New Documents Reveal a Covert British Military-Intelligence Smear Machine Meddling In American Politics

By Mark Ames, co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast, author of Going Postal and publisher of The eXile, and Max Blumenthal, an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling Republican GomorrahGoliath, The Fifty One Day War, and The Management of Savagery, which will be published in March 2019 by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including Killing Gaza and Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.  Originally published at the Greyzone Project

The Integrity Initiative has mobilized an international disinformation campaign across Europe. Now, with government and right-wing foundation money, this massive “political smear unit” is infiltrating the US.

A bombshell domestic spy scandal has been unfolding in Britain, after hacked internal communications exposed a covert UK state military-intelligence psychological warfare operation targeting its own citizens and political figures in allied NATO countries under the cover of fighting “Russian disinformation.”

The leaked documents revealed a secret network of spies, prominent journalists and think-tanks colluding under the umbrella of a group called “Integrity Initiative” to shape domestic opinion—and to smear political opponents of the right-wing Tory government, including the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

Until now, this Integrity Initiative domestic spy scandal has been ignored in the American media, perhaps because it has mostly involved British names. But it is clear that the influence operation has already been activated in the US. Hacked documents reveal that the Integrity Initiative is cultivating powerful allies inside the State Department, top DC think tanks, the FBI and the DHS, where it has gained access to Katharine Gorka and her husband, the fascist-linked cable news pundit Sebastian Gorka.

The Integrity Initiative has spelled out plans to expand its network across the US, meddling in American politics and recruiting “a new generation of Russia watchers” behind the false guise of a non-partisan charity. Moreover, the group has hired one of the most notorious American “perception management” specialists, John Rendon, to train its clusters of pundits and cultivate relationships with the media.

Back in the UK, Member of Parliament Chris Williamson has clamored for an investigation into the Integrity Initiative’s abuse of public money.

In a recent editorial, Williamson drew a direct parallel between the group’s collaboration with journalists and surreptitious payments the CIA made to reporters during the Cold War.

“These tactics resemble those deployed by the CIA in Operation Mockingbird that was launched at the height of the cold war in the early 1950s. Its aims included using the mainstream news media as a propaganda tool,” Williamson wrote.

“They manipulated the news agenda by recruiting leading journalists to write stories with the express purpose of influencing public opinion in a particular way,” the Labour parliamentarian continued. “Now it seems the British Establishment have dusted off the CIA’s old playbook and is intent on giving it another outing on this side of the Atlantic.”

Unmasking a British Military-Intelligence Smear Machine

The existence of the Integrity Initiative was virtually unknown until this November, when the email servers of a previously obscure British think tank called the Institute for Statecraft were hacked, prompting allegations of Russian intrusion. When the group’s internal documents appeared at a website hosted by Anonymous Europe, the public learned of a covert propaganda network seed-funded to the tune of over $2 million dollars by the Tory-controlled UK Foreign Office, and run largely by military-intelligence officers.

Through a series of cash inducements, off the record briefings and all-day conferences, the Integrity Initiative has sought to organize journalists across the West into an international echo chamber hyping up the supposed threat of Russian disinformation—and to defame politicians and journalists critical of this new Cold War campaign.

A bid for funding submitted by the Integrity Initiative in 2017 to the British Ministry of Defense promised to deliver a “tougher stance on Russia” by arranging for “more information published in the media on the threat of Russian active measures.”

The Integrity Initiative has also worked through its fronts in the media to smear political figures perceived as a threat to its militaristic agenda. Its targets have included a Spanish Department of Homeland Security appointee, Pedro Banos, whose nomination was scuttled thanks a media blitz it secretly orchestrated; Jeremy Corbyn, whom the outfit and its media cutouts painted as a useful idiot of Russia; and a Scottish member of parliament, Neil Findlay, whom one of its closest media allies accused of adopting “Kremlin messaging” for daring to protest the official visit of the far-right Ukrainian politician Andriy Parubiy — the founder of two neo-Nazi parties and author of a white nationalist memoir, “View From The Right.”

These smear campaigns and many more surreptitiously orchestrated by the Integrity Initiative offer a disturbing preview of the reactionary politics it plans to inject into an already toxic American political environment.

Lessons from “The Man Who Sold the War”

A newly released Integrity Initiative document reveals that the outfit plans an aggressive expansion across the US.

The Integrity Initiative claims to have already established a “simple office” in Washington DC, though it does not say where. It also boasts of partnerships with top DC think tanks like the Atlantic Council, the Center for European Policy Analysis, CNA, and close relationships with US officials.

A major hub of Integrity Initiative influence is the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, a de facto US government propaganda operation that was established by President Barack Obama to battle online ISIS recruitment, but which was rapidly repurposed to counter Russian disinformation following the election of Trump.

The Integrity Initiative has also recruited one of the most infamous American PR men to organize its clusters of journalists and political figures.

He is John Rendon, best known as “The Man Who Sold The War”— several wars, in fact, but most notoriously the Iraq invasion. Rendon was the self-described “information warrior” who planted fake news in the major US-UK media about non-existent WMD threats. With deep ties to the CIA and other military-intelligence agencies, his PR firm was paid $100 million to organize and sell Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. In 2002, the New York Times exposed a Pentagon program using Rendon to plant “disinformation” — including “false stories” and “the blackest of black PR” — in media outlets around the world, in order to shape public opinion and sell the Iraq invasion.

John Rendon (left) with Maj. Gen. Michael Snodgrass, US Africa Command Chief of Staff (photo by US Africom Public Affairs)

Journalist James Bamford outlined a catalogue of disinformation feats Rendon performed for the Pentagon, such as identifying “the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships.” Bamford also found proposals and programs Rendon was involved in that aimed to “’coerce’ foreign journalists and plant false information overseas… [and] find ways to ‘punish’ those who convey the ‘wrong message.’”

These tactics seem particularly relevant to his work with the Integrity Initiative, especially considering the internal documents that reveal further Rendon-style plans to produce reports and studies to be “fed anonymously into local media.” (Among the outlets listed as friendly hosts in Integrity Initiative internal memos are Buzzfeed and El Pais, the center-left Spanish daily.)

Keeping Up with the Gorkas

Internal documents also refer to interactions between Integrity Initiative Director Chris Donnelly and top Trump officials like Katharine Gorka, a vehemently anti-Muslim Department of Homeland Security official, as well as her husband, Sebastian, who earned right-wing fame during his brief tenure in Trump’s White House.

The latter Gorka is an open supporter of the Hungarian Vitezi Rend, a proto-fascist order that collaborated with Nazi Germany during its occupation of Hungary. Following Trump’s election victory in 2016, Gorka appeared for televised interviews in a black Vitezi Rend uniform.

Sebastian Gorka, in Vitezi Rend garb, with his wife, Katharine, on Election Night

Gorka was among the first figures listed on an itinerary for Donnelly to Washington this September 18 to 22. The itinerary indicates that the two had breakfast before Donnelly delivered a presentation on “Mapping Russian Influence Activities” at the federally funded military research center, CNA.

According to the itinerary, Donnelly was granted access to Pentagon officials like Mara Karlin, an up-and-coming neoconservative cadre, and John McCain Institute executive director Kurt Volker, another neoconservative operative who also serves as the US Special Representative for Ukraine. Numerous meetings with staffers inside the State Department’s Office of Global Engagement were also detailed.

A Foreign Agent in the State Department?

Of all the State Department officials named in Integrity Initiative documents, the one who appeared most frequently was Todd Leventhal. Leventhal has been a staffer at the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, boasting of “20 years of countering disinformation, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and urban legends.” In an April 2018 Integrity Initiative memo, he is listed as a current team member:

Funded to the tune of $160 million this year to beat back Russian disinformation with “counter-propaganda,” the State Department’s Global Engagement Center has refused to denytargeting American citizens with information warfare of its own. “My old job at the State Department was as chief propagandist,” confessed former Global Engagement Center Director Richard Stengel. “I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.”

Like so many of the media and political figures involved in the Integrity Initiative’s international network, the Global Engagement Center’s Leventhal has a penchant for deploying smear tactics against prominent voices that defy the foreign policy consensus. Leventhal appeared in an outtake of a recent NBC documentary on Russian disinformation smugly explaining how he would take down a 15-year-old book critical of American imperialism in the developing world. Rather than challenge the book’s substance and allegations, Leventhal boasted how he would marshall his resources to wage an ad hominem smear campaign to destroy the author’s reputation. His strategic vision was clear: when confronting a critic, ignore the message and destroy the messenger.

Integrity Initiative documents reveal that Leventhal has been paid $76,608 dollars (60,000 British pounds) for a 50% contract.

While those same documents claim he has retired from the State Department, Leventhal’s own Linkedin page lists him as a current “Senior Disinformation Advisor” to the State Department. If that were true, it would mean that the State Department was employing a de facto foreign agent.

As a cut-out of the British Foreign Office and Defense Ministry, the Integrity Initiative’s work with current and former US officials and members of the media raises certain legal questions. For one, there is no indication that the group has registered under the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act, as most foreign agents of influence are required to do.

Grants from the Neocons’ Favorite Foundation

An Integrity Initiative memo states that the right-wing Smith Richardson Foundation has also committed to ponying up funding for its US network as soon as the group receives 501 c-3 non-profit status. The foundation has already provided it with about $56,000 for covert propaganda activities across Europe.

The Smith Richardson Foundation has old ties to the US intelligence community and controversial cold war influence operations. According to reporter Russ Bellant, the foundation was secretly bankrolling radical right-wing “indoctrination campaigns for the American public on cold war and foreign policy issues”— programs that got the attention of Senator William Fulbright, who warned then-President Kennedy of their dangers. At one of these indoctrination seminars, a Smith Richardson Foundation director “told attendees that ‘it is within the capacity of the people in this room to literally turn the State of Georgia into a civil war college,’ in order to overcome their opponents.”

Smith Richardson has funded a who’s who of the neoconservative movement, from hyper-militaristic think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War. “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 journalist Kelley Vlahos.

Besides Smith Richardson, the Integrity Initiative has stated its intention to apply for grants from the State Department “to expand the Integrity Initiative activities both within and outside of the USA.” This is yet another indicator that the US government is paying for propaganda targeting its own citizens.

The “Main Event” in Seattle

An Integrity Initiative internal document argues that because “DC is well served by existing US institutions, such as those with which the Institute [for Statecraft] already collaborates,” the organization should “concentrate on extending the work of the Integrity Initiative into major cities and key State capitals [sic] across the USA.”

This December 10, the Integrity Initiative organized what it called its “main event” in the US. It was a conference on disinformation held in Seattle, Washington under the auspices of a data firm called Adventium Labs. Together with the Technical Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota, the Integrity Initiative listed Adventium Labs as one of its “first partners outside DC.”

Adventium is Minneapolis-based research and development firm that has reaped contracts from the US military, including a recent $5.4 million cyber-security grant from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Inside a modest-sized hotel conference room, the Adventium/Integrity event began with a speech by the Integrity Initiative’s Simon Bracey-Lane. Two years prior, Bracey-Lane appeared on the American political scene as a field worker for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary run, earning media write-ups as the “Brit for Bernie.” Now, the young operator was back in the US as the advance man for a military-intelligence cut-out that specialized in smearing left-wing political figures like Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader widely regarded as the British version of Sanders.

Bracey-Lane opened his address by explaining that Integrity Initiative director Chris Donnelly had been unable to appear at the event, possibly because he was bogged down in the scandal back home. He proceeded to read remarks prepared by Donnelly that offered a window into the frighteningly militaristic mindset the Integrity Initiative aims to impose on the public through their media and political allies.

According to Donnelly’s comments, the West was no longer in a “peace time, rules based environment.” From the halls of government to corporate boardrooms to even the UK’s National Health System, “the conclusion is that we have to look for people who suit a wartime environment rather than peacetime.”

During Q&A, Bracey-Lane remarked that “we have to change the definition of war to encompass everything that war now encompasses,” referring vaguely to various forms of “hybrid warfare.”

“There is a great deal to be done in communicating that to young people,” he continued. “When we mean being at war we don’t mean sending our boys off to fight. It’s right here in our homes.”

The emphasis on restructuring society along martial lines mirrored the disturbing thinking also on display in notes of a private meeting between Donnelly and Gen. Richard Barrons in 2016. During that chat, the two officers decided that the British military should be removed from democratic supervision and be able to operate as “an independent body outside politics.”

While Bracey-Lane’s presentation perfectly captured the military mindset of the Integrity Initiative, the speakers that followed him offered a diverse array of perspectives on the concept of disinformation, some more nuanced than others. But one talk stood out from the rest — not because of its quality, but because of its complete lack thereof.

Reanimating the “Red-Brown” Grifter

Alexander Reid Ross (left) and Emmi Bevensee at the Integrity Initiative’s “main event” in Seattle

The presentation was delivered by Alexander Reid Ross, a half-baked political researcher who peddles computer-generated spiderweb relationship charts to prove the existence of a vast hidden network of “red-brown” alliances and “syncretic media” conspiracies controlled by puppeteers in Moscow.

Ross is a lecturer on geography at Portland State University with no scholarly or journalistic credentials on Russia. His students have given him dismal marks at Rate My Professors, complaining about his “terrible monotone lectures” and his penchant for “insert[ing] his own ideologies into our class.” But with a book, “Against the Fascist Creep,” distributed by the well-known anarchist publishing house, AK Press, the middling academic has tried to make his name as a maverick analyst.

Before the Integrity Initiative was exposed as a military-intelligence front operation, Ross was among a small coterie of pundits and self-styled disinformation experts that followed the group’s Twitter account. The Integrity Initiative even retweeted his smear of War Nerd podcast co-host John Dolan.

In a series of articles for the Southern Poverty Law Center last year, Ross attempted to bring his warmed-over Cold War theories to the broader public. He wound up trashing everyone from the co-author of this piece, Max Blumenthal, to Nation magazine publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel to Harvard University professor of international relations Stephen Walt as hidden shadow-fascists secretly controlled by the Kremlin.

The articles ultimately generated an embarrassing scandal and a series of public retractions by the editor-in-chief of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Richard Cohen. And then, like some Dr. Frankenstein for discredited and buried journalism careers, the British Ministry of Defense-backed Integrity Initiative moved in to reanimate Ross as a sought-after public intellectual.

Before the Integrity Initiative-organized crowd, Ross offered a rambling recitation of his theory of a syncretic fascist alliance puppeteered by Russians: “The alt right takes from both this ‘red-brown,’ it’s called, or like left-right syncretic highly international national of nationalisms, and from the United States’ own paleoconservative movement, and it’s sort of percolated down through college organizing, um, and anti-interventionism meets anti-imperialism. Right?”

In a strange twist, Ross appeared on stage at the Integrity Initiative’s Seattle event alongside Emmi Bevensee, a contributor to the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) think tank, whose tagline, “a left market anarchist think-tank” expresses its core aim of uniting far-left anarchists with free-market right-libertarians.

Bevensee, a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona and self-described “Borderlands anarcho into tech and crypto,” concluded her presentation by asserting a linkage between the alternative news site, Zero Hedge, and the “physical militarized presence in the borderlands” of anti-immigrant vigilantes. Like Bevensee, Ross has written for C4SS in the past.

The irony of contributors to an anarchist group called the “Center for a Stateless Society” auditioning before The State – the most jackbooted element of it, in fact – for more opportunities to attack anti-war politicians and journalists, can hardly be overstated.

But closer examination of the history of C4SS veers from irony into something much darker and more unsettling.

Pedophile Co-Founder, White Nationalist Associates

C4SS was co-founded in 2006 by a confessed child rapist and libertarian activist, Brad Spangler, who set the group up to promote “Market anarchism” to “replace Marxism on the left.”

When Spangler’s child rape confessions emerged in 2015, the Center for Stateless Society founder was finally drummed out by his colleagues.

There’s more: Spangler’s understudy and deputy in the C4SS, Kevin Carson — currently listed as the group’s “Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory” — turned out to be a longtime friend and defenderof white nationalist Keith Preston. Preston’s name is prominently plastered on the back of Kevin Carson’s book, hailing the C4SS man as “the Proudhon of our time” — a loaded compliment, given Proudhon’s unhinged anti-Semitism. Carson only disownedPreston in 2009, shortly before Preston helped white nationalist leader Richard Spencer launch his alt-right webzine, Alternative Right.

The C4SS group currently participates in the annual Koch-backed International Students For Liberty conference in Washington DC, LibertyCon, a who’s who of libertarian think-tank hacks and Republican Party semi-celebrities like Steve Forbes, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and Alan Dershowitz.

In 2013, C4SS’s Kevin Carson tweeted out his dream fantasy that four Jewish leftists — Mark Ames, Yasha Levine, Corey Robin, and Mark Potok — would die in a plane crash while struggling over a single parachute. Potok was an executive editor at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which last year retracted every one of the crank articles that Alexander Reid Ross published with them and formally apologized for having run them.

For some reason, the super-sleuth Ross conveniently failed to investigate the libertarian group, C4SS, that he has chosen to partner with and publish in. That ability to shamelessly smear and denounce leftists over the most crudely manufactured links to the far-right —  while cozying up to groups as sleazy as C4SS and authoritarian as the Integrity Initiative — is the sort of adaptive trait that MI6 spies and the Rendon Group would find useful in a covert domestic influence operation.

Ross did not respond to our request for comment on his involvement with the Integrity Initiative and C4SS.

Disinformation for Democracy

As it spans out across the US, the Integrity Initiative has stated its desire to “build a younger generation of Russia watchers.” Toward this goal, it is supplementing its coterie of elite journalists, think tank hacks, spooks and State Department info-warriors with certifiable cranks like Ross.

Less than 24 hours after Ross’s appearance at the Integrity Initiative event in Seattle, he sent a menacing email to the co-author of this article, Ames, announcing his intention to recycle an old and discredited smear against him and publish it in the Daily Beast — a publication that appears to enjoy a special relationship with Integrity Initiative personnel.

Despite the threat of investigation in the UK, the Integrity Initiative’s “network of networks” appears to be escalating its covert, government-funded influence operation, trashing the political left and assailing anyone that gets in its way —  all in the name of fighting foreign disinformation.

“We have to win this one,” Integrity Initiative founder Col. Chris Donnelly said, “because if we don’t, democracy will be undermined.”

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    1. pretzelattack

      making up lies to get paid. james angleton was paranoid (not that it seemed to make him more effective in counterintelligence)–these people are just con artists, paid to be con artists.
      i’m just waiting for “we have to undermine democracy in order to save it”.

      1. Pym of Nantucket

        Agreed. Not only are they paid to make things up, but they have an ingenious scheme for paying themselves from narcotics and arms dealing.

        The most amazing feat of confidence artistry (apart from maybe the TARP bailout (c.f. is their remarkable ability to convince the population they are needed and working on our behalf instead of being in jail where they belong.

  1. David

    Oh dear. What a mess of a story. There’s a decent, and potentially worrying narrative to be written about this strange affair, but this story isn’t it. It’s a kind of mirror image of the Russia nonsense, with the names and sides changed, but the same approach. It reads as though the first draft was refused by an editor, and was then rewritten to include everything the authors could possibly think of or make up. It’s a shame because it means that serious treatments of the story will be overlooked.
    The authors basically have no idea how government works. All governments try to influence public opinion through the media, by giving stories and special briefings to friendly journalists, by cultivating organisations and think tanks, and in many cases by directly funding activities at research organisations. The idea is to get people and organisations to write things that support government policy. You’d have to be extremely naive to be surprised at that, not least because opposition parties and campaign groups do exactly the same thing. You don’t suppose that todays’s Guardian story about Corbyn’s Brexit speech later today was written with the help of an astrologer do you? The journalist was shown a copy of the speech and given ideas of what to put in his story. This happens all the time, with varying degrees of honesty, but it’s part of all political systems. What’s not clear (and obscured by the shock-horror treatment) is whether the normal bounds of acceptability in UK politics have been overstepped here. But we’ll have to wait for a proper report to find that out.
    A couple of points of greater detail. Despite the click-bait headline, the article doesn’t suggest that “British Military Intelligence” (or any other intelligence organisation) has been involved at all. I assume this comes from last week’s story, which alleged that one of the people involved in this affair had been an Army reservist, and had at one stage had an intelligence job. That’s it. A look at Wikipedia would have revealed that there is no such thing as “British Military Intelligence.”
    Donnelly apparently had meetings in Washington, which is absolutely normal in government and happens all the time. Governments often speak to outside experts: Donnelly, whatever he’s involved in now, was an acknowledged expert on the Soviet military, with a generally sensible position on most issues.
    There’s no foreign agent in the State Department and the article doesn’t really argue that there is. The individual seems to have left the Department, but works on contract for them, but that doesn’t preclude him from working for others. It’s entirely normal. This is another failure to understand how government works.
    The idea that people are trying to remove the British military from “democratic supervision” is just bizarre, and seems to have been put in to make the word-length up. If you read the document concerned, it’s a factual summary of the current deplorable state of the UK armed forces, which are not capable of doing the job they are expensively provided for. This won’t come as news to anyone who has followed the defence press over recent years, and has been extensively documented. The government (under the present disastrous Defence Secretary, Williamson), is adopting a Brexit-like approach saying everything is OK. Conventionally, the armed forces are prevented from speaking out about this kind of thing, and are expected to parrot the political line. It’s arguable that the two people concerned should not have been discussing such matters, but it’s also true that the authors clearly don’t understand anything about how the UK government works, or anything about civil-military relations.
    Much of the rest consists of innuendo, character assassination and guilt by association, much as we have come to expect from the Russiagate garbage. It’s particularly stupid to use a term like “Tory-controlled Foreign Office”. What do the authors think happens in a democracy? Between 1997 and 2010 the Foreign Office was Labour controlled. So what? They were the government.
    Sorry to go on, but I think this kind of story is a test case for intellectual honesty. Those who have correctly dismissed the Russiagate nonsense should apply the same standards to other stories, even if those stories flatter their own opinions and suspicions. This kind of article does nobody any favours. There is a story to be investigated here, but it needs proper investigation by people who know what they are talking about, and haven’t adopted the journalistic standards of the Guardian (“Russia is guilty: let’s find some evidence”) with the labels reversed.

    1. Lambert Strether

      1) On the issue of “first draft refused by an editor,” I was a professional editor in a past life, and I thought it was fine. Material like this is hard to keep under control, because of the ramifying implications. (That’s why John LeCarré, as a writer, is so brilliant technically.) I thought Ames did a good job. Yves did too. So we will have to agree to disagree.

      2) On “What’s not clear (and obscured by the shock-horror treatment) is whether the normal bounds of acceptability in UK politics have been overstepped here. But we’ll have to wait for a proper report to find that out.” It’s ironic that a comment that starts out accepting the premise that the merger of military-intelligence, the press, and British moles in U.S. intelligence campaigns is all perfectly normal and not story material should end up by calling for all of us to await a “proper report.” From whom, pray tell? Surely the most sophisticated variant of “Move along, people, move along, there’s no story here” that I’ve seen in some time.

      3) On the involvement of British Military Intelligence” [sic], the capitalization — quoting again, “the article doesn’t suggest that “British Military Intelligence” (or any other intelligence organisation) has been involved at all,” followed by the claim that “A look at Wikipedia would have revealed that there is no such thing as ‘British Military Intelligence'” — is a neat piece of straw-manning, since it suggests Ames believes there is such a named entity; the caps do not, of course, exist in the original, where British “military intelligence” is consistently lower-cased. As for Donnelly’s military intelligence connection, he was appointed colonel in military intelligence at the beginning of the project he was paid to organize. (The Ministry of Defense is a co-funder of Integrity Initiative. Hence, II is a military-intelligence operation. The Foreign Office funds British intelligence, as the writer, who does not “have no idea how government works,” surely must know.)

      4) On “If you read the document concerned, it’s a factual summary of the current deplorable state of the UK armed forces,” it’s not clear to me how that view can give an account of this quote, wherein the operational outcome desired from the document is explicated by an author: “The subordination of Armed Forces to MOD (ie Civil Service and Ministers) means that military do not do policy…. This needs a constitutional change.” Worse, that sentence is followed by this: “The armed forces would need to go back to being an independent body outside politics” [pause for hearty laughter]. For “outside,” read “above,” at least if you consider the historical record. And if your argument is that British constitutional arrangements are robust enough to permit a military giving its “professional” opinion “outside” (i.e., above) “politics,” then just take a look, if you bear it, at the Brexit omnishambles.

      5) Oddly, or not, there’s no commentary for the emergence in Integrity Initiative of Simon Bracey-Lane, a person who gives every appearance of having been a plant or mole in the Sanders 2016 campaign (and one can only wonder how many more Bracey-Lanes there are). Surely this is, er, “meddling” in an American election by a foreign power? It’s certainly odd that one showing such concern for “the normal bounds of acceptability in UK politics” shows, by omission, that they believe there’s nothing to see here. Either.

      I apologize to readers for the slowness and length of this response, which isn’t nearly as crisp as it should be. Gish Gallops take a lot of work to respond to. That’s why they work. Cheers!

  2. David

    I submitted a long comment on this about an hour ago, which seems to have been eaten by the system. I won’t repost it now, but I’ll do so later if it doesn’t surface.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      This is something that has repeatedly happened to me too recently – it often takes 2 or more hours for most of my recent posting to surface on the site. It rarely disappears altogether, so I would assume your post will eventually arrive.

      1. hemeantwell

        Same here on the delays. Keep a copy.
        But anyway, very glad you posted this piece. Whatever we make of Patreon, it’s one way to support Mark Ames’ work.

      2. flora

        Me, too. Though not on this post. Me thinks much sp@m and tr0llery happening behind the scenes that the mods have to wade through comment by comment.

      3. fajensen

        I think that if one puts certain words into a post, it immediately pops of into moderation limbo for a while. The name of the current president seems to be one of those trigger-words, dunno why that is :).

    2. Lambert Strether

      > I submitted a long comment on this about an hour ago, which

      You seem to have somehow acquired the notion that NC personnel are at your beck and call, and available to be assigned tasks. Do feel free, at your leisure, to read the site policies, where we write:

      If your comment triggers a tripwire, it will be routed to our moderation team and not posted for public view until it has been checked. This may take up to 24 hours, depending on workload.

      The site policies also helpfully suggest things to do, if your comment does not immediately appear, that do not involve cluttering the comments section with complaints.

      In addition, and for your reference:

      Other violations include but are not limited to ad hominem attacks, hogging bandwidth, assignments/demands (asking/telling post authors or site admins to Do Something other than fix typos or broken HTML), sock-puppeting yourself, link-whoring, thread-jacking, jailbreaking, complaining about moderation policy, agnotology or other forms of making stuff up, tag teaming, and a high invective-to-content ratio.


    1. RBHoughton

      What a frightful fellow that Alan Duncan is eh? Talks like a Mafia lawyer and he’s supposed to be a national leader. He reminds that other MP, the POS who interrogated David Kelly on TV, they both use the same style. Is it a qualification for legislator?

  3. The Rev Kev

    Just a minor note to start off. That image of “Sebastian Gorka, in Vitezi Rend garb”. I think that Vitezi Rend actually refers to the medal he wears on the left. The jacket itself more resembles the patrol jacket that British officers wore in the 19th century. Moving on! Notice how the same players keep on coming up again and again in all these stories of skulduggery? John Rendon, the Atlantic Council, Ajit Pai and Alan Dershowitz – the same scum-bags with a few new wannabe players. As an example.
    The penchant that Brad Spangler, C4SS co-founder, has for under-age girls is disgusting of course but you have to put it into the context of the people that you are talking about. If Spengler was more rich or more powerful, you might see his name on a manifest for the “Lolita Express” but his activities would not be splashed about in an article like this one. That sort of activity is given a level of protection if you are in the right group. And it is a good thing that that British General Richard Barrons is retired as his comments are deserving of being cashiered.
    Funny how a group that claims to be about protecting democracy wants to push it aside and install propaganda on a “1984” level in the pursuit of their aims. I cannot decide if their target of Russia is a means or an end. If it is a means, that means using the boogy-man of Russia to radically restructure western society to their tastes. If it is an end, well, it is true that Russia has about $75 trillion in resources, mostly in Siberia and the east, so if it was broken up eventually, that would be a bonanza of wealth appropriation.
    I was thinking about the activities of this group and how they go about their activities, especially the smearing of anybody that talks truth to power. I wonder if anybody here made the connection with this story and the PropOrNot website that came out of nowhere about two years ago and that had the stamp of approval of the Washington Post. I would not be surprised if it turns out to be that PropOrNot was a trial balloon in the United States for the Integrity Initiative to establish what it was capable of. Just a thought.

    1. Martin Finnucane

      Vitezi Rend garb

      He looks like an extra from Star Wars – one of those nazi guys working the bridge of the Death Star. The “look and feel” of a lot of pre-war fascism strikes us as silly in retrospect, though it really wasn’t at the time.

    2. EoH

      That tailored black jacket Sebastian wears looks like something Winston Churchill would have changed out of before that last cavalry charge at Omdurman. It seems intentionally designed to mimic 19th century great power imperial army officer garb. Nostalgia for the good times, apparently. Goes with his fascist priorities.

    3. Tomonthebeach

      Let us not get carried away with the exuberance of discovering skulduggery among fascist elements of the media and politics. This does not mean that the conspiracy means Russia is thereby a Goodie Twoshoes. It also does not mean that Russia is any less a pain in the ass than it has heretorfore be characterized.

      It does mean that there is less reason (any?) than ever to put much faith in FoxNews (already a mere propaganda machine) or other orgs. I am uncomfortable hearing CNA is caught up in this as they are a pseudo government thinktank with some Pentagon influence.

      If true, the story should be used to clear out some journalists and analyst riffraff. However, this story is surely not going to restore, much less create, any integrity among the Beltway Punditry.

      1. fajensen

        I think it is pretty bad that this happens on tax-payers money and involving agents of the state; that makes whatever these nutters are up to an expression of official government policy, whatever government likes it or not. One can get sacked for harassment but not over something like this!?

        I mean, that is the kind of thing what is expected to happen in Putins Russia and one would prefer “my elected representatives” to at least make a serious attempt to be running a much cleaner shop than Putin does rather than sponsoring it. Especially while one is spouting off ones virtues over “people like Putin”.

        Some day, soon, people will come to believe that “they are all the same, innit!?”.

  4. Off The Street

    The article and related matters may also shed more light on the abrupt resignation of Robert Hannigan from the leadership of GCHQ in January 2017 a few days after Trump’s inauguration. Given previous revelations about GCHQ and NSA spying on each other’s citizens, what else is next in the UK and in the US and elsewhere?

    After reading about that Carson character and others I am ready for a shower to try to wash off the disgust.

  5. DJG

    Yves Smith: Thanks for this. I am wondering about two stories that have been flapping around here for a few days: That odd New Knowledge company that produced the report about Russian influence on the elections as well as the story about the case before the Supreme Court of the US in which a company is invoking claims of sovereign immunity.

    I have a feeling that New Knowledge definitely fits into the framework outlined by Ames above. A contractor that appears out of nowhere with a “distinguished” board of concerned semi-liberals (at the trough)?

    But what do I know? Some guy named Volodya showed up at my house and bought my vote in 2016 for two bottles of pickled mushrooms…

  6. diptherio

    Kevin Carson is always showing up in my twitter feed. I knew there was something I didn’t like about that guy, anarchist or no.

  7. jfleni

    Perfideus Albion is not just a neat saying, but a truth that the Irish, French and
    Germans (etc.) have known forever, the people don’t deserve it, but the
    jumped up Tories do in spades.

  8. pjay

    Thank you for highlighting this article! It names names and connects some dots, including some connections reaching into the U.S. It also describes propaganda mechanisms that have been around forever but have become pervasive today. A few protruding tips of a massive iceberg, in my view. I’m sure *this* “bombshell” story will get the massive coverage it deserves in the MSM — not!

    1. jsn

      That was interesting. Well argued all the way through I thought, but they could take a closer look at the unwinding of Yugoslavia; what Serbia and Syria have in common is having been targeted by outside state powers for dissolution, responses did vary.

      1. pjay

        Thank you diptherio for posting the C4SS response. Such responses are helpful in evaluating issues like this, and we should always be open to the other side when they take the time to reply. However, I can’t agree that the response was “well argued.” The author does make some valid points, but mainly she resorts to ad hominem attacks on Ames (based on some juvenile antics at eXile that are often used to smear him), or on both authors because they may have agreed with “Assadists” like Ambassador Peter Ford or “9/11 Truthers” like Piers Robinson, whose claims about Syria or the White Helmets are, of course, Kremlin propaganda. Which brings up why Blumenthal would have changed his position on Syria; it was not because of his gradual understanding of what was really happening there. Rather, while he had once grasp the truth of the “revolution,” he made the mistake of going to a Kremlin gala and the Rooskies (and RT) got to him. Now he is just another propagandist. Nowhere that I can see does the author discuss the major claims made in Ames and Blumenthal’s article, or the evidence cited (except to say that if it was in RT or Sputnik, we can ignore it anyway as propaganda). Nor does she address the actual defamation made by Alexander Ross-Reid through the SPLC that pissed off Blumenthal in the first place. There are other problems (don’t get me started on the “red-brown” smear), but that’s enough.

        Having said all that, I do think that in their criticism of C4SS, Ames and Blumenthal perhaps did some unnecessary punching down. They could have made clearer the distinction between organizations like the Integrity Initiative, that are pretty clearly intelligence operatives or cut-outs, versus groups like C4SS that function more like “useful idiots” because of their ideological position (e.g. equating U.S. and Russian imperialism in this case in their “anarchist” appeal). The latter are in no way as evil as the former, in my mind.

        1. jsn

          You are clearly much more engaged with the related debates than I. I read the piece as a response to the punching down you mention in your last paragraph and felt like I got a respectable read on someone still developing their arguments. I’m not informed enough to argue with much of it, but having read Diana Johnstone’s “Fools Crusade”, the Syria/Serbia bit stuck in my craw.

          I had thought about commenting on the ad hominems directed at Ames, but didn’t want to get into the whole identity argument embedded in much of the language of the post. While I disagree with many of her positions and attitudes on the state actions she criticizes without, in my opinion, adequate grounding, I judged it a mostly good faith effort trying to find solid footing in a world increasingly thick with distorted narratives.

          It’s hard to argue now, from anywhere with out power, without being someone’s “useful idiot”: trust has decayed to the point where language impedes communication in the political sphere.

          1. pjay

            It’s funny you should mention Johnstone’s book. I normally would not use the derogatory term “useful idiot” for the very reason you imply; most such people are acting in good faith. I admit that her comments on Syria irritated me. But the reason I sometimes overreact to that sort of narrative is because of my own experiences as a useful idiot, starting with Yugoslavia. I fell for the liberal “humanitarian” argument hook, line, and sinker in the 1990s, even though I considered myself a knowledgeable progressive at the time. It wouldn’t be the last time I was duped, but I’d like to think I’m a little wiser today.

            I appreciate your comment. We definitely need to distinguish empire propagandists from the beliefs of people honestly trying to find their way.

        2. rojo

          I thought the later part of Ames’ piece was unnecessary. It’s kind of the same sort of guilt-by-attending-same-conference thing that I find annoying about the Russophobes.

          Keep focused on government malfeasance, not basement brown-shirts.

  9. Ignacio

    Oh well, there would be a lot to argue here. In one side it is nice to see that the “Initiative” is being exposed although it doesn’t appear yet to trigger any significant response from supposedly democratic institutions like, let’s say the english parliament (at ransom by brexit).

    Just to demonstrate how this article is well focused and pointed I wanted to comment on this bit:

    (Among the outlets listed as friendly hosts in Integrity Initiative internal memos are Buzzfeed and El Pais, the center-left Spanish daily.)

    YES! iIt is so true that the former “center-left” –if you wish– daily that years ago was a must read but has been degraded to levels that I wouldn’t have imagined, in a case that makes the Guardian as the “guardian of reporting-as-it should-be”. One has to bear in mind that the current most important shareholder of Grupo Prisa (owner of El Pais) is an english hedge fund Amber Capital whose CEO, Joseph Oughorlian is chairman at Grupo Prisa and probably responsible for the Russia!Russia!Russia! campaign observed in this medium that surprised me so much. You don’t find nothing similar in Spain even in rigth and rigth of the rigth news outlets.

    I believe this UK-based shareholder is clearly associated with the peculiar Russia!Russia!Russia! stance of the supposedly centre-left daily.

  10. juliania

    For those of us from way back way back, these kooks relate to offshoots of the Watergate scandal, the original one, where people working on those burglaries of psychiatrist’s offices and Democratic headquarters got their start organizing small gangs of crooks to infiltrate what was then a porous but trustable system of government – on they went to propose surveillance and collection of data that was at first publicly laughed about but on they went. On they went. Technology with all its pluses has these minuses we at first were able to counter (Church hearings) but the rats have scurried into all the back alleys and secretive pathways that need a thorough cleanup. It can be done, but it needs to be done periodically. Hopefully this is finally the year when that will happen.

    Thank you, Yves. I believe these folk don’t end up in a good place, but meanwhile they are wreaking havoc. The place to start, after the brooms and mops, is to get money OUT of politics and restore a verifiable voting system that happens methodically and is trustworthy. The citizenry will be behind this. We the people don’t care how long it takes to vote or to find out who won. We don’t! Haste makes waste in more ways than we know.

    Let’s do this. And please, judges, do your duty or go to jail yourselves.

  11. Andrew Watts

    It’s obvious that neither Ames or Blumenthal read the actual documents they’re quoting from. Which is a shame considering the relevant one involving the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird comparison was only seven pages long. The CIA were merely imitating British intelligence during the war and it is clearly stated as such when one of the replies involving General Sir Richard Barrons states that they’ve done this before during the 1930s. The US didn’t possess a foreign intelligence agency at the time and I’d fervently argue that we still don’t to this day.

    …but I’ve already commented about British Security Coordination in the aftermath of PropOrNot though and I’m reluctant to beat a dead horse.

    It’s hard to be modest when you’re this good.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > It’s obvious that neither Ames or Blumenthal read the actual documents they’re quoting from

      So obvious, apparently, that there’s no need to back up the claim!

      Adding, it’s always nice to see a link dump from NC at NC. It wouldn’t have been beating a dead horse to use one or two sentences to explain their relevance, however. Don’t let false modesty stand in your way!

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Your comment is completely out of line. You attack Ames and Blumenthal with zero evidence of your smear and fail to establish what relevance an operation back in the days of Winston Churchill has for the points Ames and Blumenthal make. It’s just a handwave with links.

  12. Chauncey Gardiner

    Ah, the smell (or should we say stench) of domestic propaganda in the morning, ironically by some of the same individuals who brought us Iraq WMDs. While First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and other civil rights must be protected, it seems to me that a careful balance can be drawn under new legislation that insulates us from such government-sponsored propaganda. We should be able to rely on our government’s representations. Instead, as with a former president who openly acknowledged, “My job is to catapult the propaganda,” the reverse, together with a related loss of trust, unfortunately seems to be increasingly the case. Stop lying! What part of “of the People, by the People, for the People,” is difficult to understand?

  13. rob

    Good story, but I would pose the question what percentage of ALL the stories out there are propaganda.
    This new group is just one of many, too many to count. many people are independent contractors,ii’m sure.
    Just like operation mockingbird, came out of the office of policy coordination in @ 1948 to the 70’s when cia director george hw bush used the old”cover by blown cover” ploy, which just shifted the propaganda assault on american reasoning and education,to other less state actors, using the old networks and media control, which is near total,however you look at it.
    the right wing of the bird we are talking about, has become all these think tanks,academics,media outlets catering to one spectrum of opinion, but still is acting in cordination with the left wing of the bird that goes after the left spectrum of opinion, all with the aim of the hegelian dialect axiom of opposing forces cancel each other out, and keep the status quo.
    Post 9-11, rumsfeld and cheney, wanted the “office of war information” put back in public view. It wasn’t .but really it was. And it isn’t the first time. The original office of war information was from the wilson era and walter lippmann and those guys. George seldes wrote about this stuff back in the thirties, geobbels followed the british/american masters.
    IMO, this story isn’t about “the russians are interfering in the 2016 election”, cause that is a crock on the face of it. It isn’t cambridge analytica and facebook… it is about the people who are in office having every excuse under the sun to be doing something else than what is good for the country, and its citizens.
    You figure, cambridge analytica wasn’t a thing of the trump years only. Obama even bragged about using thier services in a TED talk back in 2012. And facebook , as banal as it is, isn’t responsible to the american people for anything. Why the congress would bring them before them and ask them questions as to why they let lies go before the american people…. really? the body who allows people on the payroll,and including members in all branches and positions of the three branches of gov’t who routinely go before congress and lie, and get propmotions afterward, enjoying long careers, while lying the whole time…. give me a break.
    It is like the mantra now…” we have to wait for the mueller investigation….” for what? Nothing will come of that investigation. If you want an investigation who will not be able to find horsesh*t at the kentucky derby, get the fbi to do it. This is meuller, the guy who was head of the fbi, and couldn’t find evidence of three towers being blown up on 9-11. and hid the fact that the fbi protected many of the terrorists on the planes before 9-11 for at least two years, from being apprehended. In chicago,hollywood florida,phoenix az,san diego,michigan.
    The agents robert Wright and john vincent, who were fbi agents in chicago who were following two of the 9-11 terrorist between 1998 and 2000, and their money man, yasin al-qadi, who was a part owner in P-tech,which had above top secret clearance to fbi,cia,nsa,norad,faa,nro,secret service,etc. computers, were told by thier superiors, to drop their investigations. To “let sleeping dogs lie”…. we all know how that turned out…
    But we are supposed to believe that now mueller has our backs… not too bloody likely.
    This is all distraction, while rome burns.

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