British government psyops with Mohamed Elmaazi
On Contact host Chris Hedges and investigative journalist Mohamed Elmaazi discuss documents showing an alleged British government-financed propaganda mill, similar in nature to the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird psychological operations. Elmaazi’s work can be found at Theinterregnum.net.
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CH: Today, we discuss global surveillance with Investigative Journalist, Mohamed Elmaazi.
ME: It is a far larger operation than I had realized, and they're--you know, when they state that their objectives are to essentially instill a military ethos that they think is a good thing into the wider British society and we reformulate and restructure Britain so that it is more focused towards a larger military warfare and with less spending on welfare that's spending on health and social security. Just the--I suppose the goal of it, you know, instead of just being able to have these conversations open in public, they don't want to have these conversations open in public on equal terms.
CH: Recently hacked documents reveal an international network of politicians, journalist, academics, researchers, and military officers all engaged in highly deceptive covert propaganda campaigns funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, NATO, Facebook, and hardline national security institutions. This network of networks, as one document refers to them, centers around an ironically outfit called the Integrity Initiative, and it is all overseen by a previously unknown English-based think tank registered in Scotland, the institute for statecraft, which is operated under a veil of secrecy. The operation appears to be run by and in conjunction with members of British Military Intelligence. Joining me in the studio in London is the reporter Mohamed Elmaazi, who with, Max Blumenthal, has investigated the Integrity Initiative for Grayzone. So explain to us what this operation is, and first tell us how it was discovered.
ME: So, documents were published online by a group calling itself as Anonymous, a European branch of Anonymous. We don't know exactly who it is that revealed them, although they do appear to have been hacked from the Integrity Initiative and from the Institute for Statecraft. They were published online and once they were discovered, I, and other journalists, started to troll through the documents, read through them. Eventually, I found an address. I went and I investigated and I discovered the Institute for Statecraft, at least the Integrity Initiative is based in an area called Temple in South London. And it's essentially run by current and former members of a British Military Intelligence, so people, like, Chris Donnelly, who's a Honorary Colonel, and what's called SGMI, or Specialist Group Military Intelligence. You have Dan Lafayeedney, apparently a former SAS, the Special Forces, also Military Intelligence Joseph Walker-Cousins, a captain who operated in Libya during the NATO Operations. He received an MBE for his work, whatever that was, while he was in Libya during the NATO-backed coup.
CH: This is a knighthood?
ME: Yes. So MBE is a member of the Order of the British Empire. That's what it stands for. So, very old school.
CH: And what do they do? Let's talk about Scotland, too, because there's a--the--there was--so I remember a reporter who--there was an address in Scotland, they went there and it was like an abandoned warehouse or something, and then there was an address in London that you also investigated. But what was the Scottish connection?
ME: So the Integrity Initiative is a project belonging to the Institute for Statecraft, which is a registered charity. And it's officially registered in Scotland in Fife, but people who went there and took photos found that it was just a derelict building in Fife. There was nothing there. Apparently, that land, that property, belongs to Dan Lafayeedney, the man I referred to, the former SAS Officer or--and so we don't--so while it's registered there, it doesn't seem that there's any activity actually going on there. In London, however, there are offices that I discovered. I went down there in a basement of a building belonging to the Bulldog Trust, which is a charity. And I went down, I knocked on the door, eventually somebody let me in. I said, "Oh, I'm just waiting to speak to somebody from the Institute for Statecraft." And they went and they found somebody and they let me in. And then once I said, "Well, I'm a journalist, I'd like to speak to you." And it ended up being Dan Lafayeedney incidentally who was there. He said "No." And he escorted me out understandably so. I offered him the opportunity to respond to the leaked documents, but that's as far as I got.
CH: But what did we learn from the documents that they're doing?
ME: So there is what they call clusters that they're setting up and as many countries as possible, the number of countries keeps growing. We know Greece, Spain, UK, the US, and the point of these clusters is for what they say is to develop a group of researchers, politicians, journalist, who can all work together in order to combat what they call a malign Russian influence. They say this is part of Russia's hybrid warfare, which is designed to destabilize democracy, so discontent. And its operations are largely, although not entirely focusing on new media, social media, they also publish reports and set up conferences. One example is something they call the Moncloa Campaign after the palace, Moncloa Palace where the Prime Minister resides in Spain. And this operation was designed to prevent the appointment of a man called Pedro Banos, a military officer, who was the--apparently the preferred choice for the Director of National Security Affairs in Spain. And within 24 hours of this operation, as they--as they described it being unleashed on Twitter, a journalist tweeting that he's actually a Kremlin Stooge or that he's overly sympathetic to Russia because of an article he once wrote saying, "Listen, Russia has its interests and we have to recognize that, we have to be realistic that they have a legitimate interest," and they painted that as though he were essentially pro-Kremlin. And he didn't get the appointment, so if, you know, we don't know for certain because, you know, contacts--the Prime Minister has never explicitly said, right? Sanchez, right? He's never explicitly said that, "Oh, I didn't appoint him because of this pressure." But we do know that he was the preferred choice and then 48 hours later, somebody else ended up being the preferred choice.
CH: But is this really about Russia? I mean I think from--what I'd read and what you've reported and others that it's really about the left. The left.
ME: Well, the left certainly seems to be part of it. So one document written by Chris Donnelly in 2018, so he's one of the key people there, a founder of the organization, explicitly argues--I'm trying to--I can't--this is not verbatim quote, but he basically says, "Look, you know, decades ago, Britain spent one third of its budget on health and social security and welfare and education." And now it spends two thirds of its budget on that. And one of our priorities has to be to get it into the public consciousness that this needs to be reduced back to the previous levels of one third and the second amount, the third that we stopped spending on health and social care, should be diverted to the FCO, the Foreign Office, and the Ministry of Defence. So obviously there's going to be left-wing opposition to the rerouting of public funds to increase militarism, which they deem as necessary for the New World Order that they perceive to be coming. They say that Russia is ahead of us in hybrid warfare, we need to stood up--set up our game. We can't be--and people are too naive. Right? I meant that's the--that's the thinking, if you read through the documents, that people are--have lived comfortable lives. They don't realize that this comfortable bubble of a rules-based liberal international order, that's what they--the term they use, is slowly dissolving and it's slowly dissolving because of Russia and because of China. And so therefore we need to combat, sort of, or deal with the current interest if you'd like.
CH: This is--this is Steve Bannon's argument in essence.
ME: It is. It's also the neoconservatives. It's a very familiar argument that we see from The Project of the New Century, the now defunct new Conservative think tank, which actually there are links between the Smith Richardson Institute which is a neoconservative market fundamentalist think tank, and the institute for Statecraft, they have funded them to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. So what you have are essentially a group of current and former members of the military state or the military branch of the British state seeing fit to restructure British society and influence public opinion, mostly in Britain but also in Europe and wider Europe to ends, that they deem are necessary but they're not prepared to do this as much openly. Some of this is open. They publish documents and they'll testify now in parliament, but much of this is--the idea is to create an organic feel to it so that when people read articles or they follow tweets of influential people on Twitter, they think that--they don't realize that actually people have sit around in a room in a conference and, sort of, discussed what the best means are of pushing certain policies. It's actually a far more sophisticated version of what Russia is accused of doing. The difference is there's actually strong evidence for this. There isn't much strong evidence for what Russia is--was accused of doing in the United States.
CH: But we have the Heritage Foundation and we have had similar kinds of think tanks and attempts to influence and manipulate public opinion within the United States for several decades. Number one is there a difference between what we see here and what we see with these Conservative think tanks in the United States? And secondly, what are their connections and alliances?
ME: So one example that I gave in the article is that there is a feel to it that--there are similarities to Operation Mockingbird, which was exposed in part by a--what's it? The Church Committee hearings and there were other hearings as well.
CH: You should explain what that was.
ME: So Operation Mocking Bird was basically a CIA Operation where they ran journalists and editors in both inside US Publications but international publications as well.
CH: This is Carl Bernstein's…
ME: Carl Bernstein had a…
CH: He exposed all this.
ME: …perhaps his best ever work before or since…
ME: …which is a 10,000 word investigation that I linked to because it's definitely worth looking at.
CH: Right, and Rolling Stone.
ME: And Rolling Stone Magazine that he published in the 1970s where he detailed literally hundreds of journalists who were either assets or even just employees of the Central Intelligence Agency and whose job was to engage in propaganda and further of US Foreign Policy Interests or the interest through the--through the lens of those who are in charge of the CIA. And so while this doesn't--the Integrity Initiative hasn't proven to be as sophisticated, as it's only been around for a few years, it does seem that the interest is more that they are trying to cultivate something to that end, right? So they are connected to the University of Free--University of Brussels, not necessarily that everybody at the university is aware of this, I think that's the whole point, is that most people aren't aware, right? You won't necessarily be aware that your colleagues, your work colleagues, are members of this cluster as it were. They do have lengths to--there were meetings, we know, with the head, Chris Donnelly, in the United States, where he--including with somebody, a Todd Leventhal, if I can--if I recall his name correctly. And he's connected to the Global Engagement Center, which is a branch of the US State Department or connected to the US State Department that was set up under Obama that is a propaganda outfit that exists to, as they say, to counter foreign propaganda. So, they're working with that department, which has actually funded the Integrity Initiative for the Institute for Statecraft, about a hundred and thousand pounds or hundred thousand dollars.
CH: Do we have a budget? Do we know the global budget for…
ME: So the last amount that I saw is up to $2,000,000 or at least up to $2,000,000 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and it's important…
ME: Yes. And it's--they also get funded from NATO, I think a hundred grand from Facebook, right? Which is interesting. The Lithuanian Ministry of Defence, and I already--I already mentioned some of the others like Smith Richardson.
CH: Great. When we comeback, we'll continue our discussion about global surveillance with journalist Mohamed Elmaazi. Welcome back on Contact. We continue our conversation with Investigative Journalist, Mohamed Elmaazi. So, you went back to this office after being thrown out with a British MP from the Labour Party, Chris Williamson. Explain what you encountered and who you spoke to and then let's get into the story of Simon Bracey-Lane.
ME: That's right. So, Chris Williamson MP is a MP for Derby North. I found out that he was--he was going there.
CH: Well, he's a little--he's been under assault. He's one of the people who's been targeted. I mean, explain his history. What's happened recently to him?
ME: So he was recently suspended under Labour Party's rather Kafkaesque system where it's never quite clear why anybody's suspended. Apparently, it's for a pattern of behavior that may bring the party into disrepute, right? So, he hasn't seen the charges yet is my understanding, anything more detailed than that. But, yeah, he's a very outspoken Democratic socialist, an actual Democratic socialist, a strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn. And when I found out that he was going to…
CH: Well, didn't he make a statement that got him in a certain amount of trouble? I can't remember what it was.
ME: Right. So, during a local meeting with the pro-Corbyn momentum group, he was speaking--he was on a panel of speakers and he'd said something--he was filmed saying something to the effect of, you know, "Obviously, anti-Semitism is real." But the Labour Party is--got itself into a bit of a mess by not standing up for itself, a party which he said he believes has done more than any other to combat racism and bigotry is being smeared as a racist and bigoted party. And he's saying we, you know, "And we're in part responsible for this because we're not defending ourselves properly." Soon thereafter, he was suspended.
CH: And we should be clear that they've used the anti-Semitism trope against Corbyn and his faction quite relentlessly…
CH: …within Labour.
ME: Yeah. Longtime anti-racist, anti-fascist campaigners have been suspended under sort of a veil of anti-Semitism charges.
ME: Including Asa Winstanley, a very well-known investigative journalist from Electronic Intifada, Jackie Walker who's both black and Jewish, anti-racist campaigner. Being Jewish doesn't stop you from being smeared as anti-Semitic in this country.
CH: Obviously in the United States as well. They attacked Max Blumenthal for being…
ME: That's--yeah, that's true.
CH: So, anyway, you went back with this MP. And explain what happened.
ME: So, I went back with him to cover the--whatever the discussion was going to be. They knocked on the door. Eventually somebody opened up the door and Chris Williamson introduced himself and said, "I'm Chris Williamson MP. You know, may I speak to somebody in charge here regarding the Integrity Initiative?" And the person said, "Oh, yeah, of course. One moment. I'll be back." And then he closed the door. The door was eventually opened up again. And then as Chris Williamson was introducing himself, the door was slammed. So, they didn't even bother saying anything. Now, we know because we took a picture before the door was slammed, the person who slammed was Dan Lafayeedney, the same person that I had met, a former SAS. And Chris Williamson did speak through the door, he said, "I'd like to speak to you about Pedro Banos," right? The Spanish general who--or the Spanish military officer who the operation targeted. He also wanted to speak about the Twitter account because the Twitter account of the Integrity Initiative was quoting articles that were smearing Jeremy Corbyn. Now that would mean that you actually have a foreign office-funded think tank PSYOP operation that is tweeting articles criticizing the opposition party to the government, which is, as I've been told, technically not illegal but completely outrageous. I've been told that while it's not illegal to do propaganda against the British population, in this country, there are no laws against that, apparently it is illegal for charities to be run by the British state. So, if indeed these people are operating as cutouts for the British military, then they are operating illegally. And a complaint has been registered with the Scottish Charity Regulator and they say they're investigating. In fact, it was Chris Williamson MP who placed the complaint with the Scottish Charity Register. That may very well be why they registered it in Scotland because it's a different legal jurisdiction, just to put a bit of space between the two. But to add to the intrigue, the person who first opened the door was Simon Bracey-Lane. And we know from the documents that Simon Bracey-Lane is a member of the team of the Integrity Initiative. We also know from previous reporting, from mainstream press, from months previously, that Simon Bracey-Lane turned up in the Bernie Sanders camp. He just says, "Oh, I'm just here. I was just here."
CH: But he worked in the campaign, right?
ME: Yeah, in the campaign. I was--apparently, he's quoted as saying something to the effect of, "Oh, I was visiting the United States. I was apolitical, not particularly politically engaged ever in my life. But I was really roused and moved by what was going on." And I thought, "Hey. You know, I'm here. I'm going to--I'm going to do something that counts. I'll throw my hat in with the Bernie Sanders campaign." You know, months later, he turns up in this military intelligence PSYOP operation, very--it is a clearly anti-left operation if you read the documents. They don't think much of the left. They think of the left as largely useful idiots for Putin's Russia. I mean, that's literally the mindset if you read through the reports. So, yeah, lots of questions remain unanswered, including why the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office are funding this operation. There's one other thing I should mention, which is that Specialist Group Military Intelligence, which so many of these officers are members of, is based in Denison Barracks in Hermitage. So, it's outside London. And that is the same barracks where the 77th Brigade are based. And the 77th Brigade is a unit which includes psychological operations for the military, for the British military. And so it's--actually, it has a name as historic reference to a unit in India during Imperial Britain that was founded by a British head of Special Forces who created the Special Night Squads in historic Palestine basically…
CH: Explain what those were.
ME: So, the Special Night Squads are precursors to the Israeli Defense Force, but they were largely--they were also, among other things, death squads but also military units that were engaged in--part--the Ethnic Cleansing of historic Palestine that led to the ultimate founding of the State of Israel. So, the name that they use as a homage to this military unit that--this guerilla unit, if you like, founded in India by the British, by a man who, himself, was--founded this terrorist unit, pro-Zionist terrorist groups in Historic Palestine. So, yeah, history is not lost on these people.
CH: I had read in one of the reports about Bracey-Lane that the fear was that he had essentially worked to pilfer information, internal documents from the Sanders campaign on behalf of perhaps this unit or even British intelligence. I don't know if that is--there's any kind of confirmation of that and what you've heard about that.
ME: No. I haven't seen any confirmation of that. And they're being incredibly, shall we say closed or tightlipped about their operations. In fact, their main focus, when any discussion is broached about the documents or what they reveal about their operations, they say, "Well, look, this is clearly a Russian op," which, you know, it may very well be. It may very well be a Russian intelligence who've hacked and then leaked the documents, but that doesn't change the validity of what is written in the documents and they have yet to contradict anything that's written.
CH: When you read through the documents, what it is--you know, you covered this, so--but what surprised you the most?
ME: I suppose just the scale of their objectives.
ME: So, at first, because the documents were leaked in stages, they weren't leaked all at once, so over a period of many weeks. So, with the first few leaks, it looked like, "Oh, this is the early stages of--the embryonic stages of this group that they're setting up." The more documents I read through and the more documents were leaked, the more I saw that, yeah, it's still, you know, it's not a mass--as massive as Operation Mockingbird, which we discussed, but it is still far--it is a far larger operation than I had realized. And their--you know, when they state that their objectives are to essentially instill a military ethos, that they think is a good thing, into the wider British society and reformulate and restructure Britain so that it is more focused towards a larger military warfare and with less spending on welfare, less spending on health and Social Security. Just the--I suppose, the goal of it, you know, instead of just being able to have these conversations open and public, they don't want to have these conversations open and public on equal terms to say, "This is where we're coming from. This is what we believe is happening in the future. And so, therefore, we have to spend--completely flip our spending priorities." What they want to do is to convince people indirectly through sort of propaganda networks that they've cultivated. And so even though it is supposedly targeting Russian disinformation, I would say it's much more than that. It also includes aspects of social engineering or social reengineering. And I suppose that's what surprised me the most.
CH: Doesn't that make Jeremy Corbyn the prime target?
ME: Well, they definitely don't seem to have much sympathy for him. And they are--there is--there are articles that they've published or republished about the left's infatuation with Putin or the left's love of Putin or their lack of full appreciation of the threats of Putin's Russia. And examples that they give are anti-interventionist and anti-imperialist stances. So, if you oppose militarism in Syria, if you oppose escalating tensions in Ukraine, if you oppose, you know, interventions elsewhere, like in Libya, well then you're playing into Russia's hands. And so Jeremy Corbyn, being a lifelong anti-imperialist and others like him, not just in the UK but in the rest of Europe are, yeah, perceived through a lens of people that have to be one way or another and neutralized.
CH: They've been part of the whole campaign to smear Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite. How effective has that campaign been?
ME: Well, I can't directly connect the Integrity Initiative to the smearings of Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite. That seems to be pushed largely by elements of the Labour Party establishment, which is a centre-right. So, like the Democratic Party establishment. The pro-Israeli lobby here in Britain, or the pro-Zionist lobby, and elements of, you know, the Conservative Party just because it suits their interest to do so. So, I have yet to read documents that show that they've directly engaged in it although they, you know, they don't seem to have a problem with it. Why would they, right? So…
CH: Right. And has the exposure of this unit in any way--has there been a public outcry? Any response?
ME: I read one article about it on the BBC. There is a news outfit. I think Sputnik did the piece. But overall, The Canary, of course, where I contribute to, we've written, but in terms of the mainstream media, no, it was played down by, through articles, people like Edward Lucas.
CH: Right, right.
ME: In The Times, Rupert Murdoch's London Times who's actually part of a UK cluster, actually. He's listed in there. There are many British journalists who are listed or British individuals who are listed there.
CH: We got to stop there.
ME: All right.
CH: Thanks. That was Investigative Journalist Mohamed Elmaazi. Thanks.
ME: Thank you.
CH: That was great.