Propaganda is described as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” Black propaganda is “false information and material that purports to be from a source on one side of a conflict, but is actually from the opposing side, typically used to vilify, embarrass, or misrepresent the enemy.”
When these individual principles of communication clash to manipulate the discourse in democracy what you get is an underlying confusion by the population – in other words, they are not sure what to believe any more. This was evident in both Britain’s EU referendum and the US election.
A prime example: Google ‘Syria False Flag’ and the fight between mainstream and alternative media has never been hotter. For the rest of us though – confusion.
Propaganda being used on Britain’s citizens is not knew by any means. It is used incessantly today by the government simply to change public opinion in order to get an ideology such as austerity to be at least palatable by the electorate. But are darker forces now at work? Dark Money and Black propaganda are terms that have moved to the mainstream narrative of late whilst MI6 continues with its psychological information battle against the public’s desire for the truth.
In 2013 the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London showed that public opinion was repeatedly off the mark on issues including crime, benefit fraud and immigration. Hetan Shah, the executive director of the Royal Statistical Society, said at the time:
“Our data poses real challenges for policymakers. How can you develop good policy when public perceptions can be so out of kilter with the evidence?”
In fact, Shah ended up being off the mark himself. Good policy was not what misconceived public opinion was about. Public opinion was made that way deliberately and the government controlled it.
For instance, the report noted that some 31 per cent of the population is thought to consist of recent immigrants, when the figure is actually 13 per cent. On the issue of ethnicity, black and Asian people are thought to make up 30 per cent of the population, when the figure is closer to 11 per cent. All of this information was driven by the mainstream media to distort public opinion. The result – political pressure that ended with Britain’s EU referendum.
The government was complicit in distorting the truth which had profound consequences for everyone.
Tony Blair’s misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and fake news campaign to attack Iraq has been a huge blot on Britain’s foreign policy choices. But it was supported by a mainstream media who did not question the legitimacy of the counterfeit information fed to parliament and disseminated to the public. To keep the destructive nature of the US/UK led coalition going when it was getting bogged down The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that the British PR firm, Bell Pottinger, worked alongside top US military officials at Camp Victory in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War and was paid more than half a billion dollars for the production and distribution of fake Al-Qaeda videos – all with the sanction of the government of the day.
In another example, to get the public and more importantly, parliament on side at the time that David Cameron was attempting to drag Britain into the quagmire that is Syria – the BBC reported on a chemical attack by Syrian forces on its people that was proven to be fake news. This was the event that pushed politicians into backing the US attack of a sovereign country who had threatened no-one, especially not Britain.
There are stories too numerous to mention of government collusion with the mainstream press to push their political causes but it has been a fact for some years that Journalists are routinely being fed false information by MI6 and MI5 and worse, the journalists themselves are in some instances indeed government operatives. Think this is the arena of conspiracy theories? Think again!
Back in June 2000 the Guardian newspaper was so concerned at the scale of the problem, they wrote a piece entitled “Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Journalist” where they accused British government spies for working as full-time journalists. The Guardian accused spooks of writing tendentious articles under false names or that the intelligence agency was planting propaganda stories on willing journalists who disguise their origin from their readers. And from here it starts to get a bit ‘dark’.
The Guardian article goes on to say that
“a very active programme by the secret agencies to colour what appears in the British press, called, information operations, or “I/Ops” (Read Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations) was very active and whose primary role is too “contribute towards influence and persuasion.”
The Independent ran a story that confirmed MI6 operatives in a special unit “cultivated`friendly’ journalists and editors” and blew the lid on MI6 working at the heart of The Spectator magazine, amongst others.
These operations are very much in action to this day. At the time they started they were pushing anti-Soviet stories through the Information Research Dept. Its task was ostensibly to plant anti-communist stories in the world press. Clearly, not much has changed here.
Since September 11 2001, pretty much all of the mainstream media has been flooded in warnings by anonymous intelligence sources of terrorist threats (and we’ve just had one stating attacks could take place every 6 months on British soil). The former UN arms inspector, Scott Ritter, revealed in his book, ‘Iraq Confidential’, the realities of an MI6 psychological warfare effort, known as Operation Mass Appeal. According to Ritter:
“Mass Appeal served as a focal point for passing MI6 intelligence on Iraq to the media, both in the UK and around the world. The goal was to help shape public opinion about Iraq and the threat posed by WMD.” MI6 propaganda specialists, at the time, claimed they could spread the misinformation through “editors and writers who work with us from time to time“.
In another example readers of the Sunday Telegraph were fed a dramatic story of the son of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and his alleged connection to a currency counterfeiting plan some years ago. As it turned out the story was written by Con Coughlin, the paper’s chief foreign correspondent and it was falsely attributed to a “British banking official”. In fact, it had been given to him by officers of MI6, who, it transpired, had been supplying Coughlin with material for years.
The Guardian also make mention that the government has a lot of influence over the media by saying “But the truth is that they are very deliberately seeking to control us.”
The Spectator also got caught up in another MI6 story designed to change public opinion over the Bosnia/Serbia conflicts.
Roy Greenslade, editor of the Mirror during the Gulf war in 1991, commented:
“Most tabloid newspapers — or even newspapers in general — are playthings of MI5“. Spy novelist John le Carre, who worked for MI6 between 1960 and 1964, has even claimed that the British secret service then “controlled large parts of the press” — just as they do today.
David Leigh, investigations editor of The Guardian up to 2013 spoke a series of examples where secret services manipulated prominent journalists. He says
“reporters are routinely approached by intelligence agents.”
John Simpson of the BBC is a case in point. As world affairs editor, he described in his autobiography how he was approached by MI5. He said:
“At some point they might make me broadcast something favourable to them. Or they might just ask me to carry a message to someone. You never knew,” he said.
Perhaps one of the most interesting incidents was reported by Jonathan Bloch and Patrick Fitzgerald. During investigations of covert UK warfare, they report the editor of “one of Britain’s most distinguished journals” as believing that “more than half its foreign correspondents were on the MI6 payroll.”
Today, more than ever we now live in a technocracy, not one run by technical experts such as economists but by so-called ‘dark money’ dominating new technologies like social media. The London School of Economics now warns that “new technology has disrupted British politics so much that current laws are visibly unable to ensure a free and fair election of any type or indeed control the influence of money in politics.” They maintain that there are clear concerns that big money interests manipulate political debate – “There is a real danger we are heading down the US route where whoever spends the most money is most likely to win. That’s why we’ve always controlled spending in this country. But these controls are no longer working.”
One company, Cambridge Analytica (CA) is in the frame for influencing not just Brexit but the US election where personal data is used to target voters. Its parent company SCL Group is known for involvement in military disinformation campaigns of social media and voter targeting and is used by the military and politicians to study and manipulate public opinion and political will.
When SCL formed Cambridge Analytica in 2013 it hired researchers from Cambridge University, a place well known as a recruitment centre and collaboration hub for MI5 and MI6. According to The Guardian, CA is “using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge.” In the US elections it amassed 5,000 data points on 220 million Americans. Donald Trump spent $15million dollars with this one company alone, hugely outgunning a naive opposition in this one area of campaigning.
CA was also involved in the 2016 Brexit referendum supporting “persuadable” voters to vote for leaving the European Union, a vote won by 1.2 million of 46.5million potential voters.
Michal Kosinski, previously a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Cambridge and currently, an assistant professor of organisational behaviour at the business school of Stanford, is not a fan of CA. Referring to the company he said “there’s a thin line between convincing people and manipulating them.”
MI6 and MI5 have a long history of manipulating the press, now they have obviously moved on to more technical means and lets be fair, technology has always been at the forefront of their capabilities – Edward Snowden let the cat out of that bag on that one. Mixing the activities of powerful unelected bodies such as the secret services with new socially based technologies and democracy will inevitably cause many problems and confusion.
In the meantime, it should be of no surprise that amongst all this, the British government have quietly made significant steps to silence the press on all sorts of related issues that uncover their activities and are now using legislation to cover their anti-democratic endeavours. Today, the publication of the MP’s expenses scandal would end with a 14 year prison sentence for journalists and leakers, the same as a foreign spies passing sensitive information to the enemy. That is how the government views real investigative journalism in our modern democracy and interpreted it in the new Espionage Act.
Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, who heads up a group of leading experts in the field, stated that new forms of online campaigning had not only fundamentally changed the ways that political parties target voters but, more crucially, had also dramatically altered the ability of big money interests to shape political debate and outcome.
Tambini continues –
“There is a real danger that public trust in the democratic process will be lost. There is real potential for foreign influence. We have now the ability to manipulate public opinion on a level we have never seen before. And the current framework is weak and helpless.”
‘Dark Money” and the shadowy characters behind it come in all forms; corporations, governments and even foreign actors. It might be a bit far fetched to think that the tactics being deployed in today’s democracies look more and more like military campaigns in some sort of Matrix style dystopian future but the reality is that is exactly the line of travel.
The government in Britain and America, far from stepping in to legislate against this type of voter manipulation have actively encouraged, indeed colluded with emerging forces that favour their own ideologies that will lead to the continual erosion of democratic principles and civil liberty.