Skripal spin doctors: Documents link UK govt-funded Integrity Initiative to anti-Russia narrative

5 Jan, 2019

The Integrity Initiative, a UK-funded group exposed in leaked files as psyop network, played a key role in monitoring and molding media narratives after the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal, newly-dumped documents reveal.

Created by the NATO-affiliated, UK-funded Institute for Statecraft in 2015, the Integrity Initiative was unmasked in November after hackers released documents detailing a web of politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics involved in purportedly fighting “Russian disinformation.” The secretive, government-bankrolled “network of networks” has found itself under scrutiny for smearing UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge – ostensibly as part of its noble crusade against anti-Russian disinformation.

Now, new leaks show that the organization 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 London refused to back up its finger-pointing with evidence.

Operation Iris

Days after the Skripals were poisoned, the Institute solicited its services to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, offering to “study social media activity in respect of the events that took place, how news spread, and evaluate how the incident is being perceived” in a number of countries. After receiving the government’s blessing, the Integrity Initiative (II) launched ‘Operation Iris,’ enlisting “global investigative solutions” firm Harod Associates to analyze social media activity related to Skripal.

However, Harod’s confidential report did more than just parse social media reactions to the Skripal affair: It compiled a list of alleged “pro-Russia troll accounts” accused of “bombarding the audience with pro-Kremlin propaganda and disinformation relevant to the Skripal case.”

Among those who found themselves listed as nefarious thought-criminals were Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa, and a gentleman from Kent who goes by Ian56 on Twitter.

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Pushing a narrative

Another document, dated March 11, 2018 – and titled “Sergei Skripal Affair: What if Russia is Responsible?” – contains a “narrative” of the Skripal incident, which blames Russia and President Vladimir Putin personally, as well as containing a number of recommended actions. These included boycotting the 2018 World Cup, starting campaigns to boycott the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, blocking Russian access to the SWIFT international banking system, and banning “RT TV and Sputnik from operating in the UK.”

Other suggestions included propaganda directed at British Muslims “to publicize what has been happening with their Muslim brethren in Crimea since the Russian invasion [sic]” and getting members of parliament to publicize the “threat Russia poses.”

It’s not clear who the document was drawn up for, but it may have been provided to II-affiliated journalists in the UK and other countries. This would certainly explain the evidence-deficient echo chamber that emerged in the aftermath of Skripal’s poisoning – which the UK and its allies unanimously blamed on Moscow.

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Ahead of its time?

One of the more intriguing revelations from the fresh leaks is a document from 2015, in which Victor Madeira of the Institute for Statecraft proposes a series of measures targeting Russia, including mass expulsion of diplomats along the lines of 1971’s Operation Foot.

Coincidentally, more than 100 Russian diplomats were expelled from 20 Western countries in an apparently show of solidarity with the UK following the Skripal attack. At the time, UK Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed what she said was “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.”

Former MP George Galloway noted that the documents, written long before the Salisbury events, also call for the arrest of RT and Sputnik contributors (such as himself), adding: “Makes you think…”

A curious connection

The new trove of hacked documents also revealed an unexplained link between the II and Skripal himself – a connection made all the more noteworthy by the group’s central role in coordinating an evidence-free campaign to blame and punish Moscow for the alleged nerve-agent attack.

A document from July 2018 contains contact details for Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 recruiter, handler and (conveniently) neighbor in Salisbury. Miller, it seems, had been invited to a function hosted by the Institute.

It’s not clear to what degree Miller is or was involved with the group, but his appearance on an Integrity Initiative guest list adds another layer of mystery to a coordinated campaign which sought to impose punishments on Moscow that were drawn up years in advance.

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