It was an Anonymous leak that first highlighted the presence of a network of media, military, diplomatic, academic and social and cultural opinion formers that were engaged in a global information war.
First the UK Column and then the Scottish red-top Sunday newspaper The Sunday Mail started looking at the issues raised by the newly available information and the many public records and published sources concerning the programme, called the Integrity Initiative, and its creator, The Institute for Statecraft.
The story was given a major boost by the prompt tabling of written parliamentary questions by Labour Party MP for Derby North, Chris Williamson. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed they were funding the programme and that it formed part of a much larger effort, with a budget of £100 million over five years.
Mr Williamson directed a further question on funding to the Ministry of Defence on 4th December
Ministry of Defence: Integrity Initiative
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether his Department has (a) funded, (b) awarded contracts to and (c) procured the services of the Integrity Initiative in each financial year since 2015-16.
Their response was delivered by Stuart Andrew (MP for Pudsey, Horsforth & Aireborough and Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Defence) on 10th December. It read:
The Ministry of Defence has no record of any payments and/or contracts with The Integrity Initiative.
This response seemed definitive enough until yesterday when a further batch of leaked documents appeared on the internet courtesy of the hacktivist group "Anonymous". These documents included the following invoice and remittance:
Therefore, if these documents are genuine (as they appear to be), the parliamentary written answer provided by Mr Andrew on behalf of the Ministry of Defence is incorrect and the ministry paid the Institute of Statecraft's integrity Initiative programme the sum of £6788.52 on 4th December 2017.
We have asked Stuart Andrew for comment, but have not received a reply at the time of writing. We will update this article as soon as a reply is received.
This raises further doubt concerning the accuracy of the Government response to questions concerning the huge scheme of media manipulation which falls under the banner of "The Counter-Disinformation and Media Development Programme". Are other payments going unreported? Is the true budget higher than is being revealed?
These, and many more questions, will be the subject of further inquiry by the growing cluster of investigators, press, parliamentarians and concerned members of the public now looking closely at the Integrity Initiative.
Update 15 Dec, 21:00
A written parliamentary question from Chris Williamson to the Ministry of Defence dated 10 December read:
Ministry of Defence: Institute for Statecraft
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether his Department (a) leases (b) provides in kind any (i) office space and (ii) other resources to the Institute for Statecraft.
This was answered on 13 December, one day before the latest Anonymous document dump, by Mr Tobias Ellwood (MP for Bournemouth East and Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Defence):
The Ministry of Defence has no centrally-held record of any provision of office space to the Institute for Statecraft.
In Financial Years 2016-17 and 2017-18, the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust's Local Grants Programme awarded a total of £177,650 to 12 separate small projects run by the Shared Outcomes Programme, an initiative of the Institute for Statecraft which works with young people (aged 14 - 18) from minority communities in areas facing economic and social challenge and aims to increase participants' life opportunities and support them in fulfilling their potential. The Shared Outcomes projects enable young people to take part in challenging activities such as assault courses, night navigation exercises and camping while visiting an Army base, and other activities designed to improve community cohesion. In addition, in 2017 the Army made a single payment of £6,800 to the Institute for Statecraft for specialist training. (emphasis added)
As the year corresponds with the invoice and remittance, and the sum is very similar, it seems a reasonable assumption that this added note refers to the information contained in the Anonymous leak (which came the next day). This raises several questions:
- Why was this information added to an answer on the provision of office space and similar non-monetary assistance?
- Why was the previous answer not corrected?
- Did the MoD have prior knowledge of the Anonymous leak?
- We know that the payment was made to the wrong Institute of Statecraft account, indicating that other account details were already on the MoD system. Was this the "Shared Outcomes Programme" detailed in the most recent answer or have other payments been made and other accounts established?
- The final and most concerning conclusion from this additional data is that the British Army is receiving "specialist training" from a "Ukrainian expert". What is the nature of this training and why are insights from the Ukraine needed by the British Army?