Category: Psychopolitics

From the Zinoviev letter to Richard Dearlove’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn: MI6 have a long history of interfering with UK politics & democracy

 

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Sir Richard Dearlove, controversial former head of MI6, who was “senior advisor” to the Monitor Group – a consultancy and private equity firm which has been scandalously implicated in undertaking three million pounds worth PR work for the Libyan regime and Muammar Gaddafi

A controversial  former MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, claims Jeremy Corbyn’s “far-left past” and “relationships with extremists” made him unfit to enter number 10″. He said exactly the same thing just before the last general election.

Dearlove is a signatory of the right wing neo-Conservative Henry Jackson Society principles. He was also a “senior advisor” to the Monitor Group – a consultancy and private equity firm which has been implicated in undertaking three million pounds worth PR work for Libya and Muammar Gaddafi. In April 2013, it was announced that Dearlove joined the advisory board of Ergo, an intelligence, PR and advisory firm.

The Labour party pointed out that Dearlove lacks credibility because his own past raised questions about his judgement. 

And MI6 has a history of interfering in UK elections.

Dearlove wrote in the Mail on Sunday that the Labour leader would pose a “present danger to our country” if he became PM.

But a Labour source told said: “As head of MI6 he was involved in the infamous dodgy dossier that helped take us into the illegal Iraq War.

“He has no credibility whatsoever on the subject of security.”

Dearlove wrote almost exactly the same thing in the Daily Telegraph in June 2017 – the day before the last general election. He’s the establishment’s ‘damage limitation’ PR wheel-out.

It’s a well-established fact that the opposition leader has always preferred the use use of diplomacy in resolving conflicts, working to broker peace with all sides involved, in much the same way as others who were involved in bringing about the Good Friday agreement, for example.

In December 2017 Corbyn was one of three recipients awarded the Seán MacBride Peace Prize “for his sustained and powerful political work for disarmament and peace”.

Dearlove 1

Dearlove wants to expand NATO and increase its funding. Personally, if we were confronted with a threat, I’d prefer a Prime Minister who understands that the use of nuclear weapons are the VERY last resort, following exhaustive diplomatic efforts. It’s absurd and horrific that party leaders are expected to demonstrate they would press the nuclear button without any hesitation,  triggering the mass destruction of millions, and of our environment, as a ‘mark’ of ‘strength’.

Real strength is taking a pause for thought for citizens, for our planet, fostering good diplomatic relations in the first place – you know, talking to people you with courtesy and respect, especially those you fundamentally disagree with. That takes strength and courage. Pressing a button while cowering in a bunker, and incinerating millions isn’t ‘strong leadership.’

On 29 November 2018 Dearlove co-signed an open letter, published in a British national newspaper, condemning Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiated Withdrawal Agreement for the UK from the European Union after the 2016 Referendum on the issue, as the matter was passing through the House of Commons at the time to be voted upon. In its text, Dearlove alleged the Withdrawal Agreement as negotiated undermined MI6‘s nationally independent global intelligence power.

In a published response, dated the same day, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a public “rebuttal” to the letter’s content, singling out Dearlove personally from the named list of several signatories to the open letter, stating the Withdrawal Agreement “absolutely does not” compromise the national independence of the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service’s capacity.

However, in early December 2018,in a jointly authored text, Dearlove and Major-General Julian Thompson, published on the website ‘Briefings for Brexit’ an extensive reply to the Prime Minister’s Office’s statement entitled ‘The Prime Minister is misleading the country on defence and security’, citing a ‘worryingly poor understanding of the issues’ by the Prime Minister’s office.

On 8 January 2019, in an extraordinary intervention in the political sphere by figures from the S.I.S. and the military quarter, Dearlove sent a letter, co-signed by Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, to all Chairs of Conservative Party Parliamentary Constituency Associations with sitting Members of Parliament stating that the passage through the House of Commons of Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union Withdrawal Agreement contained decisions which fundamentally undermined the integrity of the Defence of the Realm, and requested that they take measures to discourage their parliamentary representatives from voting for it imminently in the Commons.

The letter advocated as an alternative the case upon national security grounds that the United Kingdom should fully withdraw from the European Union without an Intergovernmental relationship between the two persisting after the process.

Senior allies of Jeremy Corbyn have previously suggested that the security services are attacking Corbyn, not out of security concerns, but self-interest in defending the establishment.

Dearlove in 2018, making the same claims about Jeremy Corbyn. He’s certainly persistent.

You can watch John McDonnell’s response to Dearlove’s comments about Jeremy Corbyn last year below. The comment about “every government has been loyally supported [by the Intelligence Services]” is untrue of course. There is a trail of documented evidence of MI6 and MI5 interference in political and democratic processes, from the first ever Labour government and the faked Zinoviev letter to the attempts to destabilise Harold Wilson’s government. 


Last year the Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said he supported the view that “the security forces play an unhealthy role in the democratic processes that exist in our nation, both in trade unions and indeed in our political life”.

McCluskey is absolutely right. There are very good reasons why the public should never trust the pro-establishment interference in our democracy by MI6 or ANY account of ANY Labour party leader, not least because of the fact that the faked Zinoviev letter originated from MI6 and was ‘leaked’ to the Daily Mail, with the sole intention of bringing the first ever Labour party down. It succeeded.

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials had discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents.

The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows. You can read my extensively researched article on the Zinoviev letter here: From Spycatcher and GBH to the Zinoviev letter – an emergent pattern and the real enemy within.

There is a very long history of the Labour party’s struggle on our behalf against a monstrously ruthless and powerful establishment that is determined to maintain the status quo.

The real threat to our national security and democracy is the Conservative government in office

Dearlove’s comments about the opposition leader emerge as senior government officials are currently furious at “leaks” from the top-secret Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), after details emerged of the committee’s investigation into allegations of Russian interference in UK democracy. The government has been accused of presiding over a cover-up after it emerged that No 10 refused to clear the publication of a potentially incendiary report examining Russian infiltration in British politics, including the Conservative party.

Downing Street indicated that it would not allow a 50-page dossier from the intelligence and security committee to be published before the election, prompting a string of complaints over its suppression.

The committee’s chairman, Dominic Grieve, called the decision “jaw dropping”, saying no reason for the refusal had been given, while Labour and Scottish National party politicians accused No 10 of refusing to recognise the scale of Russian meddling.

According to the BBC, the ISC took evidence from members of the intelligence services accusing the Kremlin of trying to influence the outcome of the EU referendum in 2016 and the following year’s general election. It also hit the news that Russian oligarchs with links to the Kremlin have been making massive donations to the Conservative party. Fresh evidence also emerged of attempts by the Kremlin to infiltrate the Conservatives by a senior Russian diplomat suspected of espionage, who spent five years in London cultivating leading Tories including Johnson himself. Sergey Nalobin – who has described the future prime minister as “our good friend” – lives in a Moscow apartment block known as the “FSB house” because it houses so many employees from the Kremlin’s main spy agency.

It is understood the dossier had already been approved by the intelligence agencies themselves as part of a long clearance process that began in late March. Downing Street was sent a final draft on 17 October and had been expected to sign off  before parliament was dissolved.

Grieve said: “The protocols are quite clear. If the prime minister has a good reason for preventing publication he should explain to the committee what it is, and do it within 10 days of him receiving the report. If not, it should be published.”

Allegations that Moscow money has flowed into the Conservative party via emigres living in the UK making high-profile donations, were also heard by the committee – although the party has consistently denied receiving money ‘improperly’.

In 2014, Lubov Chernukhin – the wife of the former Russian deputy finance minister – paid £160,000 to play tennis with Johnson and David Cameron. The match was the star lot at a Conservative summer party auction. Another guest at the 2013 fundraiser was Vasily Shestakov, Vladimir Putin’s judo partner.

Committee members were also briefed on an extraordinary – and for a while an apparently successful – attempt to penetrate Conservative circles by Nalobin, who instigated a pro-Kremlin parliamentary group, the Conservative Friends of Russia.

During his time in the UK, Nalobin went to exclusive Tory fundraising events and met senior Conservatives. In January 2014 he posed for a photograph with Johnson at an event at city hall in London. Nalobin posted it on Twitter, writing in a caption that the then mayor was “our good friend” who said “warm words” about Russians.

Conservative Friends of Russia held its 2012 launch party in the Russian ambassador’s Kensington garden, with about 250 Russian and British guests present, including Tories who went on to play a prominent role in the referendum campaign. One was Matthew Elliott, now chief executive of pro-Brexit group Vote Leave, alongside Dominic Cummings, now the prime minister’s chief strategist.

I have to say that I am almost surprised that Dearlove is so concerned about the ‘security threat” posed by a party leader who is not taking donations from Russian oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin, while remaining supremely unconcerned about the PM who is.

Back in 2016, speaking to reporters at MI6’s headquarters in Vauxhall, central London, Alex Younger used his first major public speech as head of the Secret Intelligence Service to attack the Kremlin for creating a human tragedy in Syria and to warn of the threat to the UK from high tech subversion by Moscow. He said: “The connectivity that is at the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their aims deniably. They do this through means as varied as cyber-attacks, propaganda or subversion of democratic process.

He went on: “The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty; they should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.”

The role of the Secret Service is supposedly limited to countering genuine threats to national security, and controls are needed to govern how it may use, but not abuse, its powers. The service should not do anything which would favour one political party over another. called into question the Service’s political impartiality

However, MI6 have a shameful history of subverting our democracy and Dearlove’s comments also call into question the Service’s claimed political impartiality. It’s not such a big stride, after all from “protecting democracy” to stage managing it.

Related 

The biggest threat to our national security and safety is authoritarian Conservative posturing and their arms deals with despotic states

From Spycatcher and GBH to the Zinoviev letter – an emergent pattern and the real enemy within

 


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Further calls for inquiry into psyops initiative following an apology for smearing Jeremy Corbyn

The Institute for Statecraft and its offshoot, the Integrity Initiative, constitute a secret propaganda network tied to the UK security services and the broader establishment. They bring together high-ranking military and intelligence personnel, journalists and academics to manufacture and disseminate propaganda serving the geopolitical and economic aims of the UK and those of its allies.

Created by the NATO-affiliated, UK-funded Institute for Statecraft in 2015, the Integrity Initiative was unmasked last November after Anonymous hackers released a volume of documents detailing a web of politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics involved in purportedly fighting ‘Russian disinformation.’ 

The Integrity Initiative is run by military intelligence and communication specialists.

The highly secretive, government-bankrolled “network of networks” has found itself under scrutiny for smearing Her Majesty’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘Kremlin stooge’ – ostensibly as part of its crusade against ‘Russian disinformation.’ It was also revealed that the infowars unit developed secretive “clusters” of friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to ‘hit back against disinformation.’ The Initiative has received more than £2.2million from the Foreign Office in two years to – in one minister’s words – “defend democracy against disinformation.”

It would be closer to the truth to say that the Initiative defends disinformation against democracy.

The leaks indicated that the organisation played a central role in shaping media narratives after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were mysteriously poisoned in Salisbury last March. It’s notable that many of the draconian anti-Russia measures that the group advocated as far back as 2015 were swiftly implemented following the Skripal affair – even as Whitehall refused to back up its blame frame with evidence. That the Initiative serves a highly political ‘strategic comms’ role is beyond doubt. 

The Integrity Initiative is a self declared ‘charity’, funded by the UK Foreign Office, British Army and Ministry of Defence, which has been described by the Sunday Mail as a right wing infowars unit. But let’s call it  what it is: a right wing establishment’s black ops propaganda unit. 

The Labour party has made renewed calls for an investigation into the government-funded Integrity Initiative (II) after it emerged that the group had now apologised to Jeremy Corbyn – and apparently admitted violating charity law.

Leaders of the highly controversial Integrity Initiative, which a registered Scottish charity, said they had written to the Labour leader after personal attacks on Corbyn were retweeted on the unit’s Twitter feed. The publicly funded subsidiary of the Institute for Statecraft (IFS), apparently accused him of aiding Russia, possibly ‘unwittingly.’

In the wake of the tweets, which were exposed by the Sunday Mail, among others, four months ago, the II and its supporters denied Corbyn had been unfairly targeted.  

However, it emerged yesterday that an apology had been given, with the IFS’s founder Chris Donnelly apparently admitting that the activities breached both Foreign Office rules and Scottish charity law. The group are registered at a Fife address. 

The HQ of the Institute for Statecraft in Fife (Image: Sunday Mail)

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “It is right and proper that this organisation has apologised but there are still further serious questions to be answered here. 

“This is a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, funded by UK Government contributions. It should never have been spewing out political attacks on the Labour Party and the Labour movement. 

“Such clear political attacks shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office has been funding it. 

“This cannot be allowed to pass. We need a full inquiry into the actions of this organisation and its links to the Conservative Government.” 

Findlay has previously said: “The tale of the Integrity Initiative gets murkier and murkier – now we see it exposed that they have been tutored by someone who was behind some of the worst fake news circulating during the disaster in Iraq.

“The UK Parliament and Scotland’s charity regulator OSCR must now take a serious look at the activities and funding of this so-called charity, who appear to be nothing more than a propaganda front.”

The II, which has received £2million in public funding, had already been the subject of an Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) investigation. The OSCR was unavailable for comment yesterday and has yet to complete its inquiry.  

However, quotes published by The Times, show Donnelly appearing to admit that the OSCR’s rules had been broken. 

He said: “We put out something like 26,000 tweets.  

“About 400 made reference to some political party or politician, and they were roughly equal between the main political parties, but we should not have sent [them] because the Foreign Office does not allow us to make any party political comment, nor does Scottish charity law. 

“That was a mistake and we wrote letters of apology to Jeremy Corbyn. I have been special adviser to two Tory defence secretaries, and for Labour’s John Reid and George Robertson, so we are as apolitical as we could be.”  

It emerged that the charity had connections to strategic comms guru John Rendon, whose Rendon Group was hired by the CIA in the 90s to run a PR campaign against Saddam Hussein and is said to have been behind stories of ‘Iraqi weapons of mass destruction’.  

Hacked documents revealed that Rendon, who calls himself an “information warrior” and “perception manager”, was a speaker at a £45,000 seminar to “educate core team and clusters” for the Integrity Initiative.

Donnelly is an honorary colonel in military intelligence. Another member of the board, Dan Lafayeedney, was an SAS soldier in 1978 and director Stephen Dalziel worked in military intelligence. 

The Labour Party has already called for an independent investigation. Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan at first promised a full investigation but later attempted to dismiss the scandal as “Russian disinformation”. Integrity Initiative officials argued that other tweets had been critical of politicians of other parties. However, the weight of criticism was aimed at HM’s opposition leader.  

Labour’s Chris Williamson has previously said: “One of the most worrying aspects of the Integrity Initiative’s activities is this seemingly covert effort to move the country on to a war footing. 

“The involvement of someone like John Rendon is extremely concerning as this seems to be exactly the sort of thing that he specialises in.

“A lot of the focus has been on Brexit over the last few weeks but this isn’t an issue that the Labour Party are willing to let go of.

“We will be asking for more debate in Parliament and more answers from the Foreign Office in order to find out exactly what has been going on here.”

At the time the hacked documents emerged in the media, Professor David Miller of University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies, said: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which ends up attacking Her Majesty’s opposition.”

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I have a very limited income. But you can help if you like, by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others affected by the Conservative’s welfare ‘reforms’. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

daniel-kahneman-quote-nudge

Kahneman’s work with Amos Tversky was a key influence on the development of behavioural economics. Kahneman’s friend and colleague, Richard Thaler, built on their body of work, producing the first text about Nudge. Behavioural economics is a form of neoliberal ‘cognitive credentialism’.

It has increasingly informed political justification narratives, favouring the wealthy and powerful, and presenting a case for imposing austerity on the poorest citizens. It is also used to fuel a tenuous, pseudoscientific and neo-technocratic alternative account of the subsequent growth in poverty and inequality, and the political destruction of the UK’s public services.

The Conservative-led coalition instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010. Although now part-privatised, and seemingly wholly unaccountable to the public, it remains a part of the Cabinet office, too. 

A question we really need to ask is who nudges the nudgers?

A leaked dossier, apparently a joint study by the Cabinet Office and Department for Work and Pensions, states: “Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and the belief that [the government is] acting fairly, openly and with integrity.”

The damning document was accidentally exposed by an unnamed person, revealing it in front of Westminster journalists and photographers. The leak highlights the fundamental disconnect between what people are experiencing and what they are being told is happening by the government.

This is a form of testimonial injustice and part of a wider strategy of epistemic authoritarianism.

The document shows part of a study that has highlighted the poor state of the public’s trust in politics, government and the party in power. It then outlines strategies that are part of an attempt to ‘build trust’ and “improve government communications.” This indicates a shameful government that thinks soundbites rather than a much needed positive change in policy direction is an adequate way of running the country. 

It also reflects the utter arrogance of a Conservative government who think that trust is something that may be simply acquired from the public, rather than earned.

The authors named on the document are Laura de Moliere, the Department for Work and Pension’s lead behavioural scientist, and Catherine Hunt, Head of Insight and Evaluation at the Cabinet Office.

The document shows the governments’ planned use of communication strategies to ‘manage’ public perceptions of the government’s behaviours and their policies. However, the Conservative’s draconian austerity programme has resulted in widespread distress, hardship, harm, and has caused citizen deaths. This document basically reveals the Conservative’s emphasis on political slogans, attempts at subliminal manipulation and gaslighting techniques, as a means of simply maintaining their power. Using language to erode people’s shared sense of reality is also a totalitarian technique of control.

The document shows a government with no intention of changing their prejudiced, punitive policies and the subsequent harms and hardships they are inflicting on the poorest citizens. It demonstrates a profoundly undemocratic government with absolutely no intention of listening to the public, or engaging in a democratic dialogue.

“Acting in the public’s interest” has become another empty, meaningless Conservative slogan, repeated ad nauseam, in much the same way as “strong and stable” was, and before that, “we’re all in it together.”

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Poster from Terry Gilliam’s dark, dystopic film Brazil. It’s a satire, about a hidden,  bureaucratic, totalitarian government, which is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Conservative’s austerity policies have been targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, while at the same time as the savage cuts were being implemented, the chancellor lavished £107,000 each per year in a tax break hand out to millionaires. We have never been “all in it together”. That was a big lie.

Cameron’s slogan preempted the damage that austerity has inflicted on the UK, because it was known in advance that those policies were going to cause harm. The government have responded to raised criticisms and legitimate concerns regarding the consequences of their policies by using a range of techniques of neutralisation.

However, a few cunning and deceitful linguistic strategies and lies are not going to fool people for long. Sooner or later, the empirical evidence catches up and then overtakes the lies. Peoples’ direct experiences of austerity inform them of the truth. Yet the government is trying to tell them that those experiences are not so. Using a form of political gaslighting – calling people who raise legitimate concerns “scaremongers”, for example – reflects the same attitudes and behaviours of despots throughout history.

strong and stable

Fascism ultimately takes on the contours of whatever national and political culture produces it.

This is a government that has a serious problem in recognising any limits to its authority.

The UK’s democracy recession

The leaked paper explains why several ministers and Conservative MPs have appeared to be using the same crib sheet recently, claiming repeatedly that Universal Credit, for example, is “compassionate and fair”, when that description does not in any way match the evidence. It explains the repeated and unbelievably ludicrous claims that the government make about their commitment to “social justice”,  “fairness”, and that they are “competent” and “tackling inequality” in the context of a policy framework underpinned by conscious cruelty. 

The government have hired specialist coaches to instruct them in how to tell lies effectively, using experts in behaviourist communication techniques of manipulation. We have historically regarded states that employ surveillance and monitoring to screen, rank and change citizens’ behaviour by acting upon them without their consent as “totalitarian”. 

A state that misuses psychology and propaganda to impose conformity on a population regards citizens as a means to an end, to fulfil ideological goals: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”.

The Conservatives have adopted the Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda approach to managing public perceptions and beliefs. Like Goebbels, the Conservatives have adapted techniques in commercial advertising to the political sphere, including the use of catchy slogans and subliminal cues. 

Nudge and behavioural economics more generally has added another layer of strategic and creeping authoritarianism aimed at micromanaging  citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours to align them with government aims. 

This, of course, completely turns democracy on its head, as I have said on many other occasions on this site. 

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The damning leaked document.

It’s truly remarkable that a government who claims it favours a small state has used public funds to build a massive and private propaganda and behaviour modification empire, without any reference to the consent of the governed. The need to control citizens to such a degree indicates an overcentralisation of  political decision making. 

Ian Lavery said: “Austerity has done more than just destroy public trust, it has destroyed lives.

“The Tory party continues to treat being in government as some sort of cynical PR exercise.

“If they recognise that austerity has been a disaster, they should be focusing on bringing it to an end rather than how to spin it.”

Several of us have approached the government for comment.

However, it will probably take a while for the government’s Strategic Communications Service to finish crafting their response.

Here is the document in full, courtesy of the Mirror

The role of communication in rebuilding political trust

November 2018

Catherine Hunt, Cabinet Office & Laura De Moliere, DWP

1. What does this paper deliver?

This paper provides a definition of trust, based on a review of academic, public sector and media industry publications as well as our own research. It identifies the factors that underpin trust, looks at why trust in the institutions of government is falling and sets out how this affects us as communicators. It builds on the conclusions from our previous paper on trust from April 2018 and recommends a strategy for building trust and improving the effectiveness of our communication activity in the future.

2. Summary and recommendations

The main conclusions that can be drawn from this paper are:

An individual citizen’s trust in government (political trust) is based on his or her perceptions of its competence and whether or not is acting in the public (and the individual’s personal) interest, judged by the values that it governs by.

  • Competence is judged by the presence of five specific behaviours: setting out a shared vision for the future; authenticity; taking perspectives; valuing others’ opinions; and transparency.
  • The core trust values that Government should demonstrate are fairness, openness and integrity

Citizens’ political trust and views of whether it is acting competently and in the public interest is influenced by:

  • Specific support for the political administration in power at any given point in time.
  • Diffuse support for the overall system of government and its institutions

Trust in politicians has always been low. However, the global recession in 2008 and subsequent period of austerity triggered a decline in diffuse trust for the system of government in many Western economies, including the UK.

  • Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and belief that it […] acting fairly, openly and with integrity

Rapid social, demographic and technological changes are […]

As diffuse trust in the institutions of government […]

parties is rising. People who support […]

parliament. This is also true for […]

The decline in political trust […]

which will in turn reduc[…]


(The last part was only partially visible in the photo capture.)

One final comment. I have researched and written a lot over the last few years about the very issues that this leak exposes. I’ve been one of the biggest critics of PR and strategic comms, techniques of neutralisation, the political abuse of psyop techniques and psychographic targeting, behavioural economics and the political use of nudge on a largely unaware and non-consenting public.

In other words, I have told you so.

I’ve linked this psychopolitical governance approach with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the government’s use of similar companies during the last election, and the Leave campaign. The Institute for Statecraft and Integrity Initiative exposure reveals yet another dimension of this hidden, dark approach to governance. It indicates a kind of secret police, employed to uphold and enforce the government’s narrative and ideological aims.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.

Some voices are eternally relevant.

 

Related

gcs-guide-to-communications-and-behaviour-change1 - Copy
You can read this document here.

You can also read the Civil Service Strategic Communications handbook here

Some of my work:

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

 The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Exclusive: DWP Admit Using Fake Claimant’s Comments In Benefit Sanctions Leaflet

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

Rogue company Unum had a profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper – Politics and Insights

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down: mind the Mindspace

The just world fallacy


My furious response to Helen Whately’s malicious communication asking me to join the Tory party

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Helen Whatley

I was absolutely shocked and appalled to receive the following targeted and malicious Integrity Initiative styled strategic communication from the Conservative party:

From: Helen Whately MP, Conservative Party Vice Chair, Women
Sent: 20 December 2018 00:50
To: suejones
Subject: Don’t stand for thisTory psyop 1

Ordinarily I write fairly measured, factual and challenging responses when the Conservatives have previously contacted me. However I am far too angry on this occasion to be polite.

Here is my rapid response: 

No. I wont be standing for this.

How DARE you send this utter crap to my inbox. Firstly, it was ALLEGED that the leader of HM’s opposition made that comment. My friend is deaf and can lip read extremely well. He says that Jeremy Corbyn mumbled “stupid people”. I scrutinised the video footage and agree that he said he did say “stupid people”. Other people who can lip read on social media have said the same. Your party’s orchestrated outrage and howling spite was completely wasted on me.

Your own party’s behaviour was an absolutely disgusting and disrespectful pantomime in parliament, with MPs and Ministers mocking, howling and braying like uncouth, malicious barnyard animals, as usual. You behaved in fact exactly like very authoritarian and stupid people.

I made my own mind up, so you’re wasting your time trying to make it up for me. Here is my own view of the Conservatives’ latest dead cat strategy, along with that of one surprisingly reasonable Conservative MP: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/a-conservative-mp-defends-jeremy-corbyn-as-he-responds-to-conservatives-dead-cat-strategy-allegations-of-sexism/

As for your claims about female employment, and wages, I made my own mind up about that too, by looking at the empirical evidence, and your claims are utter rubbish: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/about-the-governments-claims-on-real-wages-being-the-highest-since-2011/

That is why the ONS and statistical authority has constantly had need to officially rebuke this government for telling lies and misusing statistical data.

This is not the kind of action that I would expect from a party that was principled and genuinely fighting sexism: Tories reinstate MPs suspended over sex allegations for confidence vote: Labour calls restoration of Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke ‘betrayal of women’. 

Nor would I expect a genuinely principled party fighting sexism to impose the 2 child policy, the rape clause, the condition that social security is paid to one person in a household – usually males – rather than being split to protect women and children from potentially abusive partners.

You know, people can actually see the chasmic gap between what you say you do and what you actually do. Feigned principles fool no one for long.

Just so you know, I will NEVER join the Tory party, particularly after the way I have witnessed how you have treated ill and disabled people, because of YOUR party’s vile, punitive, patronising and despicably mean spirited policies. Many people worked for years and contributed to the Treasury until they couldn’t any more, and then got treated as if they are some kind of fraud just for becoming seriously ill. Welfare is not your money to cut: social security is paid for by the public FOR the public. 

It was intended as a system of support and protection from absolute poverty, not a system to administer punishment based on traditional Tory prejudices. Or as a source of pocket money for millionaires.

I’ll be voting Labour. Stick your spin “bulletin”, your rotten dead cat strategy and rehearsed strategic comms. where the sun doesn’t shine and rotate it all. Don’t ever insult my intelligence with rubbish like this ever again.

I will be reporting this strategic, profoundly undemocratic and malicious communication, by the way, to the Electoral Commission and other relevant agencies. 

Sincerely.

PS. Your email to me, a long standing Labour party member and campaigner, was almost as big a balls-up as this one:  Tories apologise after couple receive letter addressed to ‘Mr Youmustbe F******joking’.

 


 

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A Conservative MP defends Jeremy Corbyn as he responds to Conservative’s dead cat strategy – allegations of ‘sexism’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was accused of calling Prime Minister Theresa May a “stupid woman” in parliament today. 

Corbyn was seen after the alleged event on parliamentary footage muttering after he sat down following an exchange with a particularly vindictive May at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session during which she peevishly mocked him for not calling a vote of confidence in the government, turning the debate quite literally into utterly disrespectful pantomime.

A number of Conservative MPs demanded that Speaker of the House John Bercow  intervened but he refused, stating that he hadn’t heard Corbyn utter the alleged phrase. That resulted in Conservative MP and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom aggressively critcising Bercow, saying the speaker had not apologised for calling her a “stupid woman” earlier in the year. 

Some of the media claimed that ‘lip speakers’ said Corbyn had said “stupid woman”. The BBC said that this was unanimously agreed among lip readers. However it isn’t:

alison

Corbyn stated: “I referred to those who I believe were seeking to turn a debate about the national crisis facing our country into a pantomime as ‘stupid people’,’ he said. ‘I did not use the words ‘stupid woman’ about the Prime Minister or anyone else, and am completely opposed to the use of sexist or misogynist language in absolutely any form at all.”

It’s very true that the Conservatives, taking their cue from the prime minister, turned PMQs into an utterly disrespectful, diversionary and vindictive pantomime, complete with the usual spiteful smirks, and barn yard braying that the Conservatives have normalised in the Commons . You can see the clip of the pantomime here 

Professional lip readers have been divided on what they think he said.

Desmond Swayne MP

One Conservative MP, Desmond Swayne, has actually defended Corbyn, saying that condemning what an MP might have said under their breath is entering the “realms of thought crime”.

He said: “What unnerved me was the enthusiasm with which colleagues preyed-in-aid the skills of lip-readers to work out exactly what he said.

“I sometimes whisper things under my breath: They are my private thoughts, perhaps to be shared with a close neighbour only, that’s why I whisper them rather than stating them out loud for the record.

“The notion that we should be watched by lip-readers to see what we are whispering, so that we can be hauled before the authorities (in this case Mr Speaker), is deeply worrying.

“This is dangerous territory: we are on a slippery slope to the ‘thought crime’ of which George Orwell so eloquently warned in his novel 1984. We should make it compulsory New Year reading for all MPs.”

I thought the Conservatives were actually using 1984 as a manual.

Swayne is right. No-one in the media seems worried that a man mumbling something  to himself that no-one actually heard warrants the authoritarian response of employing lip readers to police the thoughts and quiet mutterings of the leader of the opposition. The abuse and rudeness he has to confront day after day in the Commons is conveniently ignored, of course. Shame on the majority of mainstream media outlets for printing from the Tory PR crib sheet without question.

Around 200 Tory MPs clamoured to make a point of order, amid howls of outrage and shrieked demands for an apology.

It’s extraordinary that the government have become the first in the UK to be found in contempt of parliament, they have systematically avoided accountability, they have conducted Commons debates behaving disruptively, maliciously, without decorum, showing the utmost disrespect towards opposition parties and the general public. 

The Labour leader’s spokesman had said afterwards that Corbyn had said ‘stupid people’, referring generally to Conservative MPs who were not taking the issues being debated seriously. That’s an understatement, the Conservatives were behaving as they usually do, as vindictive, baying barn yard bullies.

He said he had confirmed the word spoken with the Labour leader personally, adding: “He did not call her a stupid woman and so I don’t think there’s any basis for an apology.” before adding the following insightful words: “Anyone interested in the crisis facing the country?”

It’s a dead cat

Dead cat strategy refers to the introduction of a dramatic, shocking, or sensationalist topic to divert discourse away from a more damaging topic. Not to be confused with Wag the Dog, which is a 1997 black comedy film where a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer fabricate a war to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal. It was produced and directed by Barry Levinson. Wag the Dog was released one month before the outbreak of the Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by the Clinton administration in August 1998, which prompted the media to draw comparisons between the film and reality. The comparison was made again in December 1998 when the administration initiated a bombing campaign of Iraq just prior to Clinton’s impeachment over the Lewinsky scandal.

Diversionary strategies are just what the term implies: tactics used to try to derail and silence an argument rather than address it. It’s a somewhat overused strategy by the Tories, it typically involves diverting the discussion by attempting to aggressively shame an opponent or critic complete with complicit crib sheeted multiple media echoes and variations of “Shame on you”. 

Raise the issue of racism, and the Conservatives will call you racist. Highlight some example of bullying and you are ‘the real bully’. Express concern about low wages for the working majority and you are accused of waging ‘class warfare’. Black is white, up is down, and nowhere does this actually make sense.

The Conservatives have become masters of public spin campaigns to distract or neutralise legitimate debate about issues.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and often struggle to get by. If you want to, you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

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The ‘Intensive Personalised Employment Support’ programme & the problematic political application of Lewin’s theory of change

An ‘Intensive Personalised Employment Support’ programme is to be introduced which will “provide personalised employment support for long-term unemployed disabled people,” the new Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has announced.

“Disabled people will be able to work with a dedicated key worker to get and stay in employment,” she says.

The support comes from a new £40 million fund and is expected to benefit around 10,000 people.

The Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme will provide “highly personalised packages of employment support for people who are at least a year away from moving into work.”

People will be provided with coaching to help build their independence, confidence and motivation, as well as work experience to help boost their career prospects.

Rudd added: “Everyone, no matter what their background is, should have the opportunity to thrive in the workplace, and having the right support in place for disabled people is one of my greatest priorities.

“To truly help people transform their lives, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.

“That’s why this new programme is designed to offer people, who may think they will never move into work, tailored support to help them overcome any personal barriers they may have in the first instance, and then to focus on boosting their skills.

“There are also huge economic benefits to improving disability employment rates. More than half of disabled people are in work, but in order to realise the full potential of disabled people in Britain we want to go further and see one million more disabled people in work by 2027.”

People on the scheme will be offered a dedicated key worker who will work with them to overcome complex barriers which may be preventing them from entering work, ensuring they have a personal support network in place.

The voluntary scheme will be rolled out across England and Wales in 2019, and applicants will receive support for up to 21 months, including 6 months of in-work support for those who get a job.

Neil Heslop, Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire, said: “Many disabled people with complex needs face significant barriers in accessing the workplace. It’s crucial that specialised employment support is available and the government responds to the challenges people often encounter.

“A more tailored approach can help reach those who are not currently receiving any employment support or skills development. The experiences of disabled people must be central for this support to meaningfully build confidence in an ongoing way, reflecting their individual circumstances and aspirations.”

The Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme will support people living with a disability who are unlikely to move into work within the next year or longer and may need additional support. Other existing government support to help disabled people get into and stay in work includes the Disability Confident scheme, the Work and Health programme, the Access to Work grant and Jobcentre Plus services.

The pathfinder report that informed the Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme

The government has established a managerial type of policy context in which it is aiming to “provide support which could enable disabled people to undertake employment in the open market rather than in protected or segregated employment.” 

The government have in particular targeted those disabled people who have just started claiming Employment and Support Allowance, before they undergo a work capability assessement for ‘interventions’. This approach is founded on an entrenched belief that “the longer a disabled person or an individual with a health condition is unemployed, the harder it is for them to return to work.”  

However, an alternative explanation is that those who are not employed because of a health condition for longer periods are simply too ill to work. Nonetheless, the government has focused on notions of “work-readiness” as a means to “help” disabled people into work, which tends to sidestep the barriers that people face because they are unwell. 

Research was carried out by IFF Research Ltd on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, to evaluate the Personalisation Pathfnder trial, which was  introduced in April 2015 in three Districts: South West Wales, Surrey and Sussex and Greater Wessex. The report can be found here.  

In part, the research aimed to “establish whether the Pathfinder worked in moving out-of-work individuals with a disability and/or health condition closer to employment and, if so, how and why it achieved this. Specifcally, the objectives of the research were to understand:   

  • Take-up of the Pathfinder programme – detailing the profile of individuals who joined the scheme in terms of employment history, claimant group, nature of health condition etc., as well as exploring the reasons and motivations for taking part  
  • The impact on outcomes for claimants. This includes both ‘hard’ impacts such as claim status and employment outcomes as well as ‘soft’ impacts such as attitudes towards work, levels of job-seeking activities, and perceptions of ability to manage health conditions 
  • Value for money 
  • Any impacts on the reputation of DWP and/or Jobcentre Plus among claimants.

The chief purpose of the Personalisation Pathfinder was to help claimants to become “work ready” through offered tailored support to those with a disability or health condition who are unemployed and aimed to investigate the impacts of an approach focused on personalisation, flexibility, peer support, and integration with local support.  

The report discusses findings from two waves of a quantitative survey with claimants on the Personalisation Pathfnder as well as from qualitative interviews with claimants and Pathfnder stakeholders.  

Job seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants with a health condition or disability accounted for the greatest proportion of participants on the Pathfnder (50 per cent), followed by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) pre-Work Capability Assessment (WCA) claimants (38 per cent). 

Only around one in eight (12 per cent) of the participants were ESA Work Programme completers (WP). The majority of participants had been in employment at some point before joining the Pathfnder (76 per cent). Six in ten had left their previous employment due to health related reasons and more than seven in ten regarded their health as a key barrier to returning to work. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, participants claiming JSA were generally less likely to perceive their disability as impacting on their employment before joining the Pathfnder. They were also less likely to believe their health condition or disability limited their ability to return to work. They tended to report fewer barriers to returning to work and were therefore generally more positive about this prospect. Three in ten claimants were in work twelve months after joining the Personalisation Pathfinder. 

ESA pre-WCA claimants were most likely to have found work while on the trial. Nearly a third of this group had, however, returned to a previous employer or job.

ESA WP Completers were the least likely to have found work, but the ones who did were more likely than the other claimant groups to credit the support they received from the Pathfinder in moving them into work. ESA WP Completers were also more likely to feel they needed health related support that the Pathfinder could not offer and that this prevented them from moving closer to employment.

The authors clearly stated that it is not possible to assess from the research what proportion of claimants would have achieved these outcomes without the assistance of the Pathfinder. Although there are indications of “work-readiness” improving among those who did not find work – and I am not sure how one measures that – improvements in wellbeing and social isolation, it was concluded,  were “more modest”. 

Methodology: some first glance criticism

The research was framed by the political application of the theory of change – this is essentially a description of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is focused in particular on mapping out or “filling in” what has been described as the “missing middle” between what a programme or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to desired goals being achieved.

It does this by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then works backwards from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another ‘causally’) for the goals to occur. Government sectors use the theory of change to promote various managed social and political changes, to define their long-term goals. 

So it is a model based on backcasting, which is a planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programmes that will connect that specified future to the present.

The outcomes in a theory of change must be coupled with indicators that guide and facilitate measurement. The measurement is often of changes in behaviours and perceptions.

However, any serious explanation of anything in the social world should be suspect if it only uses one theory – e.g. a theory of financial incentives, or peer influences. All successful models are assemblies of multiple elements and theories – and they are open to exploration. Anyone familiar with systems thinking will be dubious of linear explanations, especially where complex  phenomena like disability, emloyment, homelessness, poverty or social isolation are concerned.

On key problem with the theory of change is that it does not model how events happen; rather, it models how strategists believe things will happen. Theory of change is a forecast that shows what conditions they believe must exist for other conditions to come into being. It’s easy to see how the model may very easily accommodate assumptions, prejudices and channel bias. The model may confuse accountability with ambitions and hopes.

Often, theory of change is insular and parochial, too. It can fail to take the external context into account. This is an important criticism in the context of current government behaviour change programes, as the emphasis is entirely on individuals, who are somehow viewed as detached from their social, cultural, economic and policy contexts. 

Participation in the programme was voluntary. However, people decided not to engage with the programme, so the invitation letters were reworded, making the statement about the programme’s voluntary basis of participation less prominent, to nudge people into engaging. That is unethical, because it bypasses the important condition of fully informed consent. Yet later in discussion between job coaches and claimants, the voluntary aspect became important in retaining some participants:

The voluntary issue is quite interesting actually, because I have had people who have come back from the Work Programme, have sat down in front of me and you can tell have arrived expecting me to say, ‘Right, you’re going to do this/you’re going to do that/you’re going to do this’, and they’ve been quite defensive, and they’ve said, ‘You know I can’t work.

“So when I’ve said, you know, ‘That’s fne, you don’t have to. This is a voluntary programme’, they’ve almost said, ‘Oh don’t walk away. I’m interested’, you know. The voluntary thing has defnitely produced a different reaction from people.”

Nonetheless, some 11% of the participants still said they were unaware they had a choice in whether they participated. Nearly one-ffth (19 per cent) of claimants thought that the Personalisation Pathfnder was mandatory; this proportion rose to 36 per cent for ‘ESA WP Completers.’  And even those who understood that participation was voluntary nonetheless expressed fears that they may be sanctioned if they refused to engage (page 59):

“I did not feel I could say no to the Pathfnder, because if we don’t do what they say, they’ll stop our money.” (JSA Caseload claimant, Surrey and Sussex).

Another criticism of the pathfinder is that it does not seem to differentiate between perceived health-related barriers to work and actual health-related barriers to work. Part of the aim of the programme was to influence people’s perceptions of barriers, a strategy which had little impact overall.

Another problem with the theory of change approach is that it doesn’t confirm the plausibility of the theory. Also, to be able to test, refine, and improve a theory of change over time, you need to be able to accurately measure its key elements. Not differentiating between perceived and actual health-related barriers leads to measurement problems.

Another major criticism of applied behavioural scientist Kurt Lewins theory of change model is that it ignores the influence of organisational power, conflict and politics; it is “top-down” and management-driven. As such, it is rather an authoritarian approach to policy making.

This is down to a misuse of the original theory and its underpinning intents. This presents an irony given that Lewin’s original wish was to extend democratic values and resolve social conflicts. Even critics of Lewin’s work have drawn on his Field Theory to develop their own models of change. Including the government.

Any change that the Conservatives initiate is generally imposed on others and micromanaged. If prescribed, theory of change quickly becomes a compliance exercise and loses much of its original  value. Theory of change frameworks requires a commitment to anopen,  reflective and realistic approach. 

Assumptions reflect deeply held beliefs, norms and ideological perspectives. These inform the design and implementation of programmes. The quality of a theory of change process rests on ‘making assumptions explicit’ and making strategic thinking realistic and transparent. Power relations, both in the programme’s context and within organisations, limit the ability to challenge established ways of thinking and working. So a theory of change process often brings to the surface conflicts and tensions which require negotiation. 

It’s certainly true to say that some “politicians, like any other social group that is in a rarefied or tightly knit, small community, will frequently suffer from psychological ‘groupthink’.” Dr Paul Taffinder, Chartered psychologist.

Common pitfalls of using theory of change, and rules of thumb for taking a systemic approach: pitfall 1) neglect context. rule of thumb 1) understand context. pitfall 2) change others only. rule of thumb 2) know yourself. pitfall 3) think in linear terms. rule of thumb 3) think systemically. pitfall 4) seek safety in certainty. rule of thumb 4) learn and adapt. pitfall 5) change is technical. rule of thumb 5) recognise change is personal.


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a limited income. But you can help me if you like by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Emily Thornberry’s letter about the Integrity Initiative’s propaganda initiative

I recently wrote an article related to the tweet above, about the covert government-funded unit which has been systematically and strategically attacking the official opposition, seriously undermining democracy in the UK.  

Last month (5 November), Anonymous Europe obtained a large number of documents relating to the activities of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ project, which was launched back in autumn, 2015. The project is funded by the British government and has been established by the Institute for Statecraft.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the hack has had zero substantive coverage in the UK, US or European press since a number of journalists were also implicated in playing a role to fulfil the project’s aims, but it was picked up by Russian media. 

The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, among other things. Statecraft’s Security Economics director, Dr Shima D Keene, collaborated with John A. S. Ardis on a paper about information warfare. Anonymous published the documents, which have unearthed the massive UK-led psyop to create a ‘large-scale information secret service’ in Europe, the US and Canada.

The declared goal of the project is to “counteract Russian propaganda” and Moscow’s hybrid warfare (a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, ‘irregular’ warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention). 

The Integrity Initiative consists of representatives of political, military, academic and journalistic communities with the think tank in London at the head of it.

On 26 November, Integrity Initiative published a statement on the Russian media coverage of the hack. In it they said:

“The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

“The Integrity Initiative aims to unite people who understand the threat, in order to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.”

In the wake of the leaks, which also detail Government grant applications, the Foreign Office have been forced to confirm they provided massive funding to the Integrity Initiative.

In response to a parliamentary question by Chris Williamson, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500.

“This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” 

Apparently, the Institute launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to “defend democracy against disinformation.” However, the evidence uncovered strongly suggests that it’s rather more of an attempt to defend disinformation against democracy.   

In the Commons yesterday, Emily Thornberry asked Alan Duncan why taxpayers money had been used by the so-called ‘Integrity Initiative’ to disseminate political attacks [on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party] from its Twitter site.

Duncan insisted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) funding did not support the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter operation, which raises some interesting questions. See Thornberry’s letter demanding answers below:


I’m very much looking forward to the response.


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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Authoritarian UK government is funding military grade psyops to smear and calumniate HM’s opposition

psyops

From the government’s ALLIED JOINT DOCTRINE FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS WITH UK NATIONAL ELEMENTS, SEPTEMBER 2014 .

On page X of the document, it says: “NATO definition of PSYOPS. Allied Administrative Publication (AAP)-06 defines psychological operations as: planned activities using methods of communication and other means directed at approved audiences in order to influence perceptions, attitudes and behaviour, affecting the achievement of political and military objectives.” [My emphasis].

On page IX, this footnote – The term information strategy (its concept and definition) is not yet endorsed through official NATO policy. Its use here [in the UK], however, reflects current thinking on this subject and is coherent with current policy and doctrine initiatives in areas such as the effects-based approach, strategic communications and information operations.” 

Nudging democracy

The British government is financing a large-scale network that influences political and public opinion in Europe using psyops. A substantial part of it is designed to attack the left, and to promote anti-Russian rhetoric.

Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to manage perceptions, to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviours of organizations, groups, and individuals.

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation.

In June 2015, NSA files published by Glenn Greenwald revealed details of the JTRIG group at British intelligence agency GCHQ covertly manipulating online communities. This is in line with JTRIG’s goal: to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, [co-author of “Nudge”], a close political adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a highly controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

But the GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends.

Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Now, inevitably, some politicians and academics have reacted with fury to news that a covert Government-funded unit has been systematically and strategically attacking the official opposition in Parliament, and seriously undermining democracy in the UK.  

Last month (5 November), Anonymous Europe obtained a large number of documents relating to the activities of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ project, which was launched back in autumn, 2015. The project is funded by the British government and has been established by the Institute for Statecraft.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the hack has had zero substantive coverage in the UK, US or European press, but it was picked up by Russian media. 

The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, among other things. Statecraft’s Security Economics director, Dr Shima D Keene, collaborated with John A. S. Ardis on a paper about information warfareAnonymous published the documents, which have unearthed the massive UK-led psyop to create a ‘large-scale information secret service’ in Europe, the US and Canada.

The declared goal of the project is to “counteract Russian propaganda” and Moscow’s hybrid warfare (a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, ‘irregular’ warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention). 

The Integrity Initiative consists of representatives of political, military, academic and journalistic communities with the think tank in London at the head of it.

On 26 November, Integrity Initiative published a statement on the Russian media coverage of the hack. In it they said:

“The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

“The Integrity Initiative aims to unite people who understand the threat, in order to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.”

The documents included in the leak comprised of a handbook, funding information and lists of people organised by ‘cluster’.

iukcluster1

According to the handbook, Integrity Initiative aims to:

“Bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

And it achieves this by organising  a network of clusters acress Europe and North America, which are made up of:

“[…] people who understand the threat posed to Western nations by a flood of disinformation.”

Integrity Initiative claim they have developed a network of people who operate to counter Russia’s ‘disinformation’. This may includes interference in the appointment of someone to a government position, using Twitter attacks to prevent the appointment of Colonel Pedro Baños as director of Spain’s Department of Homeland Security, for example. Yet the same network frequently accuse Russia of ‘meddling’ in the political affairs of other countries, and of being antidemocratic. 

In addition to personel from the Integrity Initiative’s  parent organisation – The Institute for Statecraft – there are people representing  think tanks like DEMOS, RUSI, hedge fund interests, Henry Jackson Society, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Chatham House, as well as from the Ministry of Defence, which includes the EU Joint Headquarters at Northwood, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and several journalists.

uk journos

For example, Andy Pryce, the Foreign Office Head of Counter Disinformation and Media Development, Ben Bradshaw MP, Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, and a founder of Orbis Business Intelligence, the privatised British intelligence operation which also incudes Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump ‘dodgy dossier’.

It’s interesting that the old trick – slurring British Labour politicians with Russian/communist links – is back in fashion. The fake Zinoviev letter was traced back to British Intelligence services.

With recent declarations by leading Blairites and several Tory figures such as Michael Fallon, who claimed that Labour now represents a ‘security threat to you and your family’, Corbyn faced a media disinformation campaign of truly staggering proportions, and the allegations of ties to Russia played a significant part.

Corbyn reasonably called for de-escalation and de-militarisation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict on several occasions in the past year as a means to achieving a political solution. He has also called for ‘dialogue’. Some may deem that ‘idealistic’, perhaps, but not completely crazy. Russia is, after all a major nuclear state. Personally I prefer his diplomatic approach to the aggressive posturing of the government.

Quite frankly, the Sun, Daily Mail and other right wing propaganda rags have managed two quite remarkable things from this farrago. The first is to make Jeremy Corbyn look better than before. The second is to justify his calls for press regulation.

It turns out that Ben Nimmo, a “senior fellow” at the Institute for Statecraft, co-authored an article with Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute alleged that TV news channel RT broadcast “systematic bias in favour of Corbyn” when he first stood for the Labour leadership. 

The article went on to say the motivation for this was “most likely to be executing the interests of the government which funds it.” Nimmo was also quoted in the Sun newspaper as saying Russia was “supporting Corbyn against his opponents both in the Labour Party and outside it.”

Of course the newspaper used this to support its conspiracy theory that “a twisted Russian cyber campaign which has backed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is aiming to sow division across the UK.” 

The crafty state institute

The Institute for Statecraft was set up, and is currently led by Chris Donnelly  (who, prior to joining NATO in 1989, was for 20 years at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst) and Daniel Lafayeedney (whose military service, legal background and career as an entrepreneur have led him to an “understanding of the importance of the link between business and national security.”) They are supported by a Board of Trustees, Board of Advisers, an Operations Staff, a Strategic Development Team and an extensive network of like minded Fellows, associates and researchers.

Defending disinformation against democracy

The Integrity Initiative’s Orwellian slogan is ‘Defending Democracy Against Disinformation’. On its About page it claims: “We are not a government body but we do work with government departments and agencies who share our aims.” 

The UK defines strategic communication (StratCom) as: “advancing national interests by using all Defence means of communication to influence the attitudes and behaviours of people. It is an MOD-level function that seeks to align words, images and actions by taking direction and guidance from the National Security Council and developing a Strategic Communication Actions and Effects Framework to guide targeting and planning activities.”

“Info Ops is a staff function that analyzes, plans, assesses and integrates information activities to create desired effects on the will, understanding and capability of adversaries, potential adversaries and North Atlantic Council (NAC) approved audiences in support of Alliance mission objectives. PSYOPS, along with other capabilities,
will be coordinated through Info Ops processes guided by the information strategy and within NATO’s StratCom approach.”

The UK defines target audience analysis (TAA) as: “the systematic study of people to enhance understanding and identify accessibility, vulnerability, and susceptibility to behavioural and attitudinal influence.”

In the document dump on November 5, the Anonymous group exposed the UK-based Integrity Initiative’.  The main stated objective is counter-terrorism, and “to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.” The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, so objectivity is, of course, at the forefront of their work… 

However, the secret UK Government-funded propaganda unit allegedly based in Scotland has also been running a campaign on social media, using posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. 

The Institute for Statecraft appears to be a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife. But the explosive leaked documents, which have been passed to the Sunday Mail, reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The Conservative group is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of persuaders: friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against ‘disinformation’.

On the siteDr Shima D Keene writes: “The new security environment is increasingly spawning a variety of asymmetric threats which require immediate attention. Many of these threats are driven by the desire for economic gain, either as an end in itself, or to assist in achieving an ultimate end. Efforts to tackle the economic aspects of these threats have frequently been neglected or, at best, fragmented. This is particularly the case in the international sphere, allowing our adversary to operate in a benign environment.

“Security Economics is the analysis of the economic aspects of human-induced insecurity, such as terrorism and organised crime.

“The Institute’s Security Economics Programme serves to unite existing knowledge while bringing new knowledge to the subject. The multi-disciplinary approach aims to provide new thinking and direction, both strategically and tactically, in order that effective financial warfare strategies can be devised and implemented to tackle the evolving threat environment. Network analysis plays a key part. Activities of the Programme include operational research, policy development, counselling and mentoring in the following subject areas:

  • Threat Finance (Terrorism, Narcotics, Human Trafficking, Proliferation/Weapons of Mass Destruction and Organised Crime)
  • Psychological Operations/Info Ops/ Influence
  • Financial Counter Insurgency
  • Economic Crime (to include Fraud and Money Laundering)
  • Maritime Piracy (Kidnap and Ransom)
  • Cyber crime and associated Technology
  • Forensic Finance/Financial Intelligence
  • Economic Warfare/ Asymmetric Financial Warfare
  • Counter Terrorist Finance/Anti Money laundering (Legislation/Regulation).

A message from the UK Government-funded organisation promotes an article that states: “Unlike Galloway (former MP George Galloway) Corbyn does not scream conspiracy, he implies it,” while another added: “It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.”

A further message refers to an “alleged British Corbyn supporter” who “wants to vote for Putin”.

It is not just the Labour leader who has been on the receiving end of online attacks. The party’s strategy and communications director, Seumas Milne, was also targeted.

The Integrity Initiative, whose base, allegedly at Gateside Mill, near Auchtermuchty, retweeted a newspaper report that said: “Milne is not a spy – that would be beneath him.

“But what he has done, wittingly or unwittingly, is work with the Kremlin agenda.”

Another retweet promoted a journalist who said: “Just as he supports the Russian bombardment of Syria, Seumas Milne supported the Russian slaughter of Afghanistan, which resulted in more than a million deaths.”

The Integrity Initiative has been accused of supporting Ukrainian politicians who oppose Putin – even when they also have suspected far-right links.

Further leaked documents appear to show a Twitter campaign that resulted in a Spanish politician believed to be friendly to the Kremlin being denied a job.

The organisation’s “Spanish cluster” swung into action on hearing that Pedro Banos was to be appointed director of the national security department.

The papers detail how the Integrity Initiative alerted “key influencers” around Europe who launched an online campaign against the politician.

In the wake of the leaks, which also detail Government grant applications, the Foreign Office have been forced to confirm they provided massive funding to the Integrity Initiative.

In response to a parliamentary question by Chris Williamson, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500.

“This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” 

Apparently, the Institute launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to “defend democracy against disinformation.” However, the evidence uncovered strongly suggests that it’s rather more of an attempt to defend disinformation against democracy.   

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry expressed the party’s justifiable outrage:

“It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes. So, it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials.

“And this cannot be dismissed as something outside the Government’s control, given the application for funding agreed by the Foreign Office last year stated explicitly that it would be used in part to expand “the impact of the Integrity Initiative website…and Twitter/social media accounts.

“So the Government must now answer the following questions: why did the Foreign Office allow public money to be spent on attempting to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition? Did they know this was happening? If not, why not? And if they did, how on earth can they justify it?”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “It would appear that we have a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that is funded by the UK Government and is spewing out political attacks on UK politicians, the Labour Party and the Labour movement.

“Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”

The UK’s links with NATO  psyops are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change sciencefor example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

The UK government openly discusses its policy intents regarding ‘behavioural change’, and instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010 to contribute to their behaviourist policy agenda. The behavioural economists from the Unit have contributed significantly to punitive welfare policy, for example.

The programme entailing the use of behavioural change science for NATO was delivered by the UK-based Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL Defence), which has worked for the UK Ministry of Defence and the United States’ Department of Defense for a number of years and is the world’s only company licensed to deliver the Behavioural Dynamics process, and a team of Information Warfare experts drawn from seven nations, called IOTA-Global.

David Miller, a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, added: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which ends up attacking Her Majesty’s opposition and soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine.

“People have a right to know how the Government are spending their money, and the views being promoted in their name.”

Tamsin Shaw, an associate professor of philosophy at New York University, has researched the US military’s funding and use of psychological research for use in torture. She says: “The capacity for this science to be used to manipulate emotions is very well established. This is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can’t even see, don’t even realise is happening to them.”  

It’s about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins. To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling.

We are in an information war and billionaires are buying up these companies, which are then employed to go to work in the heart of government. That’s a very worrying situation.”

Mass surveillance, data harvesting and analysis, psychographic profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now very clearly being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination. I’ve spent the past few years writing critically about the neuroliberal turn, and the serious threat it poses to democracy.

The leaked documents show a funding application to the Foreign Office that details the unit’s work.

Further papers reveal a unit in Lithuania which received overseas funding to “support a new hub/cluster creation and to educate cluster leaders and key people in Vilnius in infowar techniques”.

It’s only over recent years that we are getting a glimpse of new behavioural economics discipline evolving into forms of social control that make the frightful 20th-century totalitarianism regimes seem like a primitive and crude method of governance by comparison. This all-pervasive control is elegant and hidden in plain view. It’s a subtle and stealthy form of totalitarianism. Behavioural science and its various applications as a new “cognitive-military complex” – it originated within intelligence and state security agencies.

BeWorks is one example of a company adopting the nudge approach to strategic communications and marketing, they describe themselves as “The first management consulting firm dedicated to the practice of applying behavioral science to strategy, marketing, operations, and policy challenges”, also “harness the powerful insights of behavioral economics to solve your toughest challenges.”

They work for the government, the energy industry, financial service sector, insurance industry and retail sectors, “helping organisations to embed behavioural economics into their culture”. 

The company says: “The team combines leading academics from the fields of cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience, and marketing with management consulting experts. Our multi-disciplinary expertise allows us to arm our clients with the latest in scientific insights coupled with a strategic business lens”.

They also wrote this article among others: How Science Can Help Get Out the VoteThey claim: Our team of scientists and business experts offers a powerful methodology that analyzes and measurably influences the decisions consumers make”. 

They go on to say “Neuromarketing studies, which measure brain activity and other biological indicators, are another way to gauge true emotional reactions instead of relying on how people say they feel. EEG caps and biometric belts are the most common tools used, though other techniques, ranging from reading facial expressions to measuring tiny differences in reaction time, are also used.”

The consequences of governments acting upon citizens to meet political aims, and to align behaviours with a totalising neoliberal ideology, turns democracy completely on its head. We are left with a form of inverted totalitarianism, or facade democracy, where direct methods of oppression are not required, as citizens are far easier to control and better ‘nudged’ when they continue to believe themselves free and autonomous. 

The Foreign Office have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Related

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate clearly that western governments are subverting democracy

 


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Facebook fined a mere £500,000 for lack of transparency and failing to protect users’ information

Image result for facebook data theft news

Facebook has been been fined for the massive data leak to Cambridge Analytica, which broke the law. I can almost hear the echoing laughter around Silicon Valley from my house.

The fine is for two breaches of the Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) concluded that Facebook failed to safeguard its users’ information and that it failed to be transparent about how that data was harvested by others. Facebook breached its own rules and failed to make sure that Cambridge Analytica had deleted the harvested personal data.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said “Facebook has failed to provide the kind of protections they are required to under the Data Protection Act. Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system.”

Kyle Taylor, director of campaigning group Fair Vote UK said “Under new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws, the ICO could fine Facebook £479m.

Unfortunately, because they had to follow old data protection laws, they were only able to fine them the maximum of £500,000. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Denham said “this is not all about fines,” adding that companies were also worried about their reputation.

She said the impact of behavioural advertising, when it came to elections, was “significant” and called for a code of practice to “fix the system”.

The fine was issued along with scathing report from the ICO, which issued the maximum fine allowable under old data protection laws – £500,000. The social network was accused of failing to protect user data and failing to be transparent about how it shared information with third parties.

The ICO investigation also highlighted the extent to which political parties were using personal data sold on by data brokers without consent. It was announced that the ICO is expanding its 14-month investigation into data and politics, which has centred on the Facebook data leak, into whether Arron Banks, a major donor to the campaign for the UK to leave the EU, improperly gave pro-Brexit groups data about voters obtained for insurance purposes.

The ICO is also investigating whether Banks’ Eldon Insurance Limited’s call-centre staff used customer databases to make calls on behalf of Leave.EU. The official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, is also being investigated over how it collected and shared personal information.

The ICO opened its inquiry in May 2017 “to explore practices deployed during the UK’s EU referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns”. Elizabeth Denham,  said the ICO had been “astounded” by the amount of personal data in the possession of Britain’s political parties. (See The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign, which details the many subterranean companies that the government employed during the run-up to last year’s general election. I sent the ICO a copy).

It’s understood that the ICO sent warning letters to 11 political parties and notices compelling them to agree audits of data protection practices, and started a criminal prosecution against SCL Elections – parent company of Cambridge Analytica, after accusing the company of failing to deal properly with a data request.

SCL Elections declared bankruptcy in May, two months after the Observer reported that 50m Facebook profiles had been obtained. Denham said the ICO was examining whether the company’s directors could be still be pursued now that SCL Elections had been placed into administration.

The investigation also found that Aggregate IQ, a Canadian electoral services company, had “significant links” to Cambridge Analytica, Denham said, and “may still retain” data about UK voters; the ICO has filed an enforcement notice against the company to stop processing that data.

Facebook had sought to draw a line under the data privacy scandal after revelations that it allowed data from up to 87m US voters to be harvested and then passed to Cambridge Analytica, a company employed in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Denham said: “We think they broke the principle of fair processing; we think it was unfair processing. Data controllers are supposed to have reasonable safeguards in place to process data and we felt they were deficient in that and in their response on questions and follow up about the data leak.”

“Most of us have some understanding of the behavioural targeting that commercial entities have used for quite some time. To sell us holidays, to sell us trainers, to be able to target us and follow us around the web.

“But very few people have an awareness of how they can be micro-targeted, persuaded or nudged in a democratic campaign, in an election or a referendum.

“This is a time when people are sitting up and saying ‘we need a pause here, and we need to be sure we are comfortable with the way personal data is used in our democratic process’.”

He said: “This cannot by left to a secret internal investigation at Facebook.

“If other developers broke the law we have a right to know, and the users whose data may have been compromised in this way should be informed.”

“We were significantly concerned around the nature of the data that the political parties had access to,” said Steve Wood, the deputy information commissioner, “and we followed the trail to look at the different data brokers who were supplying the political parties.

Responding to the ICO report, Christopher Wylie said: “Months ago, I reported Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to the UK authorities.

“Based on that evidence, Facebook is today being issued with the maximum fine allowed under British law.

“Cambridge Analytica, including possibly its directors, will be criminally prosecuted.”

The ICO intends to carry out an audit of the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre. The department carries out its own research into social media profiles. The ICO said it had been told of an alleged security breach involving one of the centre’s apps and had additional concerns about its data protection efforts.

The watchdog also calls for the government to introduce a code of practice limiting how personal information can be used by political campaigns before the next general election.

They will also make an effort to ensure ex-staff from SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica do not illegally use materials obtained from the business before its collapse

The ICO said it is expected that the next stage of its investigation to be complete by the end of October.

The problem of data mining and psychographic profiling far exceed the revelations about the wrong doings of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Psychological manipulation of citizens by both corporate entities and governments is now the norm. 

The moment that we accept that it is legitimate for governments to ‘influence citizen decision-making’ and impose a ‘behavioural change’ agenda on a non-suspecting, non-consenting public, it becomes a slippery slope from there into a cesspit of private vested interests, one-party states, corporatocracy, tyranny and ultimately, to totalitarian forms of governance.

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal is the first ‘case study’. It’s a symptom of a much more fundamental problem. Mass surveillance, data profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination.

The political integrity and the future of democratic sovereignty has been seriously undermined because of the fundamental erosion of citizens’ right to self determination.  Power imbalances are being created, recreated and amplified via the non-transparency of corporate and political practices, aimed at surveillance, data collection, psychological profiling and psychologically tailored messages, aimed at manipulating citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours, which serves to ultimately profoundly limit the choices available to them.

Image result for cambridge analytica

Related

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

 


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The anti-social public relations of the PR industry

 

In the UK, we have a Government that are scandalised and outraged by any criticism whatsoever. Ministers refuse to analyse, reflect and act on legitimate negative appraisal; they prefer instead to adopt outrage, and portray any opposition at all as somehow pathological. However, opposition and critical scrutiny are essential elements of a fully functioning democracy. 

When a Government dismiss any criticism or challenge from academics, charities, social organisations, campaigners and ordinary citizens as ‘scaremongering’, when any and every amount of empirical evidence that their policies cause deep distress and harm to people is declined as merely ‘anecdotal’ and when attempts at rational and democratic debate are simply brushed aside or labelled in a derogatory fashion as ‘marxism’ , it can’t possibly end well for the UK. These are all the trademarks of an authoritarian government teetering on the brink of totalitarianism

Critical narratives that expose the fatal flaws in the governments’ administration of policies, founded on a pernicious and totalising neoliberal ideology, are being effectively stifled or censored. 

One of the key methods being used is a basic ad hominem approach, which consists of attempts to discredit those presenting the Government with critical analysis, democratic feedback and evidence that challenges the governments’ claims. It’s an argumentative strategy (as opposed to a debating strategy) that entails a legitimate criticism or proposition being rebutted and attention being diverted by an attack on the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person presenting the criticism, or persons associated with the criticism, rather than addressing the substance of the criticism itself.

Ad hominem is a fallacious technique of reasoning that may be better understood as a perversion or corruption of perfectly rational debate and this forecloses on the possibility of democratic, rational, meaningful, intelligent and constructive political discourse.

One particular variant of ad hominem is exemplified in the ‘poisoning the well’ tactic that Conservatives use by ridiculously accusing many of their critics of being ‘Marxists’, members of the ‘hard left’ or Momentum, or simply just ‘scaremongers’. Another is a “shoot the messenger”approach. This is just one kind of oppressive method among several that are being used to neutralise alternative narratives and repress a healthy political pluralism – which of course is essential to democracy. 

It isn’t only the ‘business friendly’ neoliberal government engaging in these kind of tactics. It’s something of an irony that Hayek argued against government planning and regulation, claiming that by crushing competitive individualism, it would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Yet neoliberalism has reduced democracy to spectacle.  

When neoliberals mention ‘the market’ – which they see as a kind of idealised theatre for allocating rewards for competitive profit-seeking behaviours and punishments for citizens’ ‘bad choices’ (mostly in that they are simply poor) – what they tend to mean is simply a situation where corporations and those in positions of power get what they want. ‘The free market’ is a euphemism for rampant capitalism – another narrative given the PR touch. Austerity has become ‘living within our means’ and ‘reducing the deficit’. However, austerity is a central strategy of neoliberal ideology. 

As the state extends deregulation and increases freedoms that permit corporations to profit without constraint, limitation and the safeguards required to protect the environment and citizens, it also needs to re-regulate citizens, limiting their freedoms, micromanaging their perceptions and behaviours to fit with neoliberal outcomes and a shifting power structure.

The changing neoliberal economy has required changing politics and society, reflecting shifts in discourse, ethics, norms, beliefs, behaviours, perceptions and power relationships. It has required the re-alignment of citizens’ identities with neoliberal goals. However, those goals serve the interests of very few people.

The recent political emphasis on psychoregulation – expressed through the ‘behavioural change’ agenda of libertarian paternalism, for example, which is being embedded in public policy – is aimed at either enforcing citizen compliance or socioeconomic exclusion, if they resist.

At the same time, neoliberalism has permitted a few very wealthy and powerful people to rewrite rules, laws, social norms, economic processes, ethics and to place themselves pretty much beyond public visibility, democratic transparency and moral accountability. 

Technotyranny and psychoregulation

John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton wrote in their 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!: “Movements for social and political reform have often become targets of surveillance. […] The public relations industry has developed a lucrative side business scrutinizing the thoughts and actions of citizen activists, using paid spies who are often recruited from government, military or private security backgrounds.”

Last week’s revelations from the Bureau of investigative Journalists and the Guardian show just how much that these underhanded tactics are very much in use today. They don’t just impact and damage the groups being infiltrated. By privileging corporate interests, effectively giving them the first and last word on public issues, they distort vital public debates and profoundly damage our democracy.

The leaked documents that the Guardian and Bureau revealed suggest the use of secretive corporate security firms to gather intelligence about political campaigners has been widespread. However, police chiefs have in the past raised a ‘massive concern’ that the activities of the corporate companies are barely regulated and completely uncontrolled. The police have claimed that commercial firms have had more spies embedded in political groups than there were undercover police officers.

The revelations are based on hundreds of pages of leaked documents from two corporate intelligence firms, that reveal the inner workings of a normally subterranean industry over several years in the 2000s. Major firms are hiring people from security firms to monitor and infiltrate political groups that object to their commercial activities. The security firms are spying on law-abiding campaigners and impeding their democratic rights. The spies are known to surreptitiously foster conflicts within campaigns, to set activists against each other, in order to wear them down and ‘disenchant’ them, so they lose their political motivation. “People get tired of it, that’s their weakness,” one person told the Guardian. He worked for a corporate espionage company.

These are the sort of tactics that are also being used to intimidate some individual commentators. 

Depersonalising the personal

I wrote an article recently, which was published by Welfare Weekly, about the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments. Someone called Lindsay McGarvie, who claimed to be a ‘representative of Atos’, contacted Steven Preece, the editor of Welfare Weekly, asking him to get me to phone him as a matter of ‘high importance’ to have a ‘quick chat’ about a ‘couple of points’ in my article that are ‘inaccurate’. 

It turns that out the ‘representative of Atos’ is actually the director of Atos’s Public Relations (PR) company, called called 3X1. According to his LinkedIn profile,  McGarvie’s specialisms include:

Strategic public affairs counsel
– Reputation management
– Devising and implementing proactive PR and public affairs campaigns
– Media Training
– Digital communications

McGarvie also had directorship of Bread Public Relations Limited, which delivered: “media, marketing, and employee engagement campaigns for public and investor relations. The company specializes in generating third party endorsements by getting the right people to say the right thing, at the right time, and to enhance business strategy. Its activities include media relations, reports, crisis communications, employee engagement, and media training.

The company was founded in 2009 and was based in Aberdeen, United Kingdom. As of September 21, 2015, Bread Public Relations Limited has operated as a subsidiary of 3×1 Limited.

By coincidence someone has also very recently ‘reported’ me to the Department for Work and Pensions, claiming that I am ‘working and being paid as a writer’ and that I am ‘not really disabled’, and ‘faking my illness’. Curious, that.

Over the last few years, I’ve encountered a small group of people who campaigned to discredit my work online, even claiming I was a ‘snout for the establishment’ on one occasion. Bullies often project their own issues onto their target. Some of the lies and smears I saw posted in groups about me were pretty outrageous. From ‘She voted UKIP’ and ‘Sadiq Khan employs her to spread anti-Green propaganda’ to ‘She has over 500 fake online identities’ and ‘She’s a bully and attacked some charity workers’. Most of the attacks were ad hominem. They also had a distinctive psy-ops character. 

This same group have also systematically bullied people for sharing my articles, and  for simply being a friend of mine on Facebook. Sadly a few of those people stopped coming on social media because of how thoroughly unpleasant and intimidating these experiences were at the time. 

The group of perpetrators are people who claim to be left wing campaigners, too. However I strongly suspect that at least some of them aren’t who they say they are. Their ad homimen approach doesn’t tally with their declared ‘socialist’ values and principles.

They ran a malicious smear campaign for quite a stretch of time, and occasionally, people tell me they’re still at it. I just block them now, and when a new account springs up making the same kind of attacks, using the same comments and outrageous lies, I keep blocking, because these are not people who are up for any kind of rational debate. They don’t play nicely at all. 

Just to clarify, Atos have already judged me as disabled on two occasions recently, in addition to my GP, 3 rheumatology consultants, a neurologist, a pulmonary specialist, a physiotherapist and 2 occupational therapists – one from the council, one that my GP sent out to my home.

I don’t get paid for writing articles, including those I contribute to Welfare Weekly. I don’t get paid for my research either. If I did, I would be permitted to earn a certain amount anyway. But I don’t. Having a voluntary donation button on my site doesn’t equal earning a salary. Nor does my writing somehow indicate I am faking my illness. I don’t think disabled people are prohibited from reading, having opinions or sharing them via social media. Not yet, anyway. 

I believe that the timing of the bogus complaint to the DWP was most likely calculated carefully by someone to coincide with Christmas – to cause as much misery and untimely financial hardship as possible. 

I don’t know who made the complaint. It can’t have been done by anyone who actually knows me. But I’ve no doubt that this was a malicious act.

However, it won’t stop me writing any time soon.

I appreciate that the ‘complaint’ to the DWP may have been a coincidence. I also understand that the discussion may even sound somewhat paranoid. However, these are not isolated events, and other campaigners and  groups have also been targeted by Atos.

The use of targeted political ‘dark ads‘ – using ‘big data’ harvesting and the identification and manipulation of distinctive ‘psychological profiles’  – and the tactical use of social media as a weapon in political discourse are examples of how social media is being used to create new marketplaces for political and corporate loyalty, providing the opportunity for shills and astroturfers to opt-in (and out) of identities. The increased use of psychological profiling with sophisticated, targeted and manipulative political techniques of persuasion and astroturfing campaigns has also corresponded with a commensurate decline in the standards and ethics of mainstream journalism. 

The private company Cambridge Analytica hit the news earlier this year because its alleged role in manipulating the voting decisions of citizens by using  detailed profiling of the personalities of individual voters to target them, to create large shifts in public opinion. The controversial company is partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American billionaire hedge-fund manager who supports many neoliberal, politically conservative and alt right causes.

Social network media more generally is being used to construct and shape global politics and manage contemporary political conflicts through the conduction of intelligence collection, targeting, cyber-operations, psychological warfare and command and control activities.

Power and persuasion

PR is a persuasion industry. It involves the creation of powerful lobby groups to influence government policy, corporate policy and public opinion, typically in a way that benefits the sponsoring organisation. PR companies often use a ‘thought leadership’ approach, which usually refers to a potentially ‘winning’ strategy for paying customers, based on a notion of authority, rather than on intellectual reasoning, dialogue and rational debate. There’s a lot of talking at the public, rather than with them.

Money talks and bullshit walks. 

Many PR companies offer an ‘expertise’ in ‘behavioural insights’ to businesses, in order to help them ‘win’ and make profit. However, quite often ‘thought leadership’ entails using well-known marketing techniques to achieve the impression of being an erudite and rational presenter and speaker. It’s inane managementspeak and psychobabble that basically means finding ways of managing company reputations, damage limitation and managing public opinion, promoting corporate and/or specific political interests and making profits. In the same way that Behavioural Economics manages the reputation of Conservative/libertarian neoliberalism, promoting political and corporate interests and making fat profits. 

And stifling criticism. Many people quite reasonably associate PR with all things unethical – lying, spin-doctoring, and even espionage. Many critics argue that there can be no ethical public relations because the practice itself is all about manufacturing opinions, manipulation and propaganda. It’s about smoke and mirrors to hide the source of deception. Neoliberalism is toxic and regressive. It can’t offer the public anything whatsoever of value, so the state and corporations – the only beneficiaries of the now totalising imposition of this ideology – have to employ ‘specialists’ to sell it for them.

Selling neoliberalism to the public using techniques of persuasion and political psychoregulation is also very neoliberal, in that it makes fat profits while imposing  and justifying a hegemony of narrow private interests. 

3X1 is not the only PR company regularly accessing my articles. 

Over the last couple of years, my site has been visited using a portal from Edelman Intelligence, which is among the world’s largest PR companies. Either their staff or their clients have been quietly visiting my own humble WordPress site, the link (which I found on my web traffic and stats information page) shows they were referred to my site from Edelman’s own social media monitoring command centre. 

I know this because on my site’s traffic and stats pagereferrers are listed, such as Facebook, Twitter, search engines and so on. You can click on the link provided and it shows you were site visitors have come from.

Despite the fact that the CEO of the ‘largest PR agency in the world’ called for PR professionals to ‘adopt a new set of standards in the wake of the Bell Pottinger scandal’, Edelman have generated a few scandals of their own. 

The ultimate corporate goal is sheer self-interested profit-making, but this will always be dressed up by PR to appear synonymous with the wider, national interest. At the moment, that means a collective chanting of ‘economic growth’, low taxes, ‘freedom’, supply side ‘productivity’, implied trickle down, jobs and ‘personal responsibility’ – all a part of the broader business friendly neoliberal mantra. It’s like encountering Ayn Rand on steroids and in a very ugly mood.

Corporations buy their credibility and utilise seemingly independent people such as academics with a mutual interest to carry their message for them. Some think tanks – especially free-market advocates like Reform or leading neoliberal think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs – will also provide companies with a lobbying package: a media-friendly report, a Westminster event, meetings with politicians, that sort of thing. The extensive PR industry are paid to brand, market, engineer a following, build trust and credibility and generally sell the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organisation (such as a business, government agency, the media) and the public.

PR is concerned with selling products, persons, governments and policies, corporations, and other institutions. In addition to marketing products, PR has been variously used to attract investments, influence legislation, raise companies’ public profiles, put a positive spin on policies, disasters, undermine citizens campaigns, gain public support for conducting warfare, and to change the public perception of repressive regimes.

Money talks and bullshit walks, all at the right price.

To paraphrase Seamus Milne, there is a revolving door of mutually exclusive political and corporate favour, ceaselessly spinning.

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Our public life and democracy is now profoundly compromised by its colonisation, as corporate and financial power have merged into the state.

Edelman Intelligence and Westbourne, for example, are engaged in rebuttal campaigns and multimedia astroturfing projects to protect corporate interests:

Monitoring of opposition groups is common: one lobbyist from agency Edelman talks of the need for “360-degree monitoring” of the internet, complete with online “listening posts … so they can pick up the first warning signals” of activist activity. “The person making a lot of noise is probably not the influential one, you’ve got to find the influential one,” he says. Rebuttal campaigns are frequently employed: “exhausting, but crucial,” says Westbourne.” From The truth about lobbying: 10 ways big business controls government. 

The blogs (or ‘flogs’) Working Families for Walmart and subsidiary site Paid Critics were written by three employees of Edelman, for whom WalMart is a paid client. Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the PR firm, apologised on his own flog: “I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is 100% our responsibility and our error; not the client’s.”  

Imagine that. Paying big bucks to a PR company, and yet you have no idea what they actually do for your company. 

It’s like a self perpetuating cycle of ever-increasing corruption. Big companies wouldn’t need PR in the first place if they intend to be genuinely transparent and accountable. PR companies are pretty ruthlesness regarding the tactics they use to earn fat profits for themselves, and for their fellow free marketeers. 

The communications industry’s ethics came under scrutiny due to the fall of Bell Pottinger after the London-based firm was accused of conducting a ‘secret misinformation campaign’ on behalf of Oakbay Investments inflaming racial tensions in South Africa. UK-based industry body, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) banned Bell Pottinger from trading for five years.

Motherboard (Vice) reports, in 2014, that documents obtained by Greenpeace illustrate the extensive, meticulous planning that has gone into at least one of Edelman‘s proposed astroturf campaigns, aimed at helping TransCanada mobilise ‘grassroots’ support for its effort to build a new pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Quebec.

Astroturfing is the increasingly popular tactic used by corporations to sponsor front groups or manufacture the appearance of grassroots support to simulate a genuine social movement that is rallying for goals in line with their profit motive. It’s the manufacturing of ‘consensus’ where none actually exists. In the past, astroturf efforts have used paid actors, company employees, and media-heavy websites. But the programme that Edelman pitches in its own reports goes even deeper.

The documents detailed an in-depth proposal—part sales pitch, part action plan—put together by Edelman‘s Calgary office, suggesting that TransCanada combat environmental groups by mounting one such manufactured “grassroots advocacy” campaign.

Those environmentalists were organising to oppose the Energy East pipeline, which TransCanada hoped would be an alternative to the long-delayed Keystone XL, on the grounds that it would disastrously boost carbon emissions and increase the likelihood of a major oil spill.

Edelman’s plan was specifically designed to “[… ] add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources,” according to the documents.

It stressed developing “supportive third parties, who can in turn put the pressure on, especially when TransCanada can’t.

In other words, the goal would be to attack environmentalists head on with supporters recruited by, but not necessarily directly affiliated with, Edelman and TransCanada

Greenpeace said: “Edelman’s plan involve a ‘seeding strategy,’aimed at getting trusted academics and TV shows to parrot pro-TransCanada propaganda. The plan rounds out it’s immersive assault on key communities using hyperlocal, geotargeted messaging to take over Facebook feeds and local TV programming… Edelman plans on using the astroturf plan to influence media, the public, politicians, and regulatory agencies.” 

With concerns about climate change and activism quite properly on the rise, along with the dire warnings from climate scientists, sophisticated PR campaigns to shut down opposition to fossil fuel and promote climate change denial has become almost a neccessity for companies like TransCanada

The Motherboard article also says that Edelman runs software called the ‘Grassroots Multiplier’ that it claims can ‘convert average citizens’ into pro-oil ‘true champions.’  Now that resonated with me. We know for sure that this company and its clients are spying on campaigners like me. I contacted Edelman earlier this year to ask them why they were interested in visiting my site. I had no response. 

In April 1998 the Los Angeles Times reported that Edelman had drafted a campaign plan to ensure that state attorneys-generals did not join antitrust legal actions against Microsoft. Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times revealed that the astroturfing plan included generating ‘supportive’ letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and articles by freelance writers. 

USA Today said the plan included “unusual, and some say unethical tactics, including the planting of articles, letters to the editor and opinion pieces to be commissioned by Microsoft’s top media handlers but presented by local firms as spontaneous testimonials.”  

In 2008 Edelman’s work with E.ON, which planned to build a coal power station at Kingsnorth attracted protests at Edelman‘s UK headquarters. In 2009, to coincide with the weeklong ‘Climate Camp’ range of protests, a group of naked protestors occupied Edelman‘s reception, generating much media attention.

Edelman also provided ‘crisis management’ support and communications for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation during the phone hacking scandal. 

Among the controversial aspects of Edelman’s history is its work for various tobacco companies in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Documents released under the Master Settlement Agreement revealed how the company played a key role in preventing effective legislation against the tobacco industry and manipulating public opinion on tobacco and its adverse effects on health in the US.

Other documents reveal how Edelman assisted transnational tobacco companies “to slow, to stop, to reverse the growing belief that smoking is harmful to the nonsmoker,” encouraging clients to “break out of the tried and true principles of Public Relations – 101 and massage some truly creative ideas.”

As late as the mid-1990s, Edelman was helping Philip Morris fight smoking bans and working to generate positive media coverage for Marlboro’s products. By then the risks of smoking – the health-damaging and life-limiting effects of tobacco – were widely known and scientifically verified several times over.

Other clients of Edelman have included the despotic and repressive government of Saudi Arabia. Mind you, our own government sells arms to the same government.

Cision are another PR company that provide social media ‘monitoring’ and I have had visits to my site from theirs. The company offers three web-based packages: the ‘CisionMarketing Suite’, the ‘Public Relations Suite’ and a ‘Government Relations and Political Action Committee Suite’The Cision ‘Public Relations Suite’ allows users to distribute press releases, access a database of bloggers and journalists, and monitor and analyse news and social media sites. 

The company’s ‘Government Relations Suite’ manages government contacts, analyses lobbying activity, facilitates communication with elected officials and provides PAC compliance software for filing reports to the FEC and state elections commissions (in US). Cision also have a UK base at Canary Wharf, London. They offer a service to businesses that enables business and other actors to “Monitor millions of social media, mainstream news and online news sources, to help you control your story.” 

Ultimately these strategies are all about public ‘knowledge management’ and manipulation.

A listed app called meltwater has also showed up on my stats page more recently. Outside Insight is Meltwater’s Media Intelligence and Social Media Monitoring tool. Their site says: “PR professionals lean on Meltwater’s product suite to help them boost their brand’s position and demonstrate their ROI (Return on Investment).”

Another app that is used to refer people to my site is from the People Pattern Corporation, which is a market research company that say: “While most social marketing tools focus on analyzing conversations about a brand, we know that the most valuable insights come from studying the people behind those conversations.”

I can’t help but wonder what they made of me and my humble, anti-neoliberal, unprepackaged, unsold, unsponsored, unspun, kiss-my-ass-rational, researched and evidenced analysis and commentaries. 

Then there is Falcon IO, also regularly visiting my site, who say: “Managing brand perception in a world of social and online sharing can seem daunting. Social listening is the first step to regaining control.” What strikes me is the complete lack of transparency surrounding the traffic being directed to my site from these PR companies. I can’t access any of the sites via the links in my traffic stats.

This company say they use behavioural insights to manipulate people’s opinion, using social media as a platform.

So do the Government. In 2008 one member of Boris Johnson’s campaign team was caught posting comments on blogs critical of his boss without sufficiently concealing their identity. A few years later, another member of Johnson’s campaign was found posing as a ‘concerned’ Labour supporter trying to prevent Ken Livingstone from being the party’s candidate for mayor. 

As Adam Bienkov says: “Twitter and blogging have given a voice to millions and allowed genuine opposition movements to take their case to the masses. Censorship of these movements has not always proved effective, with only authoritarian governments possessing the means and the will to implement it. For big business and less repressive governments, the alternative of simply crowding out your opposition online must seem a far more attractive prospect.”

It’s a lucrative business too. On Facebook, it’s commonplace for people with community pages to get a notification asking you to ‘boost’ your posts for a sum of money. This increases the reach of the post – more people see it. This means that those who can afford to pay the most to Facebook have the most prominent positions in newsfeeds, the biggest audiences and potentially, the greatest influence on opinion, as it simply crowds out alternative perspectives.

Even our views and beliefs are being subjected to market forces, as social media platforms are increasingly neoliberalised and thus become increasingly undemocratised. 

Attempts to manipulate the media and public opinion are on the rise – spurred on in part by the repressive political mood in the UK and the growing reach of the internet.

Green plastering the internet

Astroturfing has become a powerful and efficient public opinion management strategy for many organisations, and also for the state. Pre-written letters to an editor have turned into opinion-spamming and fake online reviews. The internet has offered a broad arena to practise astroturfing. It’s an irony that the agriculture world’s prince of darkness. Monsanto, invented the real ‘chemgrass’ asfroturf. And by coincidence, Edelman launched a charm offensive for the GMO giant, intimidating environmentally friendly bloggers and pointing out the occasional ‘couple of errors’ here and there. Seems like a commonly used PR tactic, then. Edelman got pretty much the same treatment that I’ve given 3X1. Quite properly so. I take this democracy and free speech idea very seriously, as it happens.

Astroturfing can range from a few forum posts online or comments praising a company or government ideology and policy to something rather closer to harassmentand abuse, and from genuine disagreement and independent troublemakers to organised ‘trolls’, and acutely personal and intimidating attacks from entirely fake campaigners.

Organisations involved in competition may also suffer substantially from astroturfing practices, when competitors are, for example, spreading false information and rumours about them.

But then, so do campaigners, grassroots groups and academic critics, increasingly. The difference between astroturfing and grassroots movements is that grassroots movements are authentic, created spontaneously and promote issues in the public interest, whereas fake grassroots movements are created artificially by, for example, organisations or the state. Astroturfing is all about promoting private interests.

Lobbyists and PR experts are usually behind fake grassroots movements. George Monbiot also adds the state as one of the actors behind astroturfing. Astroturfing is a weapon that state and corporate players use. Monbiot defines astroturfing as a technique, which mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilisations.

He says: “Companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of each astroturfer, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.

 This software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.

 Fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically reposting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.

 Human astroturfers can then be assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and retweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.

 With some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, “make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to fictitious personas.”

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:

a. Create “10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.”

b. Automatically provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet” (an IP address is the number which identifies someone’s computer), and these are to be changed every day, “hiding the existence of the operation”. The software should also mix up the astroturfers’ web traffic with “traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organisation. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”

c. Create “static IP addresses” for each persona, enabling different astroturfers “to look like the same person over time”. It should also allow “organisations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organisation.”

Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It jeopardises the notion of online democracy. Comment threads on issues with major commercial implications are already being wrecked by what look like armies of organised trolls – as you can sometimes see on guardian.co.uk.

The internet is a wonderful gift, but it’s also a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection. In recent years, the lobbying game has changed because of social media websites, citizen journalism (described by one lobbyist as “a major irritant”), and online petitions capable of getting millions of signatures in a matter of hours. Among the lobbyists affected by this shift is James Bethell, whose firm, Westbourne Communications, is in the business of fighting back against what it calls the “insurgency tactics” of online campaigners.

Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell, writing for Vice, say: Today, commercial lobbyists operate sophisticated monitoring systems designed to spot online threats. It you bad-mouth a large corporation in 140 characters, chances are the corporation’s social media people will find it. Their job, then, is to sift through the sea of online malcontents and find the “influencers.”

“The person making a lot of noise is probably not the influential one,” Mike Seymour, the former head of crisis management at PR and lobbying giant Edelman, told fellow flacks attending a conference across the road from UK Parliament in November 2011. “You’ve got to find the influential one, especially if they are gatherers of people against us.” His point was eloquently made by events happening across town—as he spoke, Occupy protests were creating headlines around the world. Seymour explained that once these influencers are identified, “listening posts” should be put out there, to “pick up the first warning signals” of activist operations. 

Once they have this intelligence, lobbyists can get to work. Part of Westbourne’s response to HS2 critics was to “zero in” and counter “inconsistent” press reports, as Bethell explained to high-speed rail advocates in the US. More broadly, Westbourne has advised US lobbyists of the need to “pick off” their critics with “sniper-scope accuracy” – to “shut them up,” as he explained to an audience of distinguished guests at a conference in 2012. Westbourne engages in aggressive rebuttal campaigns, which involves creating a feeling among opponents that everything they say will be picked apart. This is an “exhausting but crucial” part of successful lobbying, says Bethell.

This ‘exhausting but crucial part of successful lobbying’ includes injecting all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of targeted opponents; and the use of techniques drawn from the social sciences, linguistics, poropaganda and the advertising industry to manipulate and warp online discourse and activism to generate outcomes that PR companies’ clients – including governments and the corporate sector – considers desirable.

The corporate is also the political: the cosy relationship of shared totalitarian tactics

Glenn Greenwald is an American journalist and author, best known for his role in a series of reports published by The Guardian newspaper beginning in June 2013, detailing the US and UK global surveillance programmes, and based on classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden.  

In June 2013, a visit by notionally jackbooted government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices hit the news surprisingly quietly, when Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ

David Miranda, partner of Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Snowden, was held for 9 hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated his personal electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. 

This was an intimidation tactic, and a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process. As Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.” Even the Telegraph columnist Janet Daley remarked that these events were like something out of East Germany in the 1970s. 

A couple of years back, Greenwald wrote: “Surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats.  

“As Anonymous expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anythingterrorist or violent in their actions.”

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, had long been the source of speculation.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, [co-author of “Nudge”, with behavioural economist Richard Thaler], a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Legitimate criticisms, in other words. I’ve suggested that nudge strategies are being deployed to influence political opinions online for some time. They are.

But the GCHQ documents were the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends.

Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Then there is the use of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds.

Greewald said in 2015: “Today’s newly published document touts the work of GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell,” devoted to “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption”:

Under the title “Online Covert Action”, the document details a variety of means to engage in “influence and info ops” as well as “disruption and computer net attack,” while dissecting how human beings can be manipulated using “leaders,” “trust,” “obedience” and “compliance”:


The documents lay out theories of how humans interact with one another, particularly online, and then attempt to identify ways to influence the outcomes – or “game” it:

Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.

No government should be able to engage in these tactics: there can be no justification for government agencies to target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltratation [and sometimes destruction] of online political communities, and for developing techniques for manipulating online discourse. But to allow those actions with no public knowledge, informed consent or accountability is particularly dangerous as well as completely unjustifiable.

PR is concerned with selling products, persons, governments and policies, corporations, and other institutions. In addition to marketing products, PR has been variously used to attract investments, influence legislation, raise companies’ public profiles, put a positive spin on policies, disasters, undermine citizens campaigns, gain public support for conducting warfare, and to change the public perception of repressive regimes.

As I said in the opening paragraphs, these reflect the actions of a government (and state sponsors) teetering on the brink of totalitarianism.

 

Related 

Atos’s PR company director wants me to phone him about one of my articles

More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government

The inexorable rise of the PR men

These astroturf libertarians are the real threat to internet democracy – George Monbiot

I share Monbiot’s observations that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where big business stands to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health, equality and corporate tax avoidance.

These are often characterised by incredible levels of abuse and disruption. I have also noted the strong association between this tactic and a clearly identifiable set of values that are pro-neoliberal. Such values would be remarkably self-defeating for ordinary citizens to hold – the equivalent of daily hitting yourself in the face while simultaneously simply handing out your income to the state and millionaires. These values are: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-welfare and anti-regulation.

Many ‘libertarians’ argue that reducing the state means liberation: ‘freedom’ for citizens to pursue their own interests. In an era of all-pervasive government social experimentation in behavoural economics,  citizen psychoregulation and micromanagement and increasing western political authoritarianism, that’s hardly likely to come to pass. The many libertarians I’ve enountered online have a profound dislike of the promotion of civil rights and genuine citizen freedoms. That’s just for ‘snowflakes’, apparently.

The US libertarians are invariably strident patriots,they defend the military and bang on about the right to own a gun so that they can defend their ‘private property’. You can point out to these often aggressive and abusive commentators who like to call you ‘snowflake’, ‘leftard’ , ‘do-gooder’ (absurdly), and ‘bleeding heart liberal’, that without a degree of welfare and healthcare, many can’t possibly be ‘free’, but to no avail.

They simply become more abusive, rational debate becomes impossible and subsequently predictably shuts down. It’s difficult to believe that these parading ‘ordinary folk’ despots are commenting with ordinary folk’s best interests in mind.

 


 

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