Leak: German Government's Ukraine war propaganda campaign

The below is a translation, made with the permission of the author, of Part I (dated 29 September 2022) of Florian Warweg's exclusive article in NachDenkSeiten, a careful and reliable German new media platform. The original there contains several screenshots of the German document that has been leaked.

The German Government has now confirmed in answer to a parliamentary question that the document is authentic.

Leaked document: How the Federal German Government is working on "Gleichschaltung of the narrative" on the Ukraine war—Part I 

NachDenkSeiten has exclusively been leaked an internal document of the German Government. We were able to verify the paper and we also know the identity of the whistleblower. The document gives an illuminating insight into the extent of the horizontal and vertical structures of—there is no other way to put it—propaganda by the German state at federal level, especially as regards the official involvement of media (e.g. Der Spiegel and Stern), Western social media corporations, educational institutions and so-called "fact-checkers". Even primary school children are being targeted. What emerges is a concerted attempt by the Federal Government to subject information to Gleichschaltung.

The document is entitled "Current Activities of Departments and Authorities against disinformation in connection with the RUS war against UKR", runs to ten pages, and meticulously lists the relevant activities of the federal ministries and subordinate authorities as of 27 June 2022. Moreover, these activities are altogether quite something.

In this first [published] part of its evaluation, NachDenkSeiten will concentrate on the role of the Federal Interior Ministry (BMI), the German Foreign Office (AA), Federal Press Office (BPA) and Federal Commissar for Culture and the Media (BKM). In the second part, we shall look at the activities of the Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport as well as the Ministry for Family Affairs and the Ministry of Defence [all likewise at federal level].

Socialist-run Interior Ministry the hub for state propaganda activities 

The list begins with the SPD-led Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) under Nancy Faeser. The BMI is to take the lead and coordinate the "identification of and defence against hybrid threats" in an "interdepartmental" manner. This will be led by the "UAG RUS/UKR" (UAG stands for "sub-working groups" in ministerial parlance). One of the undertakings in this regard is a situation report on "Hybrid Threats" with a focus on Russia-Ukraine, to be drafted every fortnight. However, the "Ten-Point Resilience Plan" listed in the document is particularly eye-catching.

The first point in this "plan" is concerted "linking to fact-checkers on federal government websites". Private "fact-checkers" such as Correctiv, or contribution-financed ones such as the ARD-Faktenfinder, financed mainly by the US billionaire and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, are to be massively advertised through the "websites of the Federal Government". So much for the vaunted "political neutrality" and "independence" of the fact-checkers.

Furthermore, pamphlets on "disinformation in the context of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine" are to be produced and sent to federal ministries and the Bundestag, Länder [states] and municipalities. The list is replete with the reference: "Distribution to multipliers in civil society is underway".

The fifth point in the "Resilience Plan" is also particularly revealing; it is devoted to cooperation with the press. Mention is made, for example, of a "Spiegel background discussion" on 31 March and the preparation of features and interviews with Interior Minister Faeser; explicit reference is made in this context to Stern and Tagesspiegel. It is also mentioned that the term "Anti-Disinformation Task Force" has successfully been embedded in [media] reporting. In the document, (Russian) "disinformation" is understood as a blanket term for anything that amounts to reporting the official Russian position. And this is exclusively in relation to the Russian side. Neither official Ukrainian nor US talking points on the war in Ukraine are assessed by the German Government as "disinformation" per se in the same manner.

Another aspect of the plan is "outreach into the parliamentary arena", i.e. influencing members of the Bundestag and state parliaments—a not unproblematic undertaking, given the established separation of powers between the executive and the legislature.

Likewise, the "resilience plan" has as a central point the "occasion-related" intensification of contacts and talks with the platform operators of social networks "in order to sensitise them to state-directed disinformation". The document explicitly mentions Twitter, Meta, Google and Telegram in this regard. The talks are to be held at "junior minister [Staatssekretär] level".

No less problematic is the plan to influence the "curricula in schools as well as the involvement of adult education centres and voluntary bodies".

Finally, the plan states that the work on the implementation of the "Action Plan of the Federation and the Länder [states] against Disinformation and for a Resilient Democracy" has begun.


German Foreign Office, Press Service and Office of Chancellor's Media Tsar also key actors in state propaganda and censorship efforts

In addition to the Ministry of the Interior, the German Foreign Office (AA) appears in the document as a protagonist in the supposed "fight against [Russian] disinformation". It is noticeable that the whole gamut of measures by the AA is couched exclusively in terms of "Russian disinformation", and emphatically creates the impression that "disinformation" and the shaping of narratives only come from one single country worldwide.

For instance, the German Foreign Office document on "Measures as part of the RUS/UKR communication concept" mentions:

  • Observation and analysis of current Russian narratives and disinformation
  • Creation of a "living document" that "deconstructs/debunks classic and current Russian narratives on the Ukraine war"
  • Promoting projects to "build resilience to (especially Russian) disinformation [...]"

According to this document, the AA primarily networks—"intensively and bilaterally"—with US counterparts on disinformation issues. Explicitly mentioned in this context are the International Partnership to Counter State-Sponsored Disinformation (IPCSD) and the Counter Foreign Interference Group (CFI).
[Note by Alex Thomson: 'CFI' is a term used by other Western countries, including Australia. The leaked document screenshot embedded in the original article mentions "Counter Foreign Interference (CFI) Group" but this could well be an error for a similarly-named body, whether in the US, elsewhere or transnational. UK Column has reported on the scale of the British effort.]

The last point in the document concerning the activities of the AA is also revealing. It speaks of "[...] promoting the project proposals submitted by Deutsche Welle and DW Akademie for the expansion of reporting on UKR/RUS, as well as strengthening media competence [...]". We thus note that the German Foreign Office, a federal ministry led by the top Green politician Annalena Baerbock, is planning to fund projects of the [taxpayer-funded] German foreign broadcasting service, Deutsche Welle. How this is compatible with the Deutsche Welle Statute (DWG), which obliges [the broadcaster] to facilitate "an independent formation of opinion", would be just one of several questions raised by these Foreign Office plans revealed in the document.

The Federal Press Office (BPA), together with the Federal Foreign Office (AA), is in charge of the so-called "EG Desinformation" (when asked by telephone by NachDenkSeiten on 27 September what "EG" stands for in this context, the responsible head of service at the BPA could not provide any information). According to the document, the BPA is responsible for "raising awareness within the Government on the topic and dealing with disinformation". In addition, it offers "interdepartmental training" on disinformation. What is striking here is that the training is not provided by the BPA itself, but by private third-party providers such as the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and the Business Council for Democracy of the Hertie Stiftung [German tax-exempt foundation].

The ISD, with its expressly transatlantic orientation and its headquarters in London, has such illustrious board members as Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the management consultant Roland Berger, and the CEO of Axel Springer SE, Matthias Döpfner.

"Interdepartmental training" on disinformation for employees of the federal ministries is thus being carried out by a transatlantic lobby organisation whose "board" includes exposed plagiarists, and the head of Springer-Presse—speaking of disinformation—which regularly spreads fake news, as well as the private foundation of a department store tycoon. The federal authorities' approach to outsourcing probably doesn't get much better than this reduction to the absurd.

Finally, the document lists that the deputy government spokespersons regularly engage in "bilateral exchanges with Google/YouTube, Twitter, Meta, TikTok and LinkedIn to discuss the platforms' "respective strategies to combat disinformation, particularly in the context of the war in Ukraine".

That is to say that, according to the document, both the Interior and Foreign Ministries, as well as the Federal Press Office, each hold regular bilateral meetings (at junior minster [Staatssekretär] level) with the major platform operators on "Russian disinformation" regarding the war in Ukraine. The pressure to conform and censor that this all adds up to can be considered significant.


Six-year-olds on board

Another major player is the Federal Commissar for Culture and the Media (BKM), Claudia Roth, who reports directly to the Chancellor. She has a budget of over two billion euros, 400 employees, and is responsible for federal government media policy (and finances bodies including the German foreign broadcasting service, Deutsche Welle, as part of this framework).

In the internal document seen by NachDenkSeiten, there is talk, among other ideas, of "setting up a Russian editorial office-in-exile in Riga [capital of Latvia]" and "if necessary, setting up a Ukrainian editorial office-in-exile in Kraków, Poland". According to the paper, the BKM seems to be playing a central and proactive role among the EU Council of Media Ministers in "taking action against Russian propaganda media".

Likewise, the BKM is taking a lead role in the negotiations on the Orwellian-sounding "European Media Freedom Act" and is seeking to focus on "disinformation" there.

According to the document, the BKM is also planning a new funding programme "with a focus on promoting news literacy among the general population to combat disinformation".

Another project that raises questions is the use of child reporters from the age of 6 against "disinformation", a term not specified further. The document states, among other things:

Children's reporters — Strengthening the news competence, and thereby resilience to disinformation, of 6–14-year-olds through active media work.

Finally, reference is made to the Deutsche Welle project "Artificial Intelligence against Disinformation" (KID), in which "AI modules of digital forensics are to be used to improve the (partially) automated identification of manipulation and concerted disinformation campaigns". Brave new world...


Whistleblower's concerns

The whistleblower also explained to us what motivated him to make this leak. He told NachDenkSeiten that when this document arrived on his work computer, he was profoundly shocked. For him, he said, this was "a concerted attempt at narrative synchronisation". He went on:

In my eyes, we are peering here into the abyss of the consolidated activities of horizontal (inter-ministerial) and vertical integration of modern state propaganda: from the ministries—and their partnerships with transatlantic think tanks like the [London] ISD—down to the press, "fact-checkers", social media, "multipliers", "critical civil society" and so on. We're even stooping to making schools and primary school-aged children get involved.

Furthermore, he told NachDenkSeiten that this document is only "the tip of the iceberg" and that the projects listed are not exhaustive. Everything listed in this document would still be a manageable leak for the Federal Government, he said, as it only included the measures that could be admitted to in [PR] communications if in doubt. The German public had no idea what else was going on behind the scenes, he added.

Finally, something about the presumed author of this internal document. According to the metadata of the original Word document, this German government list was compiled by a person whose name we are withholding out of respect for his private life, but whose curriculum vitae provides interesting insights into who draws up such "interdepartmental" papers on this topic.

Practically nothing can be found out about the author online, but what little can be found speaks for itself. On LinkedIn, there is a post thanking the author of the document "Current Activities of Departments and Authorities against disinformation in connection with the RUS war against UKR", written by BwConsulting (BwConsulting is the in-house consulting company of the Federal Ministry of Defence) for the partnership, and the author has also written a reference book on the management of NATO and EU military operations.


Addendum by Alex Thomson

Part II can be read in the original German here. The final screenshot embedded in Part II speaks of the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) involving “young people in particular” in dialogue on security policy, with a package on “hybrid threats” delivered in concert with the Security Policy Academy (BAKS) and another package planned on “Society and Resilience”, to be delivered in concert with the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The text in the screenshot goes on to state that “youth officers” of the Bundeswehr, “specially trained in teaching methods”, are—apparently already—being dispatched to schools to “raise awareness of security policy and defence policy” through “direct dialogue”.