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    For Whom the Bell Trolls: Here's Who Britain is Paying to 'Counteract' Russia

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    Anonymous has published a trove of materials on 'Integrity Initiative', a UK government-funded program which claims to focus on "counteracting Russian propaganda." In reality, the hactivist group found, the program is aimed at interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Sputnik studied the revelations as they relate to Russia.

    The stated purpose of Integrity Initiative is to "counter Russian disinformation and malign influence by "harnessing existing expertise" and "establishing a network of experts, opinion formers and policy makers to educate national audiences in the threat and to help build national capacities to counter it." NATO's Political and Partnerships Committee is given an important role in coordinating the program.

    The "network" is grounded in British embassies (see list of names and contact details below). To take part in the project, interested persons are encouraged to fill in an application form and describe what kind of role they can play in discrediting "Russian propaganda." Approved candidates receive funding.

    Scan of Embassy contact details for UK Integrity Initiative.
    Screenshot.
    Scan of Embassy contact details for UK Integrity Initiative.

    Armchair Warriors

    To "counteract" Russia in the information space, Integrity Initiative seeks to use all the means of mass communication available, with a special focus on social media and instant messengers, which allows them to broadcast their message to their target audience in Russia, and just as importantly, to recruit supporters.

    One of the project's main tasks is to find like-minded individuals, particularly among the country's pro-western opposition politicians. The latter are then able to use their own political weight to "explain" to their fellow citizens that, for example, everything that the Russian government and media have to say about the conflict in Ukraine, or the Skripal case, or the false flag chemical attacks in Syria, is false. The project pins a special hope on finding willing supporters among Muscovites, seeing them as the most "intelligent" audience to accept the anti-Kremlin narrative.

    Screenshot of Integrity Initiative's Russia project.
    Screenshot
    Screenshot of Integrity Initiative's Russia project.

    Mining for Minds

    The project puts heavy focus on the need to hold seminars and carry out various kinds of research. It is suggested, for example, that groups research Russia's energy resources, the country's dependence on energy exports, the influence of the Orthodox Church on society and politics, and the state of Russia's relations with China.

    The results of this work are then studied by Russian-speaking audiences abroad, presumably in an effort to find weaknesses. Integrity Initiative really aims at covering the entire post-Soviet space, with special emphasis paid to Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, countries where pro- and anti-Russian political forces each have major sway.

    Crucially, as Anonymous has discovered, the research is not limited to Russia, with dossiers on various countries organized into clusters. Some have lists of names and organizations involved in the initiative in their respective countries. In Russia itself, the list of organizations includes groups like the Moscow-based Sakharov Center for the protection of human rights.

    'Guide to Countering Russian Disinformation' by Integrity Initiative.
    Screenshot
    'Guide to Countering Russian Disinformation' by Integrity Initiative.

    "Inner Core Experts"

    The largest cluster of 'experts, opinion formers and policy makers' is based in the UK itself, with William Browder, the London-based financier and Hermitage Capital Management co-founder with ties to ex-Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and who was convicted in Russia in absentia for tax evasion, at the top of the list of the organization's so-called "inner core" in the 'general experts' category.

    Screengrab of Integrity Initiative's 'inner core' of general and military 'experts'
    Cyberguerrilla.org
    Screengrab of Integrity Initiative's 'inner core' of general and military 'experts'

    Another Hermitage 'veteran' is Vadim Kleiner, Browder associate-turned 'corruption investigator' who left Russia and fled to London in 2007. The list of military experts includes Igor Sutyagin, an ex-Russian Institute for US and Canadian Studies researcher convicted of treason in 2004 for passing secrets to a British company. Sutyagin was exchanged in a spy swap deal in 2010, and now serves as a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

    Integrity Initiative's UK-based experts, including Igor Sutyagin, who was convicted of treason for passing secret documents to a UK firm.
    Cyberguerrilla.org
    Integrity Initiative's UK-based experts, including Igor Sutyagin, who was convicted of treason for passing secret documents to a UK firm.

    The "inner core" also includes Vladimir Ashurkov, former banker and associate of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, whom the Russian investigative committee charged with embezzling funds from Navalny's 2013 mayoral campaign, prompting him to seek political asylum in the UK. Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born British journalist who has penned numerous articles in Newsweek, The Atlantic Monthly and other publications about Russia's "post-modern dictatorship," and who testified before US congressional committees and the UK Parliament Defence Committee on Russia-related issues, is also included.

    Oddly, among the list of names experts from Russia is Vygaudas Usackas, a Lithuanian diplomat who served as the EU's ambassador to Russia from 2013 to 2017. Apart from his criticism of the joint Russian-Western European Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, the diplomat is seen as an otherwise unremarkable figure. It's not clear what he's doing in the list of 'Russian experts'.

    In the 'US & Canada Cluster' of experts, one finds Swedish economist and diplomat Anders Aslund, a long-time neocon critic of the Russian government and former economic advisor to the Yeltsin government.

    Neocon Swedish economist Anders Aslund among the project's 'Russia experts'.
    Cyberguerrilla.org
    Neocon Swedish economist Anders Aslund among the project's 'Russia experts'.

    Pounds for Propaganda

    Founded in 2015, the UK Integrity Initiative is not a cheap endeavour, with its price tag growing. In 2018/2019, the UK Foreign Office laid out about 2 million pounds for the initiative, up from about half a million pounds in 2017. 

    Among its list of expenses, one finds that the project spends thousands or tens of thousands of pounds for research work, seminars, policy briefings, research paper translation work, meeting planning, network maintenance and other bureaucratic expenses. This include local staff costs of 1,350 pounds per month per hub across six hubs. 12 more countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain are listed as 'potential hubs'. The expenses enjoy co-financing by the UK, NATO, and other interested parties. 

    The head of Integrity Initiative's central cluster is Chris Donnelly, a former advisor to NATO's Secretary General on Central and Eastern European Affairs, who enjoyed a cushy salary of 8,100 pounds per month in 2017/2018.

    Screengrab of Integrity Initiative's 2017/2018 operating expenses.
    Screengrab of Integrity Initiative's 2017/2018 operating expenses.

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    information warfare, hybrid warfare, Integrity Initiative, Russia, United Kingdom
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