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The Integrity Initiative scandal is getting worse — and British media keeps ignoring it

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ
The Integrity Initiative scandal is getting worse — and British media keeps ignoring it
Things just keep getting worse for the poor, embattled disinformation-busting warriors at the Integrity Initiative. New leaks have revealed more embarrassing tidbits confirming yet again the shady nature of the busted operation.

This time, the spotlight is on the II’s targeting of anti-fracking activists, its ties to HSBC bank, its obsessive (near-fetishizing) focus on nuclear war with Russia and its plans to foster “a long-term appreciation” of NATO among Muslim youth.

In another blow to the image of itself as an unbiased exposer of fake news which the II had worked hard to cultivate, one of the documents details its support for and "close relationship" with Britain's Specialist Group Military Intelligence (SGMI), which was masterminded by Chris Donnelly, a key player at the II's parent organization, the London-based Institute for Statecraft (IfS).

The SGMI has recruited civilian experts including hedge fund managers and senior bankers who donate their time to the SGMI as "patriots" — out of sheer generosity, no doubt. Two of those so-called patriots, Ian Cohen and James Townsend, are top executives at HSBC bank. Why is that so interesting?

Well, another document, based on discussions with Cohen (who has his own fancy MoD email address), appears to be a blueprint for sniffing out organizations or groups that might potentially have ties to Russia. Cohen suggests perhaps universities with “an anti-fracking agenda” could be investigated — and then of course smeared if they received any financing from Russian companies.

It must be sheer coincidence that HSBC is heavily involved in financing the fracking industry, providing banking services to multiple fossil fuel companies including Cuadrilla. Between 2007 and 2009, HSBC reportedly provided $5 billion in financing for tar sands projects in Canada. According to a BankTrack report on climate change, HSBC was in the top ten banks worldwide in 2017 for financing the fossil fuel industry. It was also named as one of the top ten "backsliders" — banks which drastically increased their fossil fuel financing between 2016 and 2017. HSBC has since pledged to get out of the fossil fuel industry, but it should be no surprise that its executives were interested in targeting anti-fracking activists with II’s help. What part of smearing environmentalists on behalf of banks, can legitimately be described as fighting against “disinformation” online?

II’s links to HSBC could also have something to do with British media’s continued lack of interest in covering the leaks. We are now approaching three months since the first batch of documents were dumped online and yet, the scandal has received scant coverage from mainstream British media, very likely due to the fact that a number of high profile journalists and academics have been named in the files for their work with various II projects. Some have since distanced themselves from the organization and it’s likely others were not even aware of how exactly II operated. Speaking notes from an address by IfS director Daniel Lafayeedney in Israel last year show that he pitched the Institute as "completely independent.”

But back to HSBC. British media's record on coverage of various HSBC scandals and frauds hasn't exactly been admirable. In 2015, Daily Telegraph political commentator Peter Oborne resigned over the newspaper's coverage of HSBC, saying it had perpetrated a "form of fraud on its readers" by failing to properly report on a major Swiss tax fraud case.

Whistleblower and anti-corruption activist Nicholas Wilson who spent 13 years fighting HSBC in a billion-pound fraud case were repeatedly stonewalled by journalists. The II’s links to HSBC have not gone unnoticed by Wilson. 

The new leaks also reveal that the II is interested in “educational” projects to teach Muslim youth in the UK how to “understand” NATO. The author of a background paper for II on why Muslims have “misconceptions” about NATO, cites their “ignorance” as one reason for this phenomenon. A less insulting interpretation of any so-described Muslim skepticism about NATO might be that NATO is a trigger-happy military alliance responsible for the destabilization and destruction of multiple Muslim-majority countries. But that’s neither here nor there, according to the II, and Muslims should be taught that NATO's real goal is only ever to bring “lasting peace” to the countries it targets.

The II’s obsessive focus on Russia and military conflict reared its head again in the latest batch of leaks, with one document pondering potential nuclear conflict in an assessment which seems to be based on the ludicrous assumption that Russia is desperately vying for the opportunity to reduce the Western world to rubble.

The new leaks come just days after the Integrity Initiative wiped its website clean and switched its Twitter account from public to private (a setting it has since reversed). In a questionable defense of itself posted on Medium (remember, the website is presently only semi-operational due to the urgent need to cover its tracks by deleting all content), the II said it is “proud” of the work it does and that the publication of its internal documents is part of a "disinformation" campaign and an attempt to "discredit" the project.

One could be forgiven for asking then, as academic Tim Hayward did on Twitter if the II’s activities are so above-board, how would simply publicizing those activities discredit or misinform anyone? One might also wonder if its motives are so pure and innocent, why it has deleted everything from its website?

Also on rt.com UK-funded psyop outfit Integrity Initiative locks Twitter account after wiping content from website

The answer, of course, is that the Integrity Initiative has been thoroughly exposed as a dirty psyop and any journalist with a shred of integrity — pardon the pun — would henceforth have nothing to do with the shady operation. They might even start covering it.

We already knew that the Integrity Initiative was essentially a British military intelligence cut out. Now we have even more proof that its operatives are much less interested in countering genuine disinformation and much more interested in covertly promoting NATO, hyping potential military conflict with Russia and now, as the latest leaks reveal, conspiring with banks and fossil fuel companies using British taxpayers’ money.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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