expelled from Russia since 2012.
It’s not 'meddling' when Integrity Initiative does it
The Integrity Initiative has acknowledged that its private documents were “hacked” though it has not confirmed or denied the authenticity of any that have been made public in four separate tranches starting from November.
So, with only partial evidence available, it is not possible to conclude if the Integrity Initiative did open an office in the US, or whether the talks held by Donnelly resulted in a shift in Russia policy.
Nonetheless, the first leak did contain a document listing a dozen names under the heading “US Cluster,” including several Donnelly was due to meet. There is also an exchange with an FCO official in which the Integrity Initiative says that it is in the process of opening a non-profit in the US and, as well as a “simple office” in Washington, plans to create several clusters “in key states, not in DC.” It is not clear what would constitute a “key state” for an agency with the Integrity Initiative’s apparently boundless remit.
What does appear certain is that the outfit was setting up its networks of influence covertly, and without declaring its true purpose, despite operating in an allied state. While the meeting with government figures seems to give it a sheen of legitimacy, it is also notable that none of those it met are representative officials, but rather narrowly-known but influential members of various Washington letter agencies. Its policy aims are not democratically-vetted, and possibly even at odds with those officially pursued by the United States.
Nonetheless, while a Russian outfit operating in “key US states” – even if it cultivated peaceful engagement – would surely command the attention of the Mueller investigation, the activities of a UK organization advocating a return to Soviet-era tensions are almost sure to be allowed to continue, without so much as a peep from Washington.
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