The British Foreign Office and the Propaganda War on Syria
Barbara McKenzie, Global Research, Dec 23 2016
On his first official visit to Turkey in Sep 2016, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced that the British government was giving about £2.3b in aid to Syria. Of course when Johnson said ‘aid to Syria’ he meant anything but. Britain may be contributing to the odd refugee camp outside of Syria, but most of that £2.3b goes to support AQ- and Daesh-linked groups in order to bring down the legitimate government in Syria. Since 2011, the British government has had an official policy of regime change in Syria: Assad must go. While the UK has not yet formally invaded Syria, it has played a significant military role, including training insurgents in Jordan from 2012. The RAF has a presence in Syria, ostensibly to fight terrorism, though whether it has ever targeted anyone but the SAA soldiers is open to question. The presence in Syrian airspace of the RAF is in clear breach of international law. Perhaps the biggest role played by the British government is that of creating propaganda designed to undermine the Syrian government and its supporters in their fight against ‘insurgents.’ The official position of the NATO states is that the Syrian government has ‘lost legitimacy’ and that there is a ‘legitimate opposition’ made up of ‘moderate rebels.’ To create support for this view, NATO states including Britain, Pindostan, France and the Netherlands have invested heavily in a propaganda campaign to shape public perception of the war by demonising the Syrian administration, particularly the person of Pres Assad, and all the forces that support the administration: the SAA, the NDF (part-time reservists, rather like a Home Guard), and non-Syrian forces from neighbouring countries, such as Hezbollah, and by creating a false perception of a popular uprising spearheaded by ‘moderate democratic’ forces that are acceptable to the Syrian people, and thus can eventually form or be part of a viable government. The target audience is the West. Syrians themselves are not going to swallow the bizarre fiction that groups who look, act and have the same ideology as Daesh should somehow be seen as heroes in preference to their own sons and daughters in the SAA and as a legitimate political opposition to their government. A typical example of the ‘moderate democratic’ opposition in the eyes of NATO is the Harakat Nur-ed’Din al-Zinki, whose crimes include sawing off the head of a 12-year-old child, and who clearly identify with ISIS. They were careful to pose in front of the Daesh flag in this picture.
In the context of Aleppo, the State Dept has claimed throughout 2016 that it has been endeavouring to separate out the ‘moderate rebels’ from the extremists. This is clearly nonsense. Nusra dominates in eastern Aleppo, and when a a ceasefire was agreed in Sep 2016, 20 ‘moderate’ groups including Ahrar al-Sham and Zinki refused to take part because Nusra was not included. The propaganda campaign also serves to draw attention away from the role NATO have played in creating instability in Syria. It is painfully clear that British anti-war politicians and organisations such as Stop the War UK believe that honour is satisfied as long as Britain is not openly bombing in Syria. The immediate aim of the propaganda is to gain acceptance for increased NATO intervention in Syria, above all a no-fly zone like that approved by the UN for Libya in 2011, which would then be interpreted by NATO forces as a license to bomb with impunity and destroy Syria as a functioning independent country.
The UK’s propaganda effort for the Syrian armed opposition began after the government failed to persuade parliament to support military action against trhe Assad regime. In autumn 2013, the UK embarked on behind-the-scenes work to influence the course of the war by shaping perceptions of opposition fighters.
(Cobain, Ross, Evans, Mahmoud, May 3 2016)
The British Foreign Office (FCO), working with the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and the Prime Minister’s Office, founds or contracts companies for the express purpose of creating ‘targeted information’ in relation to the war on Syria. In effect, the British government has funded a comprehensive top-of-the-range advertising campaign to promote sectarian extremists in Syria who function as units of AQ & Daesh:
Contractors hired by the Foreign Office but overseen by the Ministry of Defence produce videos, photos, military reports, radio broadcasts, print products and social media posts branded with the logos of fighting groups, and effectively run a press office for opposition fighters.’
(Cobain, Ross, Evans, Mahmoud, May 3 2016)
The contractors also develop specific public relations projects such as the White Helmets, Bana Tweets From Aleppo and the Civil March on Aleppo. In parallel with these operations, the British Government funds social media trolls to get the desired message across. In Jan 2015, the MoD announced the formation of its 77th Brigade, which would consist of social media activists engaged in ‘non-lethal warfare’ attempting to control the narrative in media such as Facebook and Twitter. According to the report in the Guardian, Pindostan and Israel were already heavily engaged in such operations. Two closely aligned companies working with the FCO and other departments are Incostrat and Mayday Rescue:
Mayday Rescue supports vulnerable communities in the most dangerous and challenging places in the world by training and equipping local groups to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impact of war, disasters, and emergencies.
At the present time, Mayday’s sole responsibility appears to be management of the ‘Syrian Civil Defense’ or White Helmets, a supposed first-responder organisation staffed by ordinary Syrians which is in fact an extension of the terrorist groups in Aleppo and Idlib. Their function is to cooperate with the Aleppo Media Center in the production of material which shows themselves as heroes and legitimate authorities on the Syrian conflict on the ground, and the Syrian and Russian governments as war criminals deliberately targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, animal shelters etc. To that end, Mayday is generously funded by Britian, Pindostan and other governments, with offices in Amsterdam, Turkey, Jordan and Dubai. As of Mar 2016, its operational HQ in Istanbul employs 30 staff and has an annual operating budget of $35m. According to Mayday:
Founder James le Mesurier has spent 20 years working in fragile states as a UN staff member, a consultant for private companies and the British FCO, and as a British Army Officer. Since 2012, James has been working on the Syria crisis where he started the Syrian White Helmets programme in Mar 2013. In 2014, he founded Mayday Rescue.
Incostrat was founded by Paul Tilley, who has a similar background to le Mesurier, with experience of both the army and the FCO. Its website says:
We are a communications and media consultancy that provides a customised end-to-end service for government and private clients: we specialise in strategic campaign planning, narrative development, message distribution and feedback generation in support of policymaking. We have proven track records of designing and delivering complex communications and media projects in conflict and post-conflict environments. We have over two and a half years of continuous experience of Syria-specific work, co-operating with the moderate armed opposition, politicians, tribal and civil society.
Tilley’s CV on LinkedIn reveals the following:
2011/12: Director of Strategic Communication in the MoD for the MENA. 2012/2016: developed and managed several multi-million-dollar media and communications projects that are at the leading edge of British & Pindosi foreign and security policy objectives in the Middle East.
According to the LinkedIn profiles of their respective founders, Incostrat and Mayday Rescue were founded in Nov 2014, but le Mesurier and Tilley were doing development work in 2013 or earlier. The White Helmets first officially appeared on the scene in Apr 2014. The BBC assisted in the launching of the brand by producing a documentary which coincided with the White Helmets’ appearance on social media. Thierry Meyssen wrote:
Incostrat is a communications company in the service of the jihadist groups. It designed logos, made video clips by portable telephone, and printed brochures for a hundred of these groups, thus giving the impression of a popular uprising against the Republic. Together with the SAS, Incostrat made a spectacle of the most important group, Jaysh al-Islam. The Turks supplied the tanks which were delivered from Jordan. Uniforms were made in Spain and distributed to the jihadists for an officer promotion ceremony. All this was choreographed and filmed by professionals in order to give the impression that the army was organised like regular forces and was capable of rivaling with the Syrian Arab Army. The idea was planted that this really was a civil war, and yet the images only showed a few hundred extras, most of whom were foreigners.
Comparison between the older Daesh flag and the Incostrat designs for groups like Jaish al Islam and Jaish al Fatah is striking.
Who actually does what in the Syrian theatre is not quite clear. On the one hand, Mayday Rescue appears to have total responsibility for ‘Syrian Civil Defense.’ On the other, there are similarities in the branding and marketing of the terrorist groups with their logos, letterheads and social media pages, and projects like the White Helmets. One possibility is that Incostrat, as well as having responsiblity for the design aspects of the propaganda campaigns, may also have the task of finding ‘creative solutions’ in broad terms, such as the Bana Project, the Civil March and maybe the White Helmets. Mayday’s responsibility would then be the management of the White Helmets and the Aleppo Media Center, both of which function as part of terrorist groups in Syria. Whether the Bana Project and the Civil March are managed from within Incostrat or whether there are separate groups or companies overseeing these projects too is not clear. The SOHR, founded in 2011, is a Britain-based organisation that provides information on the Syrian conflicts to the world’s media. The SOHR is run from Coventry, England by Rami Abd’ul-Rahman, a thrice-convicted criminal in Syria who left more than 10 years before the war started and is openly opposed to the Syrian government. The Observatory is almost certainly the brainchild of the Foreign Office:
His funding comes from the EU and an unnamed European state, most likely Britian, as he has direct access to former Foreign Minister William Hague, who he has been documented meeting in person on multiple occasions at the FCO in London. It was the British government that first relocated Abd’ul-Rahman to Coventry after he fled Syria over a decade ago because of his anti-government activities.
(Beau Christensen, Propaganda spin cycle)
Although the SOHR is manifestly biased, only showing the conflict from the perspective of the insurgents and consistently showing the Syrian government in a bad light, the information provided is considered by the corporate media, the UN and trusted NGOs to be authoritative, and is widely quoted:
Clearly for real journalists, Abd’ul-Rahman is a useless, utterly compromised source of information who has every reason to twist reality to suit his admittedly politically-motivated agenda of overthrowing the Syrian government. However, for a propagandist he is a goldmine. That is why despite the overt conflict of interests, the lack of credibility, the obvious disadvantage of being nearly 3,000 miles away from the alleged subject of his “observations,” the Western media still eagerly laps up his constant torrent of disinformation.
(Tony Cartalucci, Guy in British Apartment)
These organisations by no means represent the total of British spending when it comes to creating or influencing propaganda while dressing it up as humanitarian endeavour or intellectual objectivity. The government is a major funder of a number of NGOs that are openly committed to ‘humanitarian intervention’ (regime change) in countries like Syria, such as Amnesty International. In his article Unravelling Bana, Qoppa999 has raised the question of the relationship of the much derided ‘research organisation’ Bellingcat with the British government, pointing out that one of the authors of Bellingcat’s own article on Bana is an ex-army officer. Incostrat, Mayday and SOHR have direct and undeniable links with the FCO. Their function is to create fake news for Western consumption that bears little or no relation to the reality within Syria, via tools such as Bana Alabed and the White Helmets, or directly in the case of the SOHR. The fake news is distributed via the corporate media and the reports of the industrial human rights complex. Social media are by no means forgotten. There is an incestuous relationship between the FCO projects, in that Bana promotes the White Helmets, while the activists of the Civil March promote both Bana and the White Helmets. At the same time, the MoD’s 77th Brigade push incessantly the general themes of Assad and Russian war crimes versus the ‘popular uprising’ on social media, but also reinforce the FCO’s major projects. Such trolls are easily detected on Twitter accounts like Bana’s. So what we have is the UK government openly funding multi-million dollar projects to create an assumption of war crimes by Syria and Russia against the Syrian people, while also creating a false image of a legitimate opposition. The purpose of all this is to garner support for a no-fly zone over Syria, imposed by the Britian, Pindostan and allied countries, as the first step to overthrowing the legitimate government.
Thierry Meyssan, The Techniques of Modern Military Propaganda
Thierry Meyssan, For Britain’s Media and Secret Service (MI6) War Propaganda Is an Art
Ian Cobain, Alice Ross, Rob Evans and Mona Mahmood, Inside Ricu: the Shadowy Propaganda Unit Inspired by the Cold War
Ian Cobain, Alice Ross, Rob Evan s and Mona Mahmood, How Britain Funds the Propaganda War Against ISIS
Tony Cartalucci, West’s Syrian Narrative Based on “Guy in British Apartment”
Beau Christensen, Propaganda spin cycle: ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ is funded by US and UK governments
Gearóid Ó Colmáin, Amnesty International, War Propaganda, and Human Rights Terrorism
Vanessa Beeley, The White Helmets Campaign for War not Peace