RNA - In an exclusive report, the London-based Middle East Eye (MEE - a news and analysis outlet), has revealed that the UK covertly funded so-called “citizen journalists” inside Syria, often without the knowledge of the individuals affected, thus placing them in harm’s way.
The so-called citizen journalists who had been duped by British government officials were tasked to produce TV footage, radio programmes, social media, posters, magazines and in some cases even children’s comics.
The project was jointly masterminded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), who used an anthropologist (with a counter-terrorism background) to supervise the operation.
The British military is known to make extensive use of anthropologists to supervise so-called “cultural” projects, which are in most cases barely concealed intelligence operations.
In that context, it is not altogether surprising that front companies run by former British military intelligence officers competed to win lucrative FCO-MoD contracts.
MEE reveals that “nine” companies bid for the contracts, most of which were run by former British “diplomats, intelligence officers and army officers”.
The division of labour between the FCO and the MoD appears to have been fairly simple: the FCO awarded the contracts whilst the MOD managed them, sometimes using serving (as opposed to former) military intelligence officers.
The successful companies established offices in Istanbul and Reyhanli (Turkey) and Amman (Jordan), and set about employing local Syrians who in turn recruited Syrians inside Syria to act as “citizen journalists”, or more accurately propagandists, and in some cases spies.
People involved in the clandestine British-led operations have described it as a “shady shady business” and an extensive effort to “pump out propaganda, inside Syria and outside”.
For their part, British officials were understandably anxious to keep the operation a secret, forbidding managers and implementers to “speak publicly (to the media or at academic conferences) about their work without the explicit permission of HMG [Her Majesty’s Government]”.
MEE claims that two Syrian “citizen journalists” captured and murdered by militant groups on the suspicion of spying were connected to the British-led information manipulation operation.
In terms of funding, at the peak of the operation in 2015, the project was in receipt of £410,000 per month.
The operations were wound down once it became clear that the Syrian government – and its Iranian and Russian allies – were prevailing in the country’s complex proxy wars.
The real agenda
But chillingly, documents uncovered by MEE appear to indicate that the British government was using the propaganda operations to establish a foothold in Syria in anticipation of a military intervention involving British forces.
According to the core document (laying out the blueprint of the project), the operations should have “the capability to expand back into the strategic as and when the opportunity arises, to help build an effective opposition political-military interface”.
Those familiar with the British military’s idiosyncratic language would readily understand those words to mean that the UK was expecting to deploy a significant military force inside Syria with a view to shaping the country’s political future.
A failed project
This latest revelation comes in the wake of the suspicious death of the White Helmets founder, James Le Mesurier, in Istanbul last November.
Le Mesurier was a former British military intelligence officer who is alleged to have also acted as an MI6 agent.
The failure of the joint FCO-MOD propaganda project, in addition to the death of Le Mesurier (who is alleged to have been murdered to protect secrets), point to the collapse of Britain’s Syria policy, which for years banked on the flawed assumption that the Syrian government would fall.