max blumenthal & mark ames with new tales of integrity initiative

British Military Intelligence Meddling In Pindo Politics
Max Blumenthal, Mark Ames, Grayzone Project, Jan 8 2019

A bombshell domestic spy scandal has been unfolding in Britain, after hacked internal communications exposed a covert military intelligence psychological warfare operation targeting its own citizens and political figures in allied NATO countries under the cover of fighting “Russian disinformation.” The leaked documents revealed a secret network of spies, prominent journalists and think-tanks colluding under the umbrella of a group called “Integrity Initiative” to shape domestic opinion and to smear political opponents of the right-wing Tory government, including the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. Until now, this Integrity Initiative domestic spy scandal has been ignored in Pindo media, perhaps because it has mostly involved British names. But it is clear that the influence operation has already been activated in Pindostan. Hacked documents reveal that the Integrity Initiative is cultivating powerful allies inside the State Dept, top DC think-tanks, the FBI and the DHS, where it has gained access to Katharine Gorka and her husband, the fascist-linked cable news pundit Sebastian Gorka. The Integrity Initiative has spelled out plans to expand its network across Pindostan, meddling in Pindo politics and recruiting “a new generation of Russia watchers” behind the false guise of a non-partisan charity. Moreover, the group has hired one of the most notorious Pindo “perception management” specialists, John Rendon, to train its clusters of pundits and cultivate relationships with the media. Back in Britain, MP Chris Williamson has clamored for an investigation into the Integrity Initiative’s abuse of public money.

In a recent editorial, Williamson drew a direct parallel between the group’s collaboration with journalists and surreptitious payments the CIA made to reporters during the Cold War. Williamson wrote:

These tactics resemble those deployed by the CIA in Operation Mockingbird that was launched at the height of the cold war in the early 1950s. Its aims included using the mainstream news media as a propaganda tool. They manipulated the news agenda by recruiting leading journalists to write stories with the express purpose of influencing public opinion in a particular way. Now it seems the British Establishment have dusted off the CIA’s old playbook and is intent on giving it another outing on this side of the Atlantic.

The existence of the Integrity Initiative was virtually unknown until this November, when the email servers of a previously obscure British think-tank called the Institute for Statecraft were hacked, prompting allegations of Russian intrusion. When the group’s internal documents appeared at a website hosted by Anonymous Europe, the public learned of a covert propaganda network seed-funded to the tune of over $2m by the Tory-controlled Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), and run largely by military intelligence officers. Through a series of cash inducements, off the record briefings and all-day conferences, the Integrity Initiative has sought to organize journalists across the West into an international echo chamber hyping up the supposed threat of Russian disinformation and to defame politicians and journalists critical of this new Cold War campaign. A bid for funding submitted by the Integrity Initiative in 2017 to the British Ministry of Defense promised to deliver a “tougher stance on Russia” by arranging for “more information published in the media on the threat of Russian active measures.”

The Integrity Initiative has also worked through its fronts in the media to smear political figures perceived as a threat to its militaristic agenda. Its targets have included a Spanish Security appointee, Pedro Banos, whose nomination was scuttled thanks a media blitz it secretly orchestrated; Jeremy Corbyn, whom the outfit and its media cutouts painted as a useful idiot of Russia; and a Scottish member of parliament, Neil Findlay, whom one of its closest media allies accused of adopting “Kremlin messaging” for daring to protest the official visit of the far-right Ukrainian politician Andrei Parubiy, the founder of two neo-Nazi parties and author of a White Nationalist memoir, View From The Right. These smear campaigns and many more surreptitiously orchestrated by the Integrity Initiative offer a disturbing preview of the reactionary politics it plans to inject into an already toxic American political environment.

A newly-released II document reveals that the outfit plans an aggressive expansion across Pindostan. II claims to have already established a “simple office” in Faschingstein, though it does not say where. It also boasts of partnerships with top DC think-tanks like the Atlantic Council, the Center for European Policy Analysis and the Center for Naval Analyses, along with close relationships with Pindo boxtops. A major hub of II influence is the State Dept’s Global Engagement Center, a de facto government propaganda operation established by Pres Obama to battle online Daesh recruitment, but which was rapidly repurposed to counter Russian disinformation following the election of Trump. II has also recruited one of the most infamous Pindo PR men to organize its clusters of journalists and political figures. He is John Rendon, best known as “The Man Who Sold The War”. In fact, he sold several wars, but most notoriously the Iraq invasion. Rendon was the self-described “information warrior” who planted fake news in the major Anglo-Pindo media about non-existent WMD threats. With deep ties to the CIA and other military intelligence agencies, his PR firm was paid $100m to organize and sell Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. In 2002, the NYT exposed a Pentagon program using Rendon to plant “disinformation” in media outlets around the world, including “false stories” and “the blackest of black PR,” in order to shape public opinion and sell the Iraq invasion.

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John Rendon (L) with Maj-Gen M Snodgrass, AFRICOM CoS (Photo: AFRICOM)

Journalist James Bamford outlined a catalogue of disinformation feats Rendon performed for the Pentagon, such as identifying “the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances, including the possibility of specific relationships and sponsorships.” Bamford also found proposals and programs Rendon was involved in that aimed to “’coerce’ foreign journalists and plant false information overseas (and) find ways to ‘punish’ those who convey the ‘wrong message.’” These tactics seem particularly relevant to his work with II, especially considering the internal documents that reveal further Rendon-style plans to produce reports and studies to be “fed anonymously into local media.” Among the outlets listed as friendly hosts in II internal memos are Buzzfeed and El Pais, the center-left Spanish daily. Internal documents also refer to interactions between II Director Chris Donnelly and top Trump boxtops like Katharine Gorka, a vehemently anti-Muslim DHS official, as well as her husband Sebastian, who earned right-wing fame during his brief tenure in Trump’s White House. The latter Gorka is an open supporter of the Hungarian Vitezi Rend, a proto-fascist order that collaborated with Nazi Germany during its occupation of Hungary. Following Trump’s election victory in 2016, Gorka appeared for televised interviews in a black Vitezi Rend uniform.

Sebastian Gorka in Vitezi Rend garb with
his wife Katharine on Election Night

Gorka was among the first figures listed on an itinerary for Donnelly to Faschingstein this Sep 18-22. The itinerary indicates that the two had breakfast before Donnelly delivered a presentation on “Mapping Russian Influence Activities” at the federally funded military research center, CNA.

According to the itinerary, Donnelly was granted access to Pentagon officials like Mara Karlin, an up-and-coming neoconservative cadre, and John McCain Institute executive director Kurt Volker, another neocon operative who also serves as the Pindo Rep for Ukraine. Numerous meetings with staffers inside the State Dept’s Office of Global Engagement were also detailed. Of all the State Dept boxtops named in II documents, the one who appeared most frequently was Todd Leventhal, a staffer at the State Dept’s Global Engagement Center, boasting of “20 years of countering disinformation, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and urban legends.” In an Apr 2018 II memo, he is listed as a current team member:

Funded to the tune of $160m this year to beat back Russian disinformation with “counter-propaganda,” the State Dept’s Global Engagement Center has refused to denytargeting Pindo citizens with information warfare of its own. Former Global Engagement Center Director Richard Stengel confessed:

My old job at the State Dept was as chief propagandist … I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it, and they have to do it to their own population, and I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.

Like so many of the media and political figures involved in II’s international network, the Global Engagement Center’s Leventhal has a penchant for deploying smear tactics against prominent voices that defy the foreign policy consensus. Leventhal appeared in an outtake of a recent NBC documentary on Russian disinformation smugly explaining how he would take down a 15-year-old book critical of Pindo imperialism in the developing world. Rather than challenge the book’s substance and allegations, Leventhal boasted how he would marshall his resources to wage an ad hominem smear campaign to destroy the author’s reputation. His strategic vision was clear: when confronting a critic, ignore the message and destroy the messenger. II documents reveal that Leventhal has been paid £60k for a 50% contract.

While those same documents claim he has retired from the State Dept, Leventhal’s own Linkedin page lists him as a current “Senior Disinformation Advisor” to the State Department. If that were true, it would mean that the State Department was employing a de facto foreign agent. As a cut-out of the British FCO and MoD, II’s work with current and former Pindo boxtops and members of the media raises certain legal questions. For one, there is no indication that the group has registered under the Justice Dept’s FARA, as most foreign agents of influence are required to do. An II memo states that the right-wing Smith Richardson Foundation has also committed to ponying up funding for its Pindo network as soon as the group receives 501(c)3 non-profit status. The foundation has already provided it with about $56k for covert propaganda activities across Europe. The Smith Richardson Foundation has old ties to the Pindo intelligence community and controversial cold war influence operations. According to reporter Russ Bellant, the foundation was secretly bankrolling radical right-wing “indoctrination campaigns for the Pindo creeple on cold war and foreign policy issues,” programs that got the attention of Sen William Fulbright, who warned then Pres Kennedy of their dangers. At one of these indoctrination seminars, a Smith Richardson Foundation director “told attendees that ‘it is within the capacity of the people in this room to literally turn the State of Georgia into a civil war college,’ in order to overcome their opponents.” Smith Richardson has funded a who’s who of the neocon movement, from hyper-militaristic think-tanks like the AEI and the ISW. Kelley Vlahos wrote:

To say the foundation was involved at every level in the lobbying for and crafting of the so-called GWOT after 9/11 would be an understatement.

Besides Smith Richardson, II has stated its intention to apply for grants from the State Dept “to expand II activities both within and outside of Pindostan.” This is yet another indicator that the Pindo government is paying for propaganda targeting its own citizens. An II internal document argues:

Faschingstein is well served by existing institutions such as those with which the Institute already collaborates, so we should concentrate on extending the work of II into major cities and key State capitals across Pindostan.

This Dec 10, II organized what it called its “main event” in Pindostan. It was a conference on disinformation held in Seattle under the auspices of a data firm called Adventium Labs. Together with the Technical Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota, II listed Adventium Labs as one of its “first partners outside DC.”

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Adventium is Minneapolis-based research and development firm that has reaped contracts from the Pentagon, including a recent $5.4m cyber-security grant from DARPA. Inside a modest-sized hotel conference room, the Adventium/Integrity event began with a speech by II’s Simon Bracey-Lane. Two years prior, Bracey-Lane appeared on the Pindo political scene as a field worker for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary run, earning media write-ups as the “Brit for Bernie.” Now the young operative was back in Pindostan as the advance man for a military intelligence cut-out that specialized in smearing left-wing political figures like Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader widely regarded as the British version of Sanders. Bracey-Lane opened his address by explaining that II director Chris Donnelly had been unable to appear at the event, possibly because he was bogged down in the scandal back home. He proceeded to read remarks prepared by Donnelly that offered a window into the frighteningly militaristic mindset that II aims to impose on the public through their media and political allies. According to Donnelly’s comments, the West was no longer in a “peacetime, rules-based environment.” From the halls of government to corporate boardrooms to even Britain’s NHS:

The conclusion is that we have to look for people who suit a wartime environment rather than peacetime.

During Q&A, Bracey-Lane referred vaguely to various forms of “hybrid warfare” and remarked:

We have to change the definition of war to encompass everything that war now encompasses. There is a great deal to be done in communicating that to young people. When we mean being at war, we don’t mean sending our boys off to fight. It’s right here in our homes.

The emphasis on restructuring society along martial lines mirrored the disturbing thinking also on display in notes of a private meeting between Donnelly and Gen Richard Barrons in 2016. During that chat, the two officers decided that the British military should be removed from democratic supervision and be able to operate as “an independent body outside politics.”

While Bracey-Lane’s presentation perfectly captured the military mindset of the Integrity Initiative, the speakers that followed him offered a diverse array of perspectives on the concept of disinformation, some more nuanced than others. But one talk stood out from the rest, not because of its quality, but because of its complete lack thereof.

Alexander Reid Ross (L) and Emmi Bevensee at II’s “main event” in Seattle

The presentation was delivered by Alexander Reid Ross, a half-baked political researcher who peddles computer-generated spiderweb relationship charts to prove the existence of a vast hidden network of “red-brown” alliances and “syncretic media” conspiracies controlled by puppeteers in Moscow. Ross is a lecturer on geography at Portland State University with no scholarly or journalistic credentials on Russia. His students have given him dismal marks at Rate My Professors, complaining about his “terrible monotone lectures” and his penchant for “insert his own ideologies into our class.” But with a book, “Against the Fascist Creep,” distributed by the well-known anarchist publishing house, AK Press, the middling academic has tried to make his name as a maverick analyst. Before II was exposed as a military intelligence front operation, Ross was among a small coterie of pundits and self-styled disinformation experts that followed the group’s Twitter account. II even retweeted Ross’ smear of War Nerd podcast co-host John Dolan.

In a series of articles for the SPLC last year, Ross attempted to bring his warmed-over Cold War theories to the broader public. He wound up trashing a range of victims from Max Blumenthal & Katrina Vanden Heuvel to Stephen Walt as hidden shadow-fascists secretly controlled by the Kremlin. The articles ultimately generated an embarrassing scandal and a series of public retractions by the editor-in-chief of the SPLC, Richard Cohen. And then, like some Dr Frankenstein for discredited and buried journalism careers, the British MoD-backed II moved in to reanimate Ross as a sought-after public intellectual. Before the II-organized crowd, Ross offered a rambling recitation of his theory of a syncretic fascist alliance puppeteered by Russians:

The alt right takes from both this ‘red-brown,’ it’s called, or like left-right syncretic highly international national of nationalisms, and from the United States’ own paleoconservative movement, and it’s sort of percolated down through college organizing, um, and anti-interventionism meets anti-imperialism. Right?

In a strange twist, Ross appeared on stage at II’s Seattle event alongside Emmi Bevensee, a contributor to the left-libertarian Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) think tank, whose tagline, “a left market anarchist think-tank” expresses its core aim of uniting far-left anarchists with free-market right-libertarians. Bevensee, a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona and self-described “Borderlands anarcho into tech and crypto,” concluded her presentation by asserting a linkage between the alternative news site Zero Hedge and the “physical militarized presence in the borderlands” of anti-immigrant vigilantes. Like Bevensee, Ross has written for C4SS in the past. The irony of contributors to an anarchist group called the “Center for a Stateless Society” auditioning before The State, the most jackbooted element of it in fact, for more opportunities to attack anti-war politicians and journalists, can hardly be overstated. But closer examination of the history of C4SS veers from irony into something much darker and more unsettling. C4SS was co-founded in 2006 by a confessed child rapist and libertarian activist named Brad Spangler, who set the group up to promote “Market anarchism” to “replace Marxism on the left.”

When Spangler’s child rape confessions emerged in 2015, the Center for Stateless Society founder was finally drummed out by his colleagues. There’s more: Spangler’s understudy and deputy in the C4SS, Kevin Carson, currently listed as the group’s “Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory,” turned out to be a longtime friend and defenderof white nationalist Keith Preston. Preston’s name is prominently plastered on the back of Kevin Carson’s book, hailing the C4SS man as “the Proudhon of our time”, a loaded compliment, given Proudhon’s unhinged anti-Semitism. Carson only disownedPreston in 2009, shortly before Preston helped white nationalist leader Richard Spencer launch his alt-right webzine, Alternative Right.

The C4SS group currently participates in the annual Koch-backed International Students For Liberty conference in Washington DC, LibertyCon, a who’s who of libertarian think-tank hacks and Thug Party semi-celebrities like Steve Forbes, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, and Alan Dershowitz. In 2013, C4SS’s Kevin Carson tweeted out his dream fantasy that four Jewish leftists, Mark Ames, Yasha Levine, Corey Robin and Mark Potok, would die in a plane crash while struggling over a single parachute. Potok was an executive editor at the SPLC, which last year retracted every one of the crank articles that Alexander Reid Ross published with them and formally apologized for having run them.

For some reason, the super-sleuth Ross conveniently failed to investigate the libertarian group, C4SS, that he has chosen to partner with and publish in. That ability to shamelessly smear and denounce leftists over the most crudely manufactured links to the far-right, while cozying up to groups as sleazy as C4SS and authoritarian as the II, is the sort of adaptive trait that MI6 spies and the Rendon Group would find useful in a covert domestic influence operation. Ross did not respond to our request for comment on his involvement with the Integrity Initiative and C4SS. As it spans out across Pindostan, II has stated its desire to “build a younger generation of Russia watchers.” Toward this goal, it is supplementing its coterie of elite journalists, think tank hacks, spooks and State Dept info-warriors with certifiable cranks like Ross. Less than 24 hours after Ross’s appearance at the II event in Seattle, he sent a menacing email to the co-author of this article, Ames, announcing his intention to recycle an old and discredited smear against him and publish it in the Daily Beast, a publication that appears to enjoy a special relationship with II personnel. Despite the threat of investigation in Britain, II’s “network of networks” appears to be escalating its covert, government-funded influence operation, trashing the political left and assailing anyone that gets in its way, all in the name of fighting foreign disinformation. II founder Col Chris Donnelly said:

We have to win this one, because if we don’t, democracy will be undermined.

Chris Williamson MP on Going Underground:

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