Last Wednesday, during the daily UK Government Coronavirus livestream, the head of the British Army, General Sir Nick Carter, bragged:
We’ve been involved with the Cabinet Office Rapid Response Unit, with our 77th Brigade helping to quash rumours from misinformation, but also to counter disinformation. Between three and four thousand of our people have been involved, with around twenty thousand available the whole time at high readiness.
To understand the implications of this statement, we have to go back to 2018, when Carter gave a speech to the Royal United Services Institute.
“In our 77th Brigade,” he said, “... we have got some remarkable talent when it comes to social media, production design, and indeed Arabic poetry. Those sorts of skills we can’t afford to retain in the Regular component but they are the means of us delivering capability in a much more imaginative way than we might have been able to do in the past.”
Previously known as the ‘Security Assistance Group’, 77th Brigade was stood up in 2015 as part of ‘Army 2020’. The Security Assistance Group had been established following the amalgamation of the Media Operations Group, 15 Psychological Operations Group, Security Capacity Building Team, and the Military Stabilisation and Support Group.
77th Brigade is described on their website as being about ‘information and outreach’. But what does that mean? General Carter again:
We also, though, need to continue to improve our ability to fight on this new battlefield, and I think it’s important that we build on the excellent foundation we’ve created for Information Warfare through our 77th Brigade, which is now giving us the capability to compete in the war of narratives at the tactical level. [Emphasis mine]
It is in this context, then, that Carter’s words from last week’s livestream should be viewed. Carter has acknowledged that the British military is waging war on a section of its own population.
A Rapid Response
Carter mentioned working with the Cabinet Office’s ‘Rapid Response Unit’. Established in April 2018 and also known as the 'fake news unit', the Rapid Response Unit was given an initial six months' funding. It brought together a “team of analysts, data scientists and media and digital experts,” armed with cutting-edge software, to “work round the clock to monitor online breaking news stories and social media discussion.”
According to the RRU's head, Alex Aiken:
The unit’s round the clock monitoring service has identified several stories of concern during the pilot, ranging from the chemical weapons attack in Syria to domestic stories relating to the NHS and crime.
For example, following the Syria airstrikes, the unit identified that a number of false narratives from alternative news sources were gaining traction online. These “alt-news” sources are biased and rely on sensationalism rather than facts to pique readers’ interest.
Due to the way that search engine algorithms work, when people searched for information on the strikes, these unreliable sources were appearing above official UK government information. In fact, no government information was appearing on the first 15 pages of Google results. We know that search is an excellent indicator of intention. It can reflect bias in information received from elsewhere.
The unit therefore ensured those using search terms that indicated bias – such as ‘false flag’ – were presented with factual information on the UK’s response. The RRU improved the ranking from below 200 to number 1 within a matter of hours.
The Rapid Response Unit was given permanent funding in February 2019.
Three months following the establishment of the Rapid Response Unit, Theresa May attended the G7 summit in Quebec, Canada.
There she announced the establishment of "a new Rapid Response Mechanism", following Britain's proposal for "a new, more formalised approach to tackling foreign interference across the G7" at the G7 Foreign Minister's meeting the previous month.
The agreement sends "a strong message that interference by Russia and other foreign states would not be tolerated," she said.
“The Rapid Response Mechanism,” she continued, "will support preventative and protective cooperation between G7 countries, as well as post-incident responses", including:
- co-ordinated attribution of hostile activity
- joint work to assert a common narrative and response
The UK government’s Rapid Response, then, is to create international agreement on a common narrative (via the 'mechanism'), and then wage an information war on its own people to make sure that narrative is protected in the media (via the 'unit').
During Carter’s 2018 RUSI speech, he explained the role of the mainstream press in “setting up a well-informed public debate”. He spoke about “political warfare” being war by other means, and he said that winning that war would require a “fusion” approach.
Here, he is referring to the Fusion Doctrine, which was launched during the Theresa May regime, as part of the 2015 National Security Capability Review.
“Many capabilities,” it said, “that can contribute to national security lie outside traditional national security departments and so we need stronger partnerships across government and with the private and third sectors.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit is not only working with the military’s 77th Brigade, but is “leading on the ‘rebuttal of false narratives’ as part of the unit ... [that also] involves the Home Office, DCMS, Number 10 and other agencies."
General Carter said his 77th Brigade is “helping to quash rumours from misinformation, but also to counter disinformation.”
What misinformation and disinformation is 77th Brigade helping to quash? How much of the ‘disinformation’ originates from 77th Brigade in the first place?
Part of 77th Brigade’s role is:
Monitoring and evaluating the information environment within boundaries or operational area
They not only ‘counter’ disinformation, but also watch social media, analysing how disinformation, including their own, spreads; mapping the internet and the networks of people sharing content between each other.
And for that, they have thousands deployed, and tens of thousands in reserve, not only in 77th Brigade directly, but right across government and the third sector.