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    The Privatisation of Espionage: What on Earth is MI6-Connected 'Citizens=Network' Up To?

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    In many shadowy corners dotted around the globe, an extremely peculiar organisation seemingly operates. Dubbed ‘Citizens=Network’, individuals connected to the entity have established dozens of companies in a number of countries dating back to the 1970s.

    However, few if any citizens of any state anywhere will have ever heard of the initiative. I’d certainly be entirely unfamiliar if it weren’t for the groundbreaking work of independent researcher Harvey Duke, who for several years has diligently probed the group’s activities the world over. What he’s found beggars belief and boggles the mind in the absolute extreme – although clarity on the organisation's raison d'etre and modus operandi still remains elusive after almost a decade of determined digging.

    They’re Behind You!

    What Harvey can tell me is most of the companies set up by Citizens=Network don’t appear to do much in the way of business, and they’re run by the same small group of directors, usually lying dormant until being dissolved a few years later, with no record of trading or financial transactions. Even more curiously, several directors - some of whom have been setting up companies since the 1970s and 1980s - use conflicting dates of birth in company registrations too, which is illegal under UK law when done knowingly.

    “They look like fronts, but fronts for what?” he asks.

    The catalyst for Harvey's interest in Citizens=Network came in 2010, while he was helping organise and promote a debate challenge to Iain Duncan Smith MP, then-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. When a £37 billion reduction in UK welfare spending was announced that year, a group of unemployed workers from Dundee invited Duncan Smith – the minister overseeing the savage budget cuts - to discuss the impact on the city’s poorest families. Their campaign won the support of a variety of major trade unions – including the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), Public and Commercial Services Union, and Scottish Trade Union Congress – disability rights groups, and even actor Brian Cox.

    “On 10th December 2010, I received a phone call from a ‘Douglas Sinclair’. He claimed to be an independent filmmaker who knew Duncan Smith and wanted to make a documentary about the debate challenge. He was also keen to involve RMT. Later that day, an email was sent to me from Sinclair’s company – Citizens=Network. The email stated, ‘unlike the BBC and most of the media, we are 100% on your side’. It was also sent to RMT national press officer Geoff Martin,” Harvey says.

    However, when Harvey could find no public record of any such documentary producer, he became suspicious and began investigating the operation further. He found websites connected to the group advertising business ventures in the diverse fields of security, broadband internet provision, and railroad investments, all laden with links to baffling and amateurish PowerPoint presentations openly referring to major international corporations, including Apple, Google and News Corporation, as “partners” and “suppliers”. There were also contact addresses provided for Citizens=Network offices in Britain, France and the US.

    Presentation for Railroad Investment Group
    Presentation for Railroad Investment Group

    One such presentation related to a Citizens=Network-connected initiative, ‘Railroad Investment Group’ - among a list of 12 ‘founder members’ named in the document was Peter Cazalet. Researching the name provided Harvey with the first real clue as to what kind of organisation Citizens=Network might be.

    ‘Arrogance of Power’

    In 1995, private intelligence agency Hakluyt & Company was established. Its ranks were filled with former members of British foreign intelligence agency MI6 - including Fitzroy Maclean, upon which Ian Fleming modelled James Bond - and also oil industry executives. William Purves, CEO of Shell Transport, was chair 2000 – 2008, Peter Holmes, former Shell chair, serves as the agency’s president, and Peter Cazalet, former BP deputy chair, helped set up Hakluyt before he retired in 2000.

    ​Cazalet featured prominently in the first public expose of Hakluyt in 2001. The firm had hired Manfred Schlickenreider, a veteran infiltrator of environmental campaigns and protest groups, to spy on Greenpeace on behalf of its energy clients. Under the cover of his one-man film production company, Gruppe 2, Schlickenreider travelled the world with a video camera for 20 years on the pretext of making sympathetic documentaries about campaign groups. While some films were produced, all his footage and much more besides was secretly funnelled back to his employers, which included several German spying agencies. 

    It was while contracted to Hakluyt and ostensibly producing a documentary about campaigning efforts against Shell, Business as Usual: The Arrogance of Power, Schlickenreider’s cover was blown by Swiss action group Revolutionaire Aufbau. After growing suspicious of Schlickenreider, they began investigating his activities, in the process uncovering a vast trove of incriminating documents – among other things, the files revealed he spied on and derailed Greenpeace’s ‘Atlantic Frontier’ campaign, which aimed to scuttle BP's oil exploration in the Atlantic. The information he provided allowed the oil giant to prepare responses to protest actions well in advance, and prevent some from taking place.

    ​The ensuing scandal catapulted Hakluyt to mainstream notoriety, and led several MPs to accuse MI6 of using the firm as a front for its own operations. Among them was Liberal Democrat Norman Baker – in 2011, he told Harvey he believed the agency’s operations were “semi-approved by the powers that be…to carry out activities the state wants to deny”.

    The Peter Cazalet listed in Citizens=Network documents was also a director of a company called Global Currency Corporation, 2006 – 2010 – in the filing, he gave his date of birth as 5th September 1940, with an address in Gibraltar. While Hakluyt founder Peter Cazalet lives in London and was born in 1929, suggesting these are different people, Harvey notes Citizens=Network directors routinely lie about their dates of birth in company registration documents, with most using several – and if they are different people, it’s surely a supremely odd coincidence both have been attached to filmmakers interested in documenting protest actions.

    Carnegie network power point presentation by Peter Stroilov
    Carnegie network power point presentation by Peter Stroilov

    Moreover, the Peter Cazalet allegedly born in 1940 shares the same date of birth as another Citizens=Network director, Mike Rule, connected to baffling Citizens=Network initiative ‘The New Carnegie Foundation’, which pledges to prevent the “barbarism” of library closures the world over.  

    ​The Foundation was said to be based at Two Portland Terrace, Richmond, a primary registered address for Citizens=Network companies in the UK. The residence next-door, One Portland Terrace, is also home to several companies, including Qsoft Properties. The company was directed by a John Michael Summers 2004 - 2005, who also directed Brilite Management with Keith Craig 2008 - 2016. Craig was exposed as an MI6 officer in 1998 when it was revealed he’d written for The Spectator under the false name Keith Roberts during the Bosnian war – the articles argued for UN withdrawal. He was further reported in 2010 to be Hakluyt’s chief executive, having joined the agency a decade prior. 

    The first director of Brilite Management was Paul Anthony Salsbury, who’s been a director of law firm Addleshaw Goddard, registered at Milton Gate, 60 Chiswell Street in London since 2006 – this was also Hakluyt’s registered address October 2011 - July 2012.

    Another address frequently associated with Citizens=Network companies is 46 Sychem Place, Tonbridge, Kent – a few metres away is the former home of Brian Cubbon, who served in high civil service posts in the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office during the 1970s and 80s, and was a candidate to head MI6 under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was also a director of and major shareholder in Hakluyt until his death in May 2015.

    “John Burrows is another director of Citizens=Network companies who’s used the Kent and Richmond addresses in company filings, and indeed at least four dates of birth. He was also the registrant of the website of private investigative firm Harper Agency, which is in turn directed by fellow Citizens=Network director Mario Bruni. The website has the same internet service provider as Hakluyt – Heart Internet - and the IP addresses for both sites were in the same batch of IP addresses, respectively 79.170.40.39 and 79.170.40.232,” Harvey notes.

    Damaging Prospects

    Another person of interest who appears in Citizens=Network website documents is Pavel Stroilov, listed as one of the founders of Railroad Investment Group. His CV is lengthy and eyebrow-raising – he sought political asylum in Britain in 2003 after allegedly stealing 50,000 top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the end of the Cold War, from the Gorbachev archive in Moscow. His asylum plea was assisted by Oleg Gordievsky, MI6’s key spy in the KGB, and Stroilov has shared public platforms with him since. Stroilov has also used the stolen documents to accuse Labour figures such as Neil Kinnock and Baroness Catherine Ashton of being former KGB spies.

    ​His deep state connections don’t end there - in 2007, he edited Allegations: Selected Works, a collection of writings by his friend Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB officer who died in mysterious circumstances in London in 2006 - it’s been officially confirmed Litvinenko was recruited by MI6 to provide "useful information about senior Kremlin figures" while living in the UK.

    In March 2010, Stroilov befriended UNITE trade union official Graham Stevenson, then a key leader in a British Airways pay dispute, and executive of the British Communist Party. Stroilov presented himself as a PhD student interested in Stevenson’s political stances - however, he then handed over their private email correspondence to The Daily Mail, which published articles framing UNITE, a major Labour party funder, as having been taken over by Communist subversives determined to precipitate violent revolution in the UK. Stevenson later suggested to Harvey the “clear aim” of the subterfuge was to link the BA strikes and UNITE to Labour “with a view to damaging its’ prospects” in the impending general election. 

    Two years later, Stroilov approached a campaign aimed at preventing the closure of a library in North West London, offering pro bono legal advice – he provided a phone number and the same e-mail address ‘Douglas Sinclair’ did when he approached Harvey and the RMT two years prior.

    ​The help was offered under the auspices of the aforementioned ‘The New Carnegie Foundation’. One document produced by the organisation in 2012 noted “local people have made the decision to peacefully occupy their Carnegie and other libraries”, mentioning Friern Barnet Community Library.

    “It’s not clear what Citizens=Network was up to in contacting these campaigns. It may be they were hoping to offer bad legal guidance to wreck them. This seems to have been the approach of Paul Randle Jolliffe, named a director of another company listed in a Citizens=Network document - Broadband Wight. In 2011-12, he offered dubious legal advice to ‘Occupy the London Stock Exchange’. Similarly, Stroilov’s own legal advice in a different case also came under heavy criticism,” Harvey says.

    Harvey refers to Stroilov’s involvement in the Alfie Evans furore in 2018. Alfie was an infant from Liverpool born with a severe neurodegenerative disorder - Alder Hey Children's Hospital argued providing continued ventilatory support to the child was "unkind and inhumane" and not in his best interests, which Alfie's parents strongly contested. Stroilov took the lead in representing them for the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), and assisted them in taking their case to the UK high court, court of appeal and supreme court, then the European Court of Human Rights, then back again to the high court and to the court of appeal all over again.

    ​In considering the appeal, high court judge Justice Hayden was extremely critical of Stroilov, calling him “fanatical and deluded” and accusing him of providing legal advice “inconsistent with the real interests of the parents”, including encouraging them to pursue a private prosecution for murder against doctors at the hospital, and advising them it would be lawful to remove Alfie from Alder Hey, which prompted a highly-charged standoff between Evans, the police and doctors and ignited protests outside. Justice Hayden said this guidance was “misleading to the extent of giving false advice”. 

    Curiouser and Curiouser

    In July 2012, Harvey travelled to London to investigate Citizens=Network – during his sojourn, he visited the aforementioned Two Portland Terrace in Richmond. At the doorway of the large building, he found a controlled entry gate with a list of names on small cards beside buzzer buttons - one card said, “all messages, ring Howard-Spinks”, so he did. A few moments later, a woman’s voice crackled from the intercom – Harvey said he wanted to speak with Douglas Sinclair, who’d phoned him in December 2010.

    “The door was opened by a tall woman, possibly in her late 60s. I repeated I’d like to talk to Sinclair, and she asked why, so explained he’d approached me with a plan to make a documentary, but I found out it was fake. She showed no hint of surprise and said, ‘there’s no one here of that name, he doesn’t exist’ – but added they’d had ‘a lot of trouble’ and get ‘lots of letters for him’. She proceeded to show me an envelope addressed to Sinclair, and launched into an elaborate story, as if I’d arranged to meet her and she was prepared for my questions,” Harvey says.

    In essence, Howard-Spinks told him the building was a collection of flats, set up for the use of retirees, funded by registered charity the Hussey Trust. For reasons unclear to her, she claimed, for years the address had been deluged with post for people who didn’t live there and never had done. As she spoke, she stared at Harvey, as if assessing whether he believed her. After some minutes spent spinning her “farcical” explanation, she invited Harvey in and showed him to a “spotless” living room – “it looked like an upmarket Care Home that'd never been used,” he says. No one else bar Howard-Spinks and her husband – “around 70, tall, fit-looking, like a marathon runner” – appeared to be there, and the building was deathly silent.

    ​Howard-Spinks launched again into her explanation, which grew ever-more bizarre – she spoke of visits from private investigators and police at the door armed with “riot shields and batons, dogs, and guns”. Her husband retrieved a large stack of letters from another room, and she asked about any other names Harvey knew - one by one, as he listed the individuals he recalled from various Citizens=Network online documents, she’d turn over a letter and say, “yes, that’s him…and him… and him”, as if the letters were in the same order as the names that popped into his head. When Harvey eventually left, she pointed to locks on two of the doors on the ground floor and apologised for not being able to show him any of the flats, as everyone was out.

    “The house is indeed owned by a charitable organisation - The Evelyn Hussey Trust, formed in 1977, which promotes itself online as a ‘social landlord’. However, it doesn’t appear on Richmond Council’s list of registered social landlords, nor the the Regulator of Social Housing’s list of ‘Registered Providers’. In July 2019, I contacted the Elderly Accommodation Counsel, which posted details of the Hussey Trust on their website – its chief executive John Galvin informed me his organisation had no record of any communication with the Trust, and it’d been very late in submitting an Annual Return, suggesting it was no longer active. He told me it would be removed from the website forthwith,” Harvey says.

    Electoral records don’t shed any light on who the tenants – whether alleged or actual – of Two Portland Terrace are or were. Nonetheless, one of the Trustees for both Hussey Trusts is Philip Heath, the director of Heath Developments – it was set up in 1988 by one of the London Law group of companies, then-based at 84 Temple Chambers, Chambers Avenue in London, the same address where Hakluyt & Co Limited was established in 1997, also by a London Law group firm. Heath is also the director of Philip Heath Limited, set up in 1984, and based at 18-20 George Street in Richmond 1989 – 1994 - a few hundred metres away from Two Portland Terrace.

    Cocaine Connection

    On July 22nd 2019, Harvey phoned ‘Gerald Tarling’ and asked why he and others connected to him had used several different dates of birth to set up companies for years. Tarling said it was the responsibility of his friend Mike Rule, who’d “passed away several weeks ago”, and he’d no idea why Rule had done this.

    “I tried asking more questions but all I got was one-word answers. I asked if he ever worked for the security services or Hakluyt, and he claimed he didn’t. I asked if he knew a ‘Douglas Sinclair’, and he said he didn’t – even though he sounded very much like the man who called me in 2010 and said he was Douglas Sinclair. I asked if ‘Gerald Tarling’ was his real name, to which he replied in the affirmative. I finished by asking if he could explain why his friend would’ve lied to set up companies for decades. Again, he professed ignorance. Afterwards, I tried to locate a death notice for a Michael Rule in Britain in 2019, but found nothing,” Harvey says.

    Rule has been at the epicenter of Citizens=Network’s mysterious activities for decades, having set up several companies across the UK – true to form, they all lay dormant for a number of years before dissolution. Moreover, he’s occasionally popped up online in a variety of forums – for instance, on June 20th 2014 he sent a message to the website of the Scottish National Party’s London branch, stating he’d like to attend the group’s next meeting and asking for its location and date. He referred to himself as a member of the SNP, People’s Assembly and ‘Business for Yes’. Harvey met with a national leader of the SNP in late 2015, who hinted Rule had been expelled from the party. It’s uncertain whether he attended the branch meeting.

    In December 2014, Rule approached Martin Shelvey, organiser for the Hillingdon branch of UKIP, and claimed to be a ‘founder of UKIP’ and wanting to arrange a delegation to speak to Nigel Farage to sort out the “shambles” of UKIP’s organisation. In August 2015, Harvey spoke to Shelvey about Rule – no one in the party had ever heard of him.

    Curiously, the aforementioned Pavel Stroilov is a former UKIP researcher and assistant to UKIP MEP Gerard Batten, then the party’s Security and Defence spokesperson, who later served as leader April 2018 – June 2019. Furthermore, a company called UKIP Enterprises was set up by Citizens=Network operatives in May 2013.

    ​Far outstripping Rule and Stroilov in the abnormality stakes however is Paul Rodgers, the registrant and technical assistant for Citizens=Network’s assorted websites, former Daily Mirror journalist and round-the-world sailing expert. Rodgers appears to have set up a vast number of websites in his time, including the personal www.paul@best-english.org, which offered English tuition to new immigrants to Britain “in public places in Kingston-upon-Thames”. He also created websites for Gavin Howe, a keen sailor and Executive Vice President of publishing giant Reed Elsevier, a former South African High Court Advocate, a London school called Willowfield, and Essex man Roger Gordon who was jailed for life for battering his wife to death, but has always protested his innocence.

    Many of these websites were set up while he was serving a 16-year prison sentence for his role in the largest cocaine-smuggling operation in British history. He was the navigator of a yacht called Moonstruck that was involved in a drug import conspiracy with a gang which operated Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, and South Africa and was led by Brian Brendan Wright, himself jailed for 30 years in 2007.

    While incarcerated, he maintained a blog, and documented his “community” work for Summit Media – a company that used prison labour to establish websites for major clients including retail giants BHS, Homebase, and Topshop. It made millions from the setup, while prisoners earned as little as £10 a week.

    ​Rodgers was released in 2009, and in February 2017 published an autobiography of sorts, Sailing to Purgatory – in it, he includes a short account of his arrest and trial and quotes the Judge who sentenced him in July 2001.

    “You are the oldest of the defendants, …Your past character was exemplary. You have talents which many would envy, you write and above all you are a distinguished yachtsman…But for your age the sentence would have been twenty-two years. I will reduce that to concurrent terms of nineteen years on each,” they said.

    Neverending Story

    At this point, readers could be forgiven for remaining utterly in the dark as to what Citizens=Network is or does – I myself am certainly none the wiser. At the very least though, Harvey seems to have identified the opaque contours of an expansive and long-running British intelligence operation of some kind, comprising familiar espionage tactics and strategies – infiltration, surveillance, false identities, front companies, surveillance, subversion, and much, much more.

    While the information presented here inevitably represents but a negligible fragment of a much wider – and potentially more sinister - clandestine picture, what’s clear is the activities of Citizens=Network stretch back decades, far longer than Hakluyt, with which the organisation appears so intimately intertwined, has been in operation.

    ​This would tend to suggest Hakluyt took over responsibility for Citizens=Network from another entity at some point – and if that entity was MI6, that in turn lends further credence to the notion the firm was established by the British state in order to carry out “deniable” operations, with which authorities don’t wish to be directly associated.

    In turn, this by definition raises serious questions about the autonomy and independence of other ‘private’ intelligence firms staffed by ostensibly ‘former’ MI5 and MI6 operatives – such as Christopher Steele’s now-notorious Orbis Intelligence, for instance - and whose interests they ultimately serve in providing cloak and dagger expertise to major corporate clients.

    In future reports, I’ll attempt to dig deeper not merely into the activities of Citizens=Network and Hakluyt, but the vast, well-remunerated array of shadowy companies in the wider sector.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik

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