Inside the Temple of Covert Propaganda: The Integrity Initiative and the UK’s Scandalous Information War
The Grayzone entered the carefully concealed offices of a covert, British government-backed propaganda mill that is at the center of an international scandal the mainstream media refuses to touch.
By Mohamed Elmaazi and Max Blumenthal
Recent hacked documents have revealed an international network of politicians, journalists, academics, researchers and military officers, all engaged in highly deceptive covert propaganda campaigns funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), NATO, Facebook and hardline national security institutions.
This “network of networks”, as one document refers to them, centers around an ironically named outfit called the Integrity Initiative. And it is all overseen by a previously unknown England-based think tank registered in Scotland, the Institute for Statecraft, which has operated under a veil of secrecy.
The whole operation appears to be run by, and in conjunction with, members of British military intelligence.
According to David Miller, professor of political sociology in the school of policy studies at the University of Bristol and the director of the Organization for Propaganda Studies, the Integrity Initiative “appears to be a military directed push.”
“The most senior government people are professional propagandists and spooks,” Miller explained. “The ‘charity’ lead on this [Chris Donnelly] was also appointed as a colonel in military intelligence at the beginning of the project — a truly amazing fact that suggests this is a military intelligence cut out.”
A minister for the UK FCO has officially confirmed that it has been funding the Integrity Network.
In addition to conducting diplomacy, the FCO oversees both the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) the UK equivalent to the National Security Agency, and the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS) commonly known as MI6.
The think tank that oversees the Integrity Initiative, the Institute for Statecraft, has also received funding from the British Army and Ministry of Defense.
This is pretty major. UK govt admits that not only the Foreign Office but also the Army and the Ministry of Defence have funded the Institute for Statecraft, the body behind anti-Corbyn propaganda. https://t.co/hl87oulr5t pic.twitter.com/uaROch5ivG
— Mark Curtis (@markcurtis30) December 14, 2018
The entire extremely shady enterprise, as Miller explained, is an elaborate front for the British military-intelligence apparatus. Its covert coordination with friendly politicians and mainstream journalists recalls the Cold War-era intrigue known as Operation Mockingbird.
That scandal involved the unmasking of “more than 400 American journalists who…in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency,” as Carl Bernstein revealed in a 1977 Rolling Stone report.
The exposing of the Integrity Initiative has just scratched the surface of what appears to be a much more sophisticated, insidious, and extremely online version of Operation Mockingbird. With new internal documents appearing each week through a hacker’s organization called Anonymous Europe, the revelations are yielding one of the most potentially explosive national security scandals in recent times.
But even as members of Britain’s parliament thunder with demands for official accountability, the UK and US mainstream media still strangely refuses to touch the story.
Smearing left-wing political figures in NATO member states
The Integrity Initiative claims that it is “counter[ing] Russian disinformation and malign influence,” and indeed, the main players behind it appear intent on hyping the Russian threat to justify ramped up military budgets and a long-term war footing.
But the Integrity Initiative has also trained its fire on perceived subversives inside NATO member states, including the UK.
The Integrity Initiative waged a successful covert campaign to destroy the appointment of Pedro Baños to Director of Spain’s National Security Department on the bogus grounds that he was “pro-Kremlin,” thus interfering in the affairs of a fellow EU and NATO member. It carried out the hit job through a hand-picked “cluster” of Spanish politicians and operatives to flood social media and sympathetic outlets with messages demonizing Baños.
The Integrity Initiative appears to have employed the same tactics to smear left-wing journalists and political figures across the West, including the leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.
This UK government-funded, bogus McCarthyite "monitoring group" the Integrity Initiative repeatedly smeared Jeremy Corbyn, while it claims to "defend democracy against disinformation."
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) November 27, 2018
Member of Parliament Chris Williamson – a close ally of Corbyn – is now openly and indignantly calling for “a public inquiry into the Integrity Initiative and similar information war efforts being funded by our government.”
It is not necessarily illegal for the FCO to direct propaganda towards its own citizenry, according to Miller of the Organization for Propaganda Studies. However, he said that “it is not legal for ministers to effectively direct a charity. Thus, if the MoD through military intelligence are effectively running a charity, that would be contrary to law.”
An abandoned mill in Scotland covers for an active office in London’s “Temple”
To conceal its potentially illegal activities, the Institute for Statecraft has employed a web of deceptions. Not only did they hide their government funding, the outfit listed a fake location as its address.
Mohammed Elmaazi, a co-author of this piece, discovered the elaborately hidden location of the Institute for Statecraft inside a posh warren of barristers’ offices in London. Elmaazi’s swift ejection from the premises confirmed the lengths that this shadowy organization continues to go to to avoid public scrutiny.
The Institute for Statecraft, is a registered charity in Scotland, whose registered office is listed as being an old mill in Fife Scotland involved in the “manufacture of wood and other products.” David Scott of UK Column news, visited the registered office in Fife only to find a “an empty, semi-derelict, partly demolished, building.”
While the address in Fife, Scotland appears to be a derelict building, the London address listed in the hacked documents is fully operational, so far as Elmaazi could tell.
He located the offices belonging to The Institute for Statecraft at the Embankment at Two Temple Place in London. It shares offices in the basement of a “spectacular neo-gothic mansion” which is owned or leased by The Bulldog Trust, an organization dedicated to “promoting culture and philanthropy”. This area, known as “the Temple,” is filled with barristers’ chambers and used to serve as the precinct for the Knights of Templar.
Elmaazi found the offices on December 6, having nearly given up and becoming convinced that he would discover nothing more than was found at the derelict house in Fife. When he arrived at the location, preparations were underway for some sort of Christmas-themed event to be held in the main building on the ground floor. But upon discovering the signs pointing downstairs to the basement, Elmaazi found himself staring at a door with a sign that read, “The Institute for Statecraft / The Fore.”
Elmaazi rang the Institute for Statecraft’s doorbell and was eventually let in by a well-dressed elderly gentleman in a beige overcoat. The man claimed that he worked neither at The Institute nor at The Fore but at “another organization.” He then called out for “Charles.” Having walked in, Elmaazi could see a few smaller offices to the side, with a larger planned office with tables and computers around the corner.
A man whom Elmaazi presumed was “Charles” came around the corner and called out, “Yes?” He seemed somewhat confused by the journalist’s presence, understandably so as he was there without an appointment. When “Charles” confirmed that he worked with the Institute for Statecraft, Elmaazi identified himself as a journalist and asked if he would be willing to be interviewed. The request was met with a curt refusal.
“Charles” then guided Elmaazi sternly with his hand back to the entrance. When the journalist repeated his request, he was met with stone silence. And that was that.
A “Charles Hart” is listed as the chairman of the Institute for Statecraft, but no photo is available to confirm that Hart was the same “Charles” that Elmaazi met.
The neocon connection
Two buildings away from the Institute for Statecraft, separated only by the home of British American Tobacco, lies the offices of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). This think tank is key organ of the Western foreign policy establishment, pushing military interventionism and promoting the Saudi-backed Syrian opposition-in-exile.
Among the funders of IISS is the Smith Richardson Foundation.
This foundation also happens to be a supporter of the Integrity Initiative, providing it with £45,000 (about $56,600 USD) for covert propaganda activities in Europe and the US.
The Smith Richardson Foundation was founded by billionaire heir to the Vicks fortune, H. Smith Richardson, in 1935. In 1973, the founder’s son, Randolph Richardson – a free market fundamentalist and long-time patron of neoconservative ideologue Irving Kristol – inherited the organization.
Kristol’s son, William Kristol, is a co-founder of the Project for a New American Century which openly called for the US to assert itself as the single global hegemon following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Recipients of funding from the Smith Richardson Foundation include a who’s who of neoconservative and militaristic right-wing institutions. The foundation has bankrolled neoconservative outfits like the American Enterprise Institute (to the tune of nearly $10 million since 1998), the Hudson Institute, the Institute for the Study of War, Freedom House, the Hoover Institution, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, along with Democratic Party-aligned think tanks like the Center for New American Security and the Center for American Progress.
“To say the [Smith Richardson] foundation was involved at every level in the lobbying for and crafting of the so-called global war on terror after 9/11 would be an understatement,” wrote Kelley Vlahos in a profile of Nadia Schadlow, a former Trump administration deputy national security advisor who previously worked as the senior program director for Smith Richardson.
Smith Richardson complements a roster of international funders backing the Integrity Initiative’s parent organization:
- HQ NATO Public Diplomacy, £12,000 for each inaugural workshop = £168,000
- Partner institutions £5,000 for each inaugural workshop = £70,000
- NATO HQ for educational video films – free provision of camera team
- Lithuanian MOD to provide free all costs for their stratcom team for a monthly trip to support a new hub/cluster creation and to educate cluster leaders and key people in Vilnius in infowar techniques = £20,000
- US State Dept, for research and dissemination activities (excluding any activity in USA) = £250,000
- Smith Richardson Foundation, £45,000 for cluster activities in Europe and USA
- Facebook, £100,000 for research and education activities
- German business community, £25,000 for research and dissemination in EU countries
A covert asset in the Bernie campaign?
Elmaazi, the co-author of this piece, was not the only reporter to gain momentary access to the Institute for Statecraft’s hidden location at 2 Temple Place. On December 11, five days after Elmaazi’s visit, Kit Klarenberg of Sputnik Radio entered the covert propaganda mill’s neo-gothic offices. As soon as he identified himself as a journalist, he was angrily ejected by an Institute for Statecraft staffer named Simon Bracey-Lane.
“You need to leave right now!” Bracey-Lane barked at Klarenberg. “You haven’t arranged to see us! Go! Right now! Please leave immediately! Leave!”
Bracey-Lane is a 20-something British citizen with no publicly acknowledged experience in intelligence work. But as Klarenberg noted, there are some unusual details in the young staffer’s bio.
In 2016, Bracey-Lane appeared out of nowhere to work in Iowa as a field organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign for president.
“I spent a year working, saving all my money, just thought I was gonna go on a two month road trip from Seattle to New York and I thought, you know what? I’m gonna stay and work for the Bernie Sanders campaign,” Bracey-Lane told a reporter for AFP on January 27, 2016.
He said that after he decided to work for Bernie, he first went to England to “get a visa and get everything legal,” then came back to join the campaign in earnest.
Bracey-Lane also claimed to AFP, “I’m not sure there’s a place for me in British politics… I’ve never been struck by an urge to work in my own political system.”
However, a February 1, 2016 profile of Bracey-Lane by Buzzfeed’s Jim Waterson said the Brit-for-Bernie “was inspired to rejoin the Labour party in September  when Corbyn was elected leader. But by that point, he was already in the US on holiday.”
It is clearly odd for Bracey-Lane to tell one reporter that he had never had any interest in British politics, while claiming to another that he had been eager to support Corbyn before he joined the Bernie campaign. What’s more, as Klarenberg reported, Bracey-Lane went on to establish a get-out-the-vote effort for various progressive politicians and parties in Britain’s 2017 general election, gaining inside access to a wide array of campaigns.
The contradiction in Bracey-Lane’s narrative raises serious questions about his real role on the Bernie campaign, as does his suddenly transition from progressive politics to a staff position at a military-backed propaganda farm that waged a covert information war on Corbyn and other left-leaning politicians across the West.
An Institute for Statecraft document on “roles and relevant experience” of the outfit’s “expert team” notes that Bracey-Lane conducted a “special study of Russian interference in the US electoral process.” The document does not make clear when that study was conducted, however, it is listed directly next to its author’s history of work with the Bernie campaign.
“At Thanksgiving, I was asked, why are you meddling?” Bracey-Lane remarked to Reuters, referring to his work for Bernie Sanders. “Which is an interesting way to phrase it, but I was happy to answer: it needs meddling with.”
Those comments take on an entirely different meaning now that the former Bernie field worker has been outed as part of a British military-intelligence influence operation.
In the coming days, the Grayzone will take a closer look at the Integrity Initiative’s activity inside the US, and whether it is interfering in American politics as it has done in other NATO member states.
Mohamed Elmaazi obtained his LLB from SOAS and Masters in International and Comparative law from the American University in Cairo. He worked in human rights law for a number of years before shifting to journalism. He occasionally reports for The Real News Network and currently contributes to Open Democracy, The Canary, and the Grayzone. You can follow him on Twitter @MElmaazi