Britain’s covert propaganda bid to stop Muslims joining ISIS
Ian Cobain, Alice Ross, Rob Evans, Mona Mahmood, Nick Fielding, Safak Timur, Graun, May 2 2016
HMG has embarked on a series of clandestine propaganda campaigns intended to bring about “attitudinal and behavioural change” among young British Muslims as part of a counter-radicalisation programme. In a sign of mounting anxiety across Whitehall over the persuasiveness of ISIS’ online propaganda, a secretive Home Office unit has developed a discreet multi-million-pound counter-messaging operation that it says privately is running at “industrial pace and scale.” However, the methods of the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which often conceal the government’s role, will dismay some Muslims and may undermine confidence in the “PREVENT” (a pindo-style acronym for morons to grasp in the bath – RB) counter-radicalisation programme, which already faces widespread criticism. One RICU initiative advertises itself as a campaign providing advice on how to raise funds for Syrian refugees, and as such has had face-to-face conversations with thousands of students at university freshers’ fairs, without any of the students realising they were engaging with a government programme. That campaign, rather unimaginatively entitled “Help for Syria,” has distributed leaflets to 760,000 homes without the recipients realising they were government communications. Much of RICU’s work is outsourced to a London communications company called “Breakthrough Media Network (BMN)” which has produced dozens of websites, leaflets, videos, films, Facebook pages, Tweets and sound-bites with titles such as “The Truth about ISIS” and “Help for Syria.” BMN also organises events at schools and universities, and works closely with a number of grass-roots Muslim organisations to disseminate messages and campaigns that the company has developed as part of its RICU contract. BMN also helped form a PR company that promoted the work of the grassroots organisations to journalists. The community groups said their relationship with RICU helps them get their own messages to a wider audience, and that they retain editorial control over counter-radicalisation communications. However, a series of RICU and BMN documents seen by the Graun show that RICU privately says it is the one retaining editorial control, including over the products produced as part of these partnerships. In one document, BMN suggests that while the community groups are consulted at several stages of the project, final approval should remain with RICU. A former BMN employee said communications campaigns were designed according to objectives set by RICU, and that the government closely oversaw the progress of products and had final sign-off. The messages are targeted at the same audience as “PREVENT”, defined as British Muslims, particularly males, aged 15 to 39. The Home Office is highly defensive of RICU’s work. One senior boxtop acknowledged the unit was engaged in propaganda campaigns, but said:
All we’re trying to do is stop people becoming suicide bombers.
The Home Office Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees RICU, says it believes the unit’s work is an important element of the PREVENT strategy (that’s not saying much – RB). Andrew Stunell, a former Lib Dem minister who was involved in drawing up counter-extremism policies in the coalition government, said he believed it to be “sound and reasonable” to support community groups that were promoting moderation, but that he was “neutral” on the question of whether government involvement should be
acknowledged admitted. Several other former government ministers familiar with RICU’s work insisted it was an essential component of the government’s efforts to counter ISIS propaganda. They declined to be identified, one saying this was because the work was classified. One former minister said it would be “naive” to suggest the government could openly communicate its counter-radicalisation messages. But another, while broadly supportive of RICU, said he believed the deception involved in the dissemination of the messages could damage trust between the government and Muslim citizens. Critics of RICU’s behavioural change programme say they fear it could cause serious damage to the relationship between the government and Muslims. Imran Khan, the human rights lawyer who represented the family of murdered London teenager Stephen Lawrence, said:
If the government wants its Muslim citizens to listen to it, it needs to be trusted. And to be trusted, it needs to be honest. What is happening here is not honest, it’s deeply deceptive. Furthermore, this government needs to stop thinking of young British Muslims as some sort of fifth column that it needs to deal with.
Frances Webber of the Institute of Race Relations said the programme risked undermining rather than amplifying the work of Muslim civil society, if it appeared that groups had been co-opted to a government agenda. She said:
The community groups are in a double-bind. If they don’t disclose government support, and it’s revealed, they lose trust. If they do disclose it, they lose trust. The government should be asking itself, why is that? The answer is that the whole PREVENT model is
bollocksirretrievably tainted. The government’s counter-radicalisation policy is trying to channel thought, speech and ideas into a fairly narrow concept of what’s acceptable and everything else is becoming potentially pre-criminal.
Some senior government boxtops who have been closely involved with PREVENT also have severe misgivings about how RICU’s programme is being delivered, and believe some PREVENT initiatives have been poorly conceived and not properly evaluated. One said:
PREVENT isn’t working. We know that, because PREVENT isn’t preventing. (This is stating the obvious contradiction. But in fact, PREVENT is working, doing what it is really supposed to do, which is recruit Jihadis but for overseas use, the same old garbage principle this entire Jewish-originated GWOT is based on – RB)
The aim of the propaganda campaign is set out in a series of documents. “Help for Syria” for example describes itself as “providing advice and guidance for anyone who wants to raise money and aid for Syria.” It was “designed, delivered and maintain” on behalf of RICU and the FCO to “influence conversations among young British Muslims” and reduce the desire to travel to the region. RICU staff, who include social psychologists and anthropologists as well as counter-terrorism officials and marketing strategists, describe their work as strategic communications rather than propaganda. BMN privately says that one objective of its RICU work is to promote “a reconciled British Muslim identity.” BMN goes to considerable lengths to conceal RICU’s involvement in its work. A number of staff are security-cleared, and new recruits are expected to sign non-disclosure agreements. The company has also offered to wipe computer hard drives after work has been delivered to the Home Office and to use mobile phones that can be disabled if lost or stolen. BMN is understood to say (this means they granted an interview but on condition of denying they had done so – RB) that its relationship with RICU is not covert and that it is up to the community groups to decide whether they disclose the government’s support. However in documents seen by the Graun, BMN says:
(We accept that) any content or messaging attributed to the state, are highly unlikely to have any credibility among these audiences. (Disclosure of the government’s role would have a) negative impact on … the product, RICU, PREVENT and the Home Office’s reputation.
Several sources say some of the campaign material has been tested on focus groups of young British Muslims without acknowledging its connection to PREVENT. One of RICU’s primary tasks is to monitor online conversations among what it describes as vulnerable communities. After products are released, RICU monitor “key forums” for online conversations, one of the documents says, in order to “track shifting narratives.” Strategic communications is defined by the UK government as “the systematic and coordinated use of all means of communication to deliver UK national security objectives by influencing the attitudes and behaviours of individuals, groups and states.” With the public unaware of how strategic communications operations are being conducted, the government has made a number of public announcements about its investment in such campaigns. Last September, Cameron announced at the UN in New York that his government would spend £10m on a “strategic communications cell,” in order to wage what he candidly described as a “propaganda war” against ISIS. The Home Office issued a statement saying it was working with communities, civil society groups and individuals to counter the “twisted narrative” of terrorists and extremists. It said:
We are proud of the support RICU has provided to organisations working on the front line to challenge the warped ideology of groups such as Daesh and to protect communities. This work can involve sensitive issues, vulnerable communities and hard-to-reach audiences, and it has been important to build relationships out of the media glare. We respect the bravery of individuals and organisations who choose to speak out against violence and extremism and it is right that we support and protect them. Our guiding principle has to be whether or not any organisation we work with is itself happy to talk publicly about what they do. At the same time, we are as open as we can be, and have referenced the role of RICU in publications and in parliament.
The Graun understands that the Home Office and the Foreign Office are about to embark on an expanded programme of strategic communications initiatives. (This is either a threat, or a coded way of saying they are going to scrap all these bullshit organs staffed by assholes and bigots and sadistic career spooks with no morals except those of the global underground of gangsters, but I doubt they will do that, cos they themselves are just the same global gangsters themselves, no more and no less – RB).
Why does he always look like he’s sucking cock when he’s preaching? – RB