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The chilling manipulations of the Institute for Statecraft are straight out of the cold war playbook

As the prospect of a socialist government is now a real possibility, it seems that vested interests will stoop to all manner of dirty tricks and smears to prevent that eventuality, says CHRIS WILLIAMSON

OVER the past couple of months, I have been investigating the activities of the Institute for Statecraft and its so-called “Integrity Initiative,” after some of its dubious actions were highlighted in recently published hacked documents.  

They have registered premises just outside the Scottish village of Auchtermuchty and an office suite in an exclusive location near Temple Station in central London.

In response to one of my parliamentary questions on December 3, Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan said: “The Institute for Statecraft is an independent Scottish charitable body whose work seeks to improve governance and enhance national security. They launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to defend democracy against disinformation.”

The problem is that this “charitable body” hasn’t confined itself to that and has strayed into smearing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

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.

They manipulated the news agenda by recruiting leading journalists to write stories with the express purpose of influencing public opinion in a particular way.  

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. 

Interestingly the mainstream media has been rather tardy in its coverage of the revelations contained in the hacked documents.  

I would have thought an international network of politicians, journalists, academics, researchers and military officers associated with this British-based project might have merited more than a passing mention on the BBC.  

But the fact that this charity has gone well beyond “defending democracy against disinformation” and is itself indulging in disinformation against the Labour Party and its leader seemingly isn’t newsworthy to mainstream media editors.

Even more so after I discovered, through a series of parliamentary questions, that since 2017 the Foreign Office has given more than £2.2 million to the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative. 

Furthermore, a report on the Integrity Initiative by academics David Miller, Paul McKeigue, Jake Mason and Piers Robinson was published last month, which revealed its funding sources also included Facebook and Nato. 

Their report sets out the activities of the Integrity Initiative and makes for chilling reading. It refers to “manipulation of the public sphere, including campaigns to smear and suppress dissenters and block their appointment to public office.”  

They cite overt attacks on British politicians, academics and other critics of Westminster government policies, most notably on the leader of the opposition and his staff.

The report also states that covert networks or “clusters” of journalists and academics are being established alongside a critical mass of individuals in think tanks, politics, government and the military whose work is mutually reinforcing.

These actions are not the charitable purposes set out in the Institute of Statecraft’s constitution. In fact, they do not amount to any kind of charitable activity at all, which is why I have written to the Scottish Charity Regulator which is now mounting an investigation. 

But the efforts of this state-funded charity are not confined to Britain. I have recently written to the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez about the campaign launched by the Integrity Initiative last summer against the appointment of Pedro Banos as the director of Spain’s Department of Homeland Security.  

The group’s Spanish cluster succeeded in blocking Banos’s appointment by relentless public hostility and at least one Tory MP took to Twitter to join in the attacks.  

Although precisely why a Conservative MP, who represents the Isle of Wight, should publicly seek to damage a candidate for an internal Spanish governmental appointment is rather puzzling.  

When I asked Alan Duncan what on Earth a government-funded British-based charity was doing interfering in the internal appointments of a fellow European democracy, he completely failed to answer

In fact, the government has rebuffed most of my questions about the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative.  

Ministers respond by saying things like: “Documents and correspondence about projects within the Programme will not be published, as this information could then be used to actively attempt to disrupt and undermine the Programme’s effectiveness.”  

Consequently, I tried to obtain some answers directly from the people behind this charity and so last month I visited both premises in Scotland and London.  

I arrived at the address in Auchtermuchty after dark, to find it is located at the end of an isolated dirt track.  

When I reached the building, I was confronted by a semi-derelict mill. I spoke to some of the businesses based there, but none of them had heard of the Institute for Statecraft.

When I visited their office in London the following week, the door was slammed in my face when I explained I wanted to ask some questions about their activities. Hardly the response of a state-funded organisation with nothing to hide. 

As the prospect of a socialist government is now a real possibility, even a probability, it seems that vested interests will stoop to all manner of dirty tricks and smears to prevent that eventuality.  

That is why it’s important to expose organisations like the Institute for Statecraft, and the Integrity Initiative, because they are incompatible with an open democracy.  

Goodness knows how many other bogus charities are lurking in the shadows seeking to influence public opinion and damage the prospects for a socialist Labour government.  

So, I don’t expect the smears to end any time soon, but I intend to continue pressing for answers to try to get the bottom of this scandal.

Chris Williamson is Labour MP for Derby North.

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