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Integrity Initiative: The Sinister Chain of Events Leading Up to Salisbury

By Kit Klarenberg – Sputnik – March 4, 2019

In several reports to date, I’ve documented how the Integrity Initiative – the shadowy UK government-funded military intelligence front – and its assorted operatives and media assets systematically shaped news reporting on, and Whitehall’s response to, the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on 4 March 2018.

Now, on the anniversary of that fateful and ever-mystifying day, I’ll attempt to track some of the activities of the Initiative’s parent, the Institute for Statecraft, and other key figures and organizations directly and indirectly connected to the body in the years immediately prior.

Troublingly, the information collected here inevitably represents but a negligible fragment of a much wider clandestine picture. The full extent of the British state’s sinister and long-running secret machinations leading up to the Salisbury incident certainly isn’t ascertainable at this time, and may well never be.

‘Peculiar Struggle’

In July 2014, Institute for Statecraft ‘senior research fellow’ Victor Madeira wrote an article for the organization’s website, Russian Subversion — Haven’t we been here before?. In it, he suggested that far from a “new type of warfare”, the West’s tussle with Russia in the wake of the Maidan coup was “actually only the latest chapter in a 100-year-old playbook the Bolsheviks called active measures”, albeit “modernised to exploit the speed and reach of 21st-century mass/social media”.

After attempting to link various tactics employed by the Soviet Union to the modern day, Madeira somewhat chillingly concludes the piece with a quote from Ronald Lindsay, UK ambassador to Germany, who in February 1927 urged Whitehall to realise they were engaged in a “new kind of war” with the then-burgeoning Soviet Union.

“Anti-subversive measures could not be gradual; they had to be part of a package of ‘economic boycott, breach of diplomatic relations’ as well as ‘propaganda and counter-propaganda, pressure on neutrals.’ He argued a diplomatic breach with Moscow would at least turn ‘the present peculiar struggle into an armed conflict of the old-fashioned sort’ that Great Britain and the West could win,” Madeira records.

A document authored by the academic — who 2010 — 2014 tutored and lectured at Cambridge under former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove — in January 2015 (Russian Federation Sanctions ) makes clear he, and presumably his Institute employers, support Lindsay’s strategy and objectives.

The file sets out a number of “potential levers” for achieving a number of “main aims”, including “peace with Ukraine”, the “return” of Crimea, “behaviour change” and/or “regime change” — for, much to Madeira’s evident chagrin, the wave of sanctions imposed upon Russian individuals and businesses the previous March weren’t having a sufficiently deleterious impact on the Kremlin, or the Russian people.

Victor Madeira’s Ruminations on the Russian People

“[Russia] is not a ‘normal’ country in most senses of the word. Crucially, Russians see life and the world very differently from us… Russians are not nearly as driven by economic and financial considerations… For most Russians, daily life has long been a struggle (not least for survival). Not having Western goods and services will not necessarily be much of an issue in the medium to long-term,” he wrote.

Moreover — and perhaps worst of all in Madeira’s mind — President Vladimir Putin — someone who “survived abysmal post-WW2 conditions” and “[believes] nothing the West can do is worse than what [he’s] already endured in life” — remains popular among the Russian public due to “the chaos” of the 1990s, and for having “restored stability, prosperity and pride”.

“Fear of renewed uncertainty and chaos… keeps Russians in check”, he writes — as a result, “driving a wedge between Russians and [their] government is key.”

The bullet-pointed “levers” that make up the bulk of the document span areas including ‘diplomacy’, ‘finance’, ‘security’, ‘technology’, ‘industry’, ‘military’, and even ‘culture’, and include; suspending or expelling Russia from “G8, WTO… and similar organisations”; “[expanding] existing sanctions regimes to anyone helping [Russia] break them”; “[arresting] every known RF agent — not least ‘agents of influence'”; “banning RF delegates” from a variety of international fora, “[advocating the] view RF [is] untrustworthy of hosting [international sporting events]; “[banning] Russian companies from launching IPOs in [the] West”‘; asset freezes and “visa bans” for the “top 100 RF government officials and [their] immediate families”; “[sanctioning] RF media”; and much, much more.

‘Potential Levers’ for Regime Change in Russia Outlined by Victor Madeira

Certain “levers” — such as suspending visits by the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets to Western countries — are baffling, while others — for instance “repatriating” the children of Russian government studying abroad, or “[increasing] scrutiny” of Russian religious organizations in Western countries — appear wanton and excessive, if not outright barbarous.

However, one of Madeira’s suggestions, about which he was apparently so enthusiastic he mentions it thrice, “simultaneously [expelling] every RF intelligence officer and air/defence/naval attache from as many countries as possible (global ‘Operation Foot’)” — is especially striking.

Operation Foot saw 105 Soviet officials deported from the UK in September 1971 at the behest of then-Prime Minister Edward Heath, the largest expulsion of foreign state personnel by any government in history. Eerily, several mainstream media outlets would reference the historic mass defenestration when Whitehall successfully corralled 26 countries into expelling over 150 Russian diplomatic in response to the Salisbury incident, 27 March 2018.

‘Something Dreadful’

On 12 October 2016, Institute for Statecraft chief Chris Donnelly met with retired senior UK military official General Richard Barrons, Joint Forces Command chief 2013 — 2016. Their discussion was incendiary.

“We have led comfortable lives since the end of the Cold War. Wars have been away matches on our terms, with resources we have chosen to apply. Our institutions are now failing to deliver or being bypassed. Our world system is being challenged, by Russia, China… the power of initiative and decision is ebbing away from the West. [The] US can no longer protect us,” the document’s introduction states.

As 50 percent of the UK’s energy, and 40 percent of the UK’s food, is “from abroad”, the country “has vital interests in having the ability to engage globally, but that engagement will no longer be on our terms alone”. However, while in recent wars “the opposition had no peer capabilities and could pose no military threat” to the UK, the conflicts “have not required the full mobilisation of the military or any motivation of civilian society” and “given us the impression we can afford war at two percent GDP”, despite the UK needing “£7 billion just to our current force up to effectiveness”.

Moreover, “mixed success” in these conflicts is also said to have “left a bad aftertaste” with “no appetite for intervention” among the British public and politicians, and UK armed forces “cannot themselves speak out and say ‘we are broken’… as that would breach the rules of democratic control”.

Record of Richard Barrons’ Meeting with Chris Donnelly

Barrons goes on to despair that the subordination of the military to civil servants and ministers in the Ministry of Defence means “the military do not do policy” — a state of affairs he believes must be radically changed, with the armed forces removed from government control and transformed into “an independent body outside politics”.

“Government is living in denial… We need discussion and debate as to how Russia can be managed and deterred. We need to deal with Russia by doing things that are serious… If no catastrophe happens to wake people up and demand a response, then we need to find a way to get the core of government to realise the problem and take [the military] out of the political space. We will need to impose changes over the heads of vested interests… [we] must either generate the debate or wait for something dreadful to happen to shock us into action. We must generate an independent debate outside government… there is not a moment to be lost,” Barrons concludes.

Serious Matters

Barrons’ fears of a loss of US military protection were no doubt widespread within the British establishment — for some time, US Presidential candidate Donald Trump had been questioning the necessity of NATO, advocating a protectionist and insular ‘America first’ agenda in respect of world affairs.

Likewise, Trump’s repeated suggestion of improved relations between Washington and Moscow should he become President were unquestionably unwelcome in many quarters — not least, of course, the offices of the Institute for Statecraft. It’s perhaps unsurprising then the organisation played a pivotal role in kickstarting ‘RussiaGate’.

The month after Donnelly’s meeting with Barrons, and mere weeks after Trump’s shock election victory, Andrew Wood — UK ambassador to Russia 1995 — 2000, and a member of the Institute’s ‘expert team’ — was a delegate at the eighth annual Halifax International Security Forum in Canada. Senator John McCain was also in attendance, and the pair would speak privately on the event’s sidelines about allegations of Trump’s collusion with the Russian state, in particular, the claims of former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, and his ‘Trump-Russia’ dossier.

Andrew Wood’s Institute for Statecraft Staff Profile

How and why McCain and Wood met, and precisely what they discussed, isn’t remotely clear — Wood has offered several wildly divergent accounts of the event since, variously suggesting the meeting was entirely chance and initiated by McCain due to the issue “being very much in the news”, that he approached McCain due to his personal concerns after being shown the dossier by Steele, and that he was actively “instructed” by Steele to relay the dossier’s contents to the Senator, without having actually seen a copy in full.

In any event, as a result of their conversation, the Senator dispatched his aide David Kramer, former assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration, to meet with Steele in London and discuss the dossier’s contents, and arrange for a copy to be sent to Washington. On 9 December, McCain met then-FBI Director James Comey and provided him with the dossier, which Comey then circulated across all US intelligence agencies. It would reach the desk of outgoing President Barack Obama and several senior members of Congress in the first week of January 2017.

This development would be reported 10 January by CNN — the article stated the dossier suggested Russian operatives possessed “compromising personal and financial information” about Trump, but the outlet refrained from publishing specific details of the dossier as they hadn’t been “independently corroborated”.

CNN breaking cover — the dossier had been an “open secret” among US journalists for some time by that point — would provide BuzzFeed News with the ‘public interest’ defense it required to justify publishing the dossier, which it did 11 January, despite acknowledging its contents were “unverified, and potentially unverifiable”, and contained “clear” factual errors.

In the days afterward, the publication was severely criticised by many other media outlets — Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan called the dossier “scurrilous allegations dressed up as an intelligence report meant to damage Donald Trump” — and the ethics of publishing unsubstantiated information offered by entirely anonymous sources was hotly debated.

However, these misgivings were quickly silenced, thanks in no small part to a number of esteemed ‘experts’ who vouched for Steele’s credibility in the media — the earliest, most enthusiastic and prominent being none other than Wood himself. He would describe Steele as “very professional and thorough in what he does”, and “a very competent, professional operator” who wouldn’t “make things up”, among other effusive plaudits.

It would take months for Wood to reveal he wasn’t merely ‘familiar’ with Steele, but the pair were in fact long-time friends — and moreover he was an “associate” of Steele’s firm (what form this relationship takes, and whether Wood receives any remuneration from Orbis Intelligence, remains uncertain). Conversely, his association with the Institute for Statecraft has never been acknowledged by the mainstream media, and would never have been known if it wasn’t for the leak of the organization’s internal files in November 2018.

The leak also revealed that in March 2017, the Integrity Initiative submitted a bid for Ministry of Defense funding — among its key performance indicators achieving a “tougher stance in government policy towards Russia”, the publication of “more information in the media on the threat of Russian active measures”, the growth of its cluster network “across Europe” and “greater awareness in all areas of society of the threat posed by Russian active measures to UK’s democratic institutions”.

Integrity Initiative Bids for MoD Funding, March 2017

Russ to Judgement

BuzzFeed would again be used as a conduit for virulently anti-Russian propaganda in June, when it published a series of articles — From Russia With Blood – documenting 14 ‘suspicious deaths’ in Britain it claimed were potential or likely assassinations carried out by Russian “security services or mafia groups”, which UK authorities somehow failed to properly investigate.

The investigation caused something of a sensation, landing BuzzFeed in the running for a variety of prestigious journalism awards, including the Pulitzer and Orwell prizes — Investigations Editor Heidi Blake, who led the series, said her team’s work had cemented the outlet as a “major force in global news”.

However, examination of the seven articles offers much reason for scepticism. First and foremost, suggestions of possible Russian involvement in the deaths hinge almost entirely on the accusations of anonymous intelligence sources, without supporting documentation of any kind. In fact, the pieces often contain information directly contradicting the notion a featured individual was even murdered, let alone by Russians.

For instance, the third installment, The Man Who Knew Too Much, delved into the case of Dr. Matthew Puncher, a UK radiation scientist who’d been conducting work at a Russian nuclear facility, and was found stabbed to death in his kitchen in February 2016.

BuzzFeed notes Puncher’s wife Kathryn told investigators her husband tried to hang himself with a computer cable the the week prior, and Detective Constable Rachel Carter, who inspected the scene, told the inquest “there was no sign of a struggle, none of the furniture had been knocked over, and all the blood belonged to Puncher”, and she was “satisfied” he’d committed suicide as “all the information told us he was very depressed and no-one in his family seemed particularly surprised he had taken his own life”.

However, BuzzFeed had other ideas, stating “four American intelligence officials… believe he was assassinated”. Alternatively, a former senior Scotland Yard counter-terror officer unconnected to the case was quoted as suggesting — also anonymously — the Russian state could have given Puncher drugs to “create depression” and precipitate his suicide.

The fourth installment — The Secrets Of The Spy In The Bag — deals with Gareth Williams, the GCHQ codebreaker seconded to MI6 who died in a Pimlico flat owned by the spying agency in August 2010 and is similarly dubious in the extreme.

Williams’ demise is unambiguously mysterious — his decomposing naked body was found in a padlocked sports bag in the bath, although no fingerprints or traces of his DNA were found on the rim of the bathtub, bag, bag’s zip, or padlock, and an inquest ruled his death to be “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated”.

Ironically, much of the article’s content raises serious questions about the role of Williams’ employer’s in his death. For instance, BuzzFeed notes he’d been dead for around 10 days by the time his body was found, but astoundingly neither GCHQ nor MI6 had alerted authorities to his absence from work. It would take his sister informing GCHQ Williams was missing at 11:30 am GMT on 23 August for the agency to contact police — albeit five hours later.

The outlet also records how in the ensuing investigation police were prevented from interviewing Williams’ colleagues at MI6, or reviewing relevant documents, and instead forced to rely upon officers from national counter-terrorism force SO15, which took no formal statements from witnesses, and passed on only anonymised briefing notes to their Metropolitan force counterparts.

Conversely, BuzzFeed fails to mention coroner Dr. Fiona Wilcox ruling involvement of SIS staff in Williams’ death was a legitimate line of inquiry for police — instead again relying on the unsubstantiated claims of the anonymous quartet of US intelligence officials that Williams had been tracing international money-laundering routes used by organised crime groups to blame his probable murder on the Kremlin, and/or Russian gangsters.

The eponymous investigation — focusing on the suicide of Scot Young, an associate of oligarch Boris Berezovsky — is perhaps the series’ most puzzling, for more reasons than one. Young — a corrupt tycoon with clear criminal connections — lost all his money on a failed property endeavor, spent time in prison for contempt of court, and suffered a lengthy and costly divorce battle.

Such a litany of crippling personal calamities — and doctors’ appraisal of him as “paranoid, with a manic flavour” with a “complex delusional belief system” — would surely make Young at least a potential candidate for suicide watch, and indeed police concluded he’d taken his own life by throwing himself from his apartment window.

Three of his associates, Paul Castle, Robbie Curtis, and Johnny Elichaoff likewise “experienced dramatic financial [collapses]” in which they lost all their potentially ill-gotten gains, and subsequently took their own lives — Castle and Curtis both jumped in front of oncoming trains, while Elichaoff leaped off the roof of a London shopping centre.

Yet again though, the word of anonymous US intelligence officials is sufficient to perk BuzzFeed’s suspicions about all their deaths, the unnamed operatives saying Russia could have “engineered” their suicides “through manipulation and intimidation tactics”.

The article’s discussion of Berezovsky’s death is likewise suspect and contradictory, quoting Richard Walton, Scotland Yard’s former counter-terror commander, as saying his department investigated the exiled Russian’s death “very thoroughly” and “hadn’t been able to find any evidence of murder”. Fascinatingly though, in seeking to construct a case for Berezovsky being unlawfully killed, BuzzFeed notes business partner, Georgian oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, died from an apparent heart attack in 2008. American spy agencies are said to have intelligence suggesting he was murdered, and while predictably none is presented in the article, Patarkatsishvili was provably subject to at least one assassination plot prior to his death — and it certainly wasn’t Russian in origin.In 2007, covert recordings revealed three Georgian national security service officials had plotted to kill ‘Georgia’s Richest Man’ at the behest of then-President Mikheil Saakashvili. In one recording they debate the best means of execution, an official suggesting they use a poisonous substance which will “kill a person two hours after touching it”. “You smear [it] on the door handle,” they say — the precise method by which Sergei and Yulia were contaminated with novichok, according to UK authorities.

Whatever the meaning of that parallel, BuzzFeed’s series is highly significant, for it was fundamental to cementing the notion of frequent Kremlin-directed murders on British soil in the public consciousness in the year prior to Salisbury. Almost inevitably too, it was widely invoked in the immediate wake of the apparent poisoning as evidence, if not proof, of Russian state involvement.

A Tweet by BuzzFeed Investigations Editor Heidi Blake on Skripal, Documented by Integrity Initiative

Among those seeking to connect From Russia With Blood with the attack on the Skripals was none other than BuzzFeed’s Heidi Blake herself. Her Twitter postings on the subject would be documented by the Integrity Initiative in regular roundups of social media activity relating to the incident — and reference to the series was made in an Initiative briefing document (likely circulated to journalists), Russian Lies and the Skripal Case, which called the “evidence” presented by her team’s investigation “compelling”.

So it was on 13 March 2018, nine days after the Salisbury incident, then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced British police and MI5 would reinvestigate the numerous ‘suspicious deaths’ detailed by BuzzFeed — a development the outlet reported rather triumphally. However, a mere four months later, Home Secretary Sajid Javid revealed police had determined there was “no basis on which to re-open any of the investigations”. Fittingly, in December an inquest concluded Alexander Perepilichnyy, one of the ‘BuzzFeed 14′, had died of entirely natural causes.

Whatever the truth of the matter, a month prior the Initiative invited Blake to head an hour-long ‘Investigative Masterclass’ at an event the organization convened at London’s Frontline Club — Tackling Tools of Malign Influence.

‘A Good Shepherd’

Also in June 2017, BBC Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban somewhat miraculously began conducting a series of interviews with Sergei Skripal in the latter’s Salisbury home.

“I was intending to write a book about East-West espionage… My intention was to focus the story on a handful of people, using their stories, and the moment these narratives intersected at Vienna airport, during the swap of 2010, as the key to its structure. Skripal was to be one of the central half-dozen or so stories… I was doing this in my own time — there was no contract. The only sense in which this was a ‘book’ in June 2017 was in my own imagination,” Urban claims.

Over the course of their discussions, Skripal would disclose much about his time in the intelligence services, spell as a double-agent for MI6, incarceration in Russia after discovery, and life in Britain post-exile — although his enduring patriotism Urban found particularly notable.

“[Skripal] is… an unashamed Russian nationalist, enthusiastically adopting the Kremlin line in many matters, even while sitting in his MI6-purchased house,” Urban records, “he was adamant, for example, Putin had not surreptitiously introduced Russian troops into east Ukraine, as much of the Western press reported. If regular units had gone in, he insisted, they would have been sitting in Kiev very soon.”

“The problem with the Ukrainians is they are incapable of leadership. They need Russia for that. The Ukrainians are simply sheep who need a good shepherd,” Skripal explained.

Such sentiments may explain why Skripal seemingly remained in regular contact with the Russian embassy after his arrival in the UK. Speaking to the Independent 7 March 2018, former Kremlin official Valery Morozov, an associate of Skripal likewise exiled to the UK, claimed Skripal had meetings with Russian military intelligence officers “every month”.

Strikingly, he also rejected the notion the apparent nerve agent attack had anything to do with the Kremlin.

“Putin can’t be behind this. I know how the Kremlin works, I worked there. Who is Skripal? He is nothing for Putin. Putin doesn’t think about him. There is nobody in Kremlin talking about former intelligence officer [sic] who is nobody. There is no reason for this. It is more dangerous for them for such things to happen,” Morozov cautioned.

Urban would bizarrely fail to reveal having bagged the unprecedentedly fortuitous scoop until three months after the Salisbury incident — an extremely curious delay, perhaps partially explained by his lucrative book deal with publisher Pan Macmillan being announced mere days later.

The resultant work, The Skripal Files, was published in October — rather than a history of “East-West espionage”, the project had evolved into an extensive telling of the government’s official narrative on the Salisbury incident, buttressed by discussions of alleged Kremlin assassinations in the UK, and Skripal’s life and career.

However, while widely marketed as the “definitive account” of the affair, the name Pablo Miller doesn’t appear once in the text — an amazing oversight given Miller was Skripal’s MI6 recruiter and handler, and neighbour in Salisbury, rendered all the more perplexing by Miller and Urban once having served in the same tank regiment.

Miller’s connections to the Salisbury incident are unclear, and by design — immediately afterwards he deleted his LinkedIn account, which revealed him to be a Senior Analyst at Christopher Steele’s Orbis Intelligence, and on 7 March Whitehall issued a D-notice blocking mention of him in the mainstream media. Miller also has unclear connections to Integrity Initiative, his name appearing on a list of invitees to an event hosted by the organization, alongside representatives of the BBC, Porton Down, the FCO, the MOD and the US Embassy.

Adding to the intrigue, Initiative operative Dan Kaszeta — a “counterfeit” chemical weapons ‘expert’ who was the very first source to suggest Sergei and Yulia may have been struck by novichok, a mere four days after the Salisbury incident — noted he’d met Urban “several times over the past few years” in a glowing review of The Skripal Files (since removed from the web) he wrote for the organization in December 2018.

In what may just be an intensely spooky coincidence, as 2017 drew to a close British-American TV project Strike Back: Retribution – a spy-drama based on a novel of the same name by ex-SAS soldier Chris Ryan — began airing on Sky One in the UK. The series followed the activities of Section 20, a fictional branch of British Defence Intelligence, which conducts secretive high-risk missions throughout the globe.

‘Strike Back: Retribution’ Episode Summaries

In episode four, broadcast 21 November, it’s revealed character Ilya Zaryn — who Section 20 rescued from the clutches of a terrorist group — is, in fact, Karim Markov, a Russian scientist who murdered a number of his colleagues with novichok, and is assisting the terrorists in their nefarious schemes.In the next episode, Section 20 locate Zaryn/Markov in a laboratory in Turov, Belarus, where he’s found producing more novichok — but while they manage to destroy the facility and the nerve agent, the dastardly Russian escapes.

In the next, Section 20 track Markov to a lab in Pripyat, Ukraine — but in attempting to contain the nerve agent, Section 20 operative Natalie Reynolds is contaminated. The unit forces Markov to create an antidote, but is killed before he can concoct one — Reynolds’ fellow agent Thomas McAllister manages to improvise and save her, however.

The series would air early the next year in the US on Cinemax — the second episode featuring novichok was transmitted 2 March, two days prior to the Salisbury incident, the third 9 March, five days after.

Expecting the Unexpected

Mainstream hostility towards the Kremlin had been intense ever since 2014, but ‘RussiaGate’ pushed this antipathy into overdrive. Critical, aggressive and paranoid media reports and statements by politicians had become an essentially daily staple by the start of 2018.

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UK Chief of General Staff Gen. Nick Carter (File)

Nonetheless, on 22 January General Nicholas Carter, UK Chief of General Staff, offered perhaps the most hawkish speech on Russia since the demise of the Soviet Union. Speaking at a Royal United Services Institute event, Carter described the country as the “most complex and capable state-based threat to our country since the end of the Cold War”, and warned hostilities could start “sooner than we expect”, particularly as he — ironically — claimed the Kremlin had “[convinced] ordinary Russians the West is a threat… We have been made to appear as the enemy”.

“If Russia sees itself in decline, and more able now to go to war than in the future, does this encourage them to think of war? Perhaps compare the situation today to 1912 when the Russian Imperial Cabinet assessed that it would be better to fight now, because by 1925 Russia would be too weak in comparison to a modernised Germany; and Japan, of course, drew similar conclusions in 1941. Russia worries, I think, that the West will achieve a technological offset in the next decade,” he cautioned.

Carter said the conflict — which he naturally envisaged being initiated by Russia — would “start with something we don’t expect”.

Not long after the speech, Operation Toxic Dagger was launched — a vast three week effort in which 40 Commando Royal Marines, Public Health England, the Atomic Weapons Establishment and Porton Down’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory collaborated to prepare Britain’s armed forces for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear operations by creating “realistic exercise scenarios based on the latest threat information”.

The endeavour included “company-level attacks and scenarios concerning CBRN vignettes, concluding with a full-scale exercise involving government and industry scientists and more than 300 military personnel”, with a “chemical decontamination area set up not merely to treat ‘polluted’ commandos, but also wounded prisoners”.

It was convened on Salisbury Plain — several of the Royal Marines taking part would be seconded to Operation Morlop, a multi-agency ‘clean-up’ effort launched in Salisbury in the wake of the poisoning of the Skripals, less than a fortnight after Operation Toxic Dagger was completed.

March 5, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, False Flag Terrorism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Russophobia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Integrity Initiative’s ‘Counterfeit Expert’ Perpetuated Novichok Narrative

By Kit Klarenberg | Sputnik | 07.02.2019

In the days following the apparent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal on 4 March 2018, speculation abounded. What substance had rendered the double agent and his daughter comatose? How? Who was responsible? Why?

By 7 March, it’d been established the pair were struck by a nerve agent, confirmation merely triggering yet further frenzied theorizing — much of it unscientific — on what precise variety had struck the pair. Could it have been VX for instance, first synthesized in the 1950s at Porton Down, the UK’s secretive and controversial chemical and biological weapons testing centre situated a mere eight kilometres from Salisbury?

A day later, security consultant Dan Kaszeta offered an alternative explanation — writing for controversial website Bellingcat, he suggested the agent may have been ‘novichok’.

“The Soviet Union developed a new series of nerve agents in the 1970s and 1980s. The exact nature of these so-called novichok agents is still debated and the information on them varies a bit depending on what source you are looking at… some Novichok agents of interest include A230 and A232,” Kaszeta said.

It was seemingly the first time anyone anywhere had connected the substance with the Salisbury incident — but it would soon become a crucial feature in the UK government’s official narrative, helping lay blame for the attack squarely on the Russian state, before a motive had been established, any perpetrators identified, or other basic facts ascertained.

Own Initiative?

Due to Kaszeta’s amazingly fortuitous insight, he would become a central figure in media reporting on the Skripals, a go-to ‘independent chemical weapons expert’ quoted in a great many articles and reports.

At no point however did Kaszeta disclose his intimate relationship with the Integrity Initiative, a shadowy military intelligence outfit funded by the British state and NATO — and moreover, an organization that specifically sought to systematically shape media reporting on, and Whitehall’s response to, the Salisbury incident from day one.

Dan Kaszeta’s Integrity Initiative Biography

In fact, were it not for hacking syndicate Anonymous, his role within the organization’s ‘Specialist Team’ would be entirely unknown, the only documentation linking him to the organization in any way a series of articles he wrote on novichok for the Initiative’s official website over the course of 2018 — which have since been removed from the web, along with all other site content.

Among them was a puff piece ardently defending Porton Down, stating the UK urgently needed the facility “to do valuable work to protect not just the nation’s armed forces but also to protect all of us who live here”, and dismissing as ludicrous the notion any poison could somehow be smuggled out of the “secure compound”.

Given US Fort Derrick is also highly secure, and anthrax was apparently smuggled out of the grounds successfully in 2001, leading to a notorious wave of anthrax attacks in the week after 9/11, this argument is surely dubious. What’s more, Kaszeta would surely have been aware of this, given he claims to have been “heavily involved in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the 2001 Anthrax incidents” — in what capacity though, he doesn’t clarify. Moreover, what published literature exists on novichok (or A-234) indicates the substance can be produced at bench scale by any laboratory.In addition to offering technical information on novichok to journalists — including then-Times Defence Editor Deborah Haynes, part of the Initiative’s UK Cluster — Kaszeta sought to rebut alternative explanations for the attack, and answer key questions such as why the Skripals didn’t die on the spot, and how novichok could poison two further people four months after the incident, writing a dedicated article on the former for politics.co.uk on 6 April. Conspicuously, much of this analysis relied on conjecture rather than science — for instance, when asked by NPR on 12 March 2018 why anyone would use “such an unusual agent”, Kaszeta responded “it was possible, given the historic secrecy around the programme, the culprit may have thought it would go undetected”.

“Maybe somebody somewhere felt they could get away with it,” he says. Then again, he says, it could have just as well been used to send a clear message to would-be spies and defectors. “It’s much more than waking up with a horse head in your bed,” he postulated.

He also frequently tweeted on the subject, the postings apparently becoming newsworthy in themselves — it’s difficult to quantify the exact number of articles featuring his Twitter output, although a 5 July 2018 Yahoo article — Weapons expert busts conspiracy theories about the Wiltshire Novichok attack — is certainly representative in terms of tone and content.

Integrity Initiative Monitors Social Media Activity Related to Salisbury Incident

Every step of the way, Kaszeta’s activities were closely tracked by the Initiative, with ‘expert team’ member Chris Hernon (ex-BBC) noting them in regular roundups. Elsewhere, in an internal email titled ‘FCO Disinformation Update’, FCO Head of Counter Disinformation Andy Pryce hailed his “strong rebuttal of conspiracy theories”.

‘Deep in the Pentagon’

Quite where, and indeed when, Kaszeta gleaned his specialist knowledge of novichok is unclear — particularly as he’s repeatedly (and wrongly) claimed the operation that produced the nerve agent was extremely secretive, and little is known about the substance outside the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, he doesn’t appear to have written a single word about novichok prior to his 8 March 2018 Bellingcat article — and his oft-touted chemical weapons and/or warfare prowess doesn’t appear justified by his professional or academic history either. Kaszeta’s work experience in that regard seems strictly limited to crisis response planning, and he holds a BA in political science and an MA in international affairs — but his LinkedIn profile nonetheless makes for fascinating reading.

His first listed role, from August — December 1990, was ‘policy intern’ at the Office of the Secretary of Defence, which he describes as “hard work at a desk deep in the D ring of the Pentagon during the final days of the Cold War” — and between 1994 — 1996 he engaged in “hard thankless toil in the depths of the beltway bandit universe, relieved only by boondoggles to the [Pentagon think tank] RAND Corporation” at Defence Group Inc. Thereafter, he worked in a number of positions within the US military-industrial complex, including the White House Military Office and Secret Service, before entering the private sector.

Dan Kaszeta’s LinkedIn Profile

In 2011, Kaszeta founded Strongpoint Security, which “provides consultancy and advice across a wide variety of defence and security disciplines, with a focus on unconventional threats, CBRN defence, crisis management, and physical security assessment”. The company’s website is rudimentary in the extreme, with many sections appearing to have not been updated for many years — for instance, references are made to Kaszeta’s “new” and “recently published” book, CBRN and Hazmat Incidents at Major Public Events, which was released in November 2012. He claims the work is “the first serious attempt to address the diverse and challenging issues of safeguarding the major event environment against the full spectrum of CBRN and Hazmat incidents and accidents”.

Self-aggrandizement is a recurring theme on the site, with Kaszeta boasting that his “degree and depth of expertise is relatively unique [sic] in Europe” — but while he’s bragged about the size of his “expert daily rate”, Companies House records indicate the firm has very little in the way of capital, cash reserves or assets, with annual post-tax profits typically in the low thousands, falling to just US$448 (£394) in the 2016/2017 tax year.

Strongpoint’s yearly takings certainly don’t appear to have ever reached levels by which Kaszeta could support himself, and references to the company online are sparse — any firms that have ever employed his services have certainly not advertised the fact in any way, and neither Strongpoint’s outdated website nor barely active Twitter account offer any sign of the company or its founder actually working, the latter consisting almost exclusively of retweets, often of Integrity Initiative posts.Strongpoint’s lack of assets is even more puzzling given it operates out of Kaszeta’s flat in Pimlico, one of Central London’s most expensive areas, where housing costs an average of US$1.9 million (£1.4 million) in 2019, 135 percent above the city average.

It’s unclear whether Britain’s spying agencies MI5 and MI6, both situated a few minutes’ walk from Strongpoint, have played any role in boosting property prices there — the organizations maintain a large portfolio of lodgings in the district, including 36 Alderney Street (located half a mile from Kaszeta’s home-cum-office), where GCHQ secondee to MI6 Gareth Williams died in extremely mysterious circumstances in August 2010.

Proximity of Strongpoint Security to MI6 HQ

Nonetheless, Kaszeta owns the residence, so obvious questions must be asked — namely, how is he actually making his living, and is Strongpoint merely a legitimizing professional ‘front’ for other activities, lending superficial credence to his status as ‘independent’ specialist?

‘Counterfeit Expert’

Kaszeta’s rise to media prominence is also somewhat curious. Prior to 2013, he was entirely unheard of in the mainstream — that would change when he began writing articles for Elliot Higgins’ ‘Brown Moses’ blog (the forerunner of Bellingcat ) on 20 August that year, a day prior to the notorious chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria. With Western leaders claiming Syrian government forces were behind the strike, but unable to provide supporting evidence, Kaszeta eagerly filled the void, being a frequent fixture of media reporting on the incident for months afterward.

Among a variety of allegations, his core contention was hexamine had been found by UN inspectors investigating local soil samples and metal fragments, a discovery apparently amounting to “smoking gun” evidence proving Syrian government forces were behind the contested strike, as — he alleged — the fuel can be used in the production of sarin gas, the chemical weapon purportedly used in the Ghouta attack. While Kaszeta has never cited a single scientific paper supporting this thesis, journalists invariably presented his analysis without critique.

He was nonetheless questioned on his various assertions and credentials via email by Theodore Postol, professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, correspondence the academic later published in a wider July 2014 review.

Over the course of their discussion, Postol writes that Kaszeta made “numerous false science-based claims” which he’d “not researched before [he] made the statements”, referenced quotes “not made by the individuals [he] cited” and claimed scientific expertise he “amply demonstrated” he didn’t have.

Dan Kaszeta Defends Integrity Initiative Employment

Concluding Kaszeta to be a “counterfeit expert”, the professor notes the self-avowed CBRN aficionado’s aforementioned book contains “no technical or scientific information” that couldn’t be obtained by a “superficial” internet search, and suggests Kaszeta’s prominence in news reports on Ghouta stemmed from a “complete failure” by the media “to exercise the most rudimentary levels of editorial due diligence” and challenge his “ill-informed and inflammatory use of false technical facts”.

Moreover, this bogus “empowerment” of Kaszeta, Postol writes, resulted in “controversy [with] no basis in sound science”, which could’ve played a role in justifying US military involvement in Syria.

Despite this extremely damning indictment of his probity and professional competency, mainstream journalists and news outlets were evidently indifferent, as Kaszeta’s media profile would grow exponentially in the years afterward, leading to his central role in perpetuating the novichok narrative.

Notably, not once in this period has Kaszeta ever provided ‘expertise’ even vaguely inconvenient for Western governments — in fact, he has unfailingly supported and perhaps even legitimized their aggressive policies, in the manner his Ghouta analysis potentially offered a pretext for US action in Syria.

Urban Planning

One of the most renowned journalists to promote Kaszeta’s views on novichok was BBC Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban, who championed his politics.co.uk article as a “common sense answer” to the question of why the Skripals weren’t killed by the poison they seemingly came into contact with, written by a “real expert”.

Mark Urban Promotes Dan Kaszeta’s ‘Expertise’ on Twitter

Urban’s advocacy of Kaszeta is perhaps unsurprising given his own peculiar connections to the Skripal affair — for in a shock disclosure, in July he revealed he’d repeatedly met with and interviewed the former Russian intelligence officer in the year prior to the Salisbury incident, while researching a book on the history of East-West Espionage.

That Urban neglected to mention securing such a seismic, serendipitous scoop until four months after that fateful March day — a period in which discussion of the attack, and Skripal, utterly dominated media reporting the world over — is somewhat staggering, but not quite as astounding as him having once served in the same tank regiment as Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 recruiter and handler, and neighbour in Salisbury.

Serious questions hang over Miller’s involvement in the incident, not least because immediately afterward he deleted his LinkedIn, which revealed him to be a Senior Analyst at Orbis Intelligence, the private “investigative consultancy” run by former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, author of the highly controversial ‘Trump-Russia’ dossier — which Integrity Initiative operatives worked to circulate among US politicians.

Furthermore, on 7 March the UK government issued a D-notice related to the Salisbury incident, effectively blocking mention of Miller in the mainstream media since.

“The issue surrounding the identity of former MI6 informer Sergei Skripal is already widely available in the public domain. However, the identities of intelligence agency personnel associated with Sergei Skripal are not yet widely available in the public domain. The provisions of DSMA Notice 05 therefore apply to these identities. If any editor is currently considering publication of such material, may I ask you to seek [the] advice [of the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee] before doing so?” the notice reads.

Adding to the intrigue, Miller also has an unclear relationship with Integrity Initiative, a leaked file naming him in a list compiled by Initiative chief Chris Donnelly, alongside representatives of the BBC, Porton Down, the FCO, the MOD and the US Embassy. The nature of the register is neither clear from the file itself, nor referenced in any other internal Initiative documents, although Anonymous claim the individuals were invitees to a private meeting with Syria’s notorious White Helmets group. Conversely, former Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has speculated the event was in fact related to the Skripal incident, a hypothesis partially supported by the presence of Howard Body, Assistant Head of Science Support at Porton Down (and Assistant Head of Strategic Analysis at the Ministry of Defence) among the names.

Integrity Initiative Promotes Dan Kaszeta’s ‘Skripal Files’ Review on Twitter

Whatever the truth of the matter, Urban’s aforementioned book, The Skripal Files — widely marketed as the “definitive account” of the incident — was published 4 October 2018. On 21 December, a glowing review of the work authored by none other than Dan Kaszeta was published on the Integrity Initiative website — strikingly, in its introductory paragraph the “counterfeit expert” revealed he’d met with Urban “several times over the past few years”. On 20 January, I emailed Kaszeta seeking clarity on how, why and when it was he crossed paths Urban — predictably he didn’t respond, a recurring theme with Initiative-connected individuals.

Dan Kaszeta Reviews Mark Urban’s Book, ‘The Skripal Files’

A mere two days later the organization would remove all content from its website, pending an “investigation” into the hack which acquired so much incriminating information from the organization’s servers. While there’s no necessary connection between my contacting Kaszeta and the purge, the timing is at least potentially significant given the review is one of very few Initiative site pages not still accessible via internet archiving services — it’s also not included among the now-dead links to the various articles he wrote for the Initiative on the Strongpoint website.

Wider Conspiracy

Shockingly, Kaszeta was but one cog within a much wider connivance — Operation Iris — constructed by Integrity Initiative. Under its auspices, many Institute for Statecraft and Initiative operatives — and journalists within the organization’s assorted international clusters — played a leading and early role in perpetuating various narratives, myths and recommended “responses” to the incident that would utterly dominate mainstream media reporting of the affair the world over for months afterwards.

2015 File Written By Victor Madeira on Possible Anti-Russian Actions

In addition to cementing an extremely negative public perception of Russia, the Initiative also sought to influence government policy in the UK — and ensure isolation of Russia internationally.

Disturbingly, many of these narratives, and recommended strategies, were originally mooted in a document produced in 2015 by Initiative staffer Victor Madeira, who likewise played a leading role in pushing particular angles in the wake of the Salisbury incident. Over the coming weeks, Sputnik will document the activities of each and every Operation IRIS operative, in an attempt to ascertain just what role the Initiative played in the Skripal affair, and why.

February 8, 2019 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Russophobia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leaked Memo Touts UK-Funded Firm’s Ability To Create “Untraceable” News Sites For “Infowar Campaign”

By Tyler Durden – Zero Hedge – 12/15/2018

The hacking collective known as “Anonymous” has published more explosive documents detailing a UK-based psyop to create a “large-scale information secret service” in Europe in order to combat “Russian propaganda”  which has been blamed for everything from Brexit to Trump winning the 2016 US election to this month’s anti-Macron “Yellow Vest” protests.

We previously detailed the first trove of documents which were dumped online November 5th to the site Cyberguerilla, revealing the private UK organization with deep government ties, the Integrity Initiative, to be engaged in an aggressive campaign to organize “clusters” of journalists across the West engaged in “counter-propaganda” efforts on social media networks and in media. And now a new trove of leaked Integrity Initiative documents has been dumped online Friday.

“Combatting Russian Disinformation” – Screenshot from a bombshell newly leaked document published Friday and hosted on the Cyberguerilla site.

This week the Integrity Initiative and its founding parent organization, the Institute for Statecraft — which is known for its close relationship with the UK military and defense officials — is at the center of debate in the House of Commons over its anti-Corbyn and anti-Labour smears involving labeling party leader Jeremy Corbyn a “useful idiot” for Moscow, even while the company is a recipient of official Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) funding.

The early November online leaks of confidential Integrity Initiative documents were the first to reveal the UK government’s relationship to the private project devoted to “fighting Russian disinformation”. According to The Guardian :

FCO funding of the Integrity Initiative was revealed by a set of stolen documents posted online last month by hackers under the banner of the Anonymous hacktivist collective. The organisation has not disputed their authenticity, but in a statement suggested that Russia was responsible for the hack and that Moscow had used its media channels to amplify its impact.

We noted previously that the work done by the Initiative  which claims it is not affiliated with government bodies, is done under “absolute secrecy via concealed contacts embedded throughout British embassies,” according to memos in the November leak. It does, however, admit to working with unnamed British “government agencies.”

Friday’s document dump via “Anonymous” is the third such release, and already some bombshell information has come to light.

The geopolitical blog, Moon of Alabama, was the first to unearth and analyze one of the more interesting among the document trove:

A “strictly confidential” proposal by the French company Lexfo to spread the Integrity Initiative’s state-sponsored propaganda through an offensive online influence campaigns for a monthly pay per language of €20-40.000. The proposal also includes an offer for “counter activism” through “negative PR, legal actions, ethical hack back, etc.” for €50,000 per month.

The document is marked “Strictly confidential” and lays out a “comprehensive action proposal” which repeatedly invokes Russian state funded media outlets RT and Sputnik as enemy disinformation to be defeated.

The proposal touts the ability of an Integrity Initiative partner  the French cybersecurity firm Lexfo — to create “indirect” and “untraceable” news content, including its ability to conduct “naming and shaming” campaigns targeting “allies” of “Russian disinformation”.

Presumably “allies” means any person or entity that happens to align with the Russian viewpoint on any given issue. The shaming campaigns and counter-information operations will be conducted “across hundreds of credible media outlets”.

Alarmingly, the document notes that:

 “where we lack platforms to publish our content… we will create news media sites serving our objectives…”

Again, both the contracting cybersecurity firm and the Integrity Initiative’s role in literally creating media sites out of thin air for the purpose of “serving our objectives” will remain “untraceable”.

As part of the “infowar campaign” teams of media operatives across Europe and the U.S. will “monitor” and edit social media pages as well as Wikipedia entries, according to the leaked document.

“Hot topics” which especially need to be monitored include the Ukraine conflict and any situation wherein “pro-Western local politicians” could be swayed by “Russian-backed trolls”

The teams will engage in “special operations” which are listed as:

  • negative PR
  • legal actions
  • ethical hack back 

And which populations are to be targeted? The document specifically mentions seeking out a Russian audience alongside Western countries: “This plan should be implemented in every targeted country and language, including Russia.”

These “influence operations” come at a price, according to the document. One figure which is floated is a monthly pay per language fee of €20-40.000, making it classic government subsidized mass propaganda (again, the company has been confirmed as receiving FCO funding).

Given that this looks like merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of similar such UK and US funded “combating disinformation” projects conducted in partnership with private entities out there, these initiatives have most likely already been active for years.

December 15, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , | 1 Comment

Labour furious over report that anti-Russia charity targeted Corbyn, receives govt cash

RT | December 9, 2018

Labour politicians are outraged and calling for a probe after a report that a McCarthy style charity has received £2 million in government money and targeted Jeremy Corbyn, straying from tackling so-called Russian disinformation.

The Institute for Statecraft, based in Scotland, initially seems to be a small organization which claims to counter alleged Russian propaganda by forming communities of journalists and influencers who use social media to push back on any so-called disinformation.

However, leaked documents provided to the Daily Record show that the organization’s Integrity Initiative isn’t as grassroots as it appears on the surface. In fact, it’s apparently funded with £2 million of Foreign Office cash and run by British military intelligence specialists.

What’s more is that the newspaper has reported that it launched its own investigation which found “worrying evidence” that the organization’s official Twitter account has been used to attack Jeremy Corbyn, his Labour Party, and other officials within the party.

And of course, there were some anti-Russia comments thrown in for good measure – such as one tweet which quoted a newspaper article calling Corbyn a “useful idiot” with “open visceral anti-Westernism [that] helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.”

“What he has done, wittingly or unwittingly, is work with the Kremlin agenda,” a newspaper report retweeted by the Integrity Initiative tweet states.

Although the Integrity Initiative’s apparent mission was first revealed last month, the Daily Record’s Sunday report about its targeting of Corbyn and the Labour party has left the party’s members more than a little angry.

“It is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials,” Emily Thornberry MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary said in her statement.

Labour MP Chris Williamson also chimed in, calling any such activity “unacceptable in any democracy.”

The question of whether MSM will eventually pick up the story remains unknown, especially since it has a tendency to turn a blind eye to anyone claiming to fight the good fight against “aggressive” Russia.

The Integrity Initiative’s spokesman Stephen Dalziel has said he is “not aware” of any Corbyn attacks on the official social media account. “I’m not the one who controls the Twitter account. If it was criticism of one of our politicians, then that shouldn’t be on there.”

December 9, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Russophobia | , | Leave a comment