A vast trove of documents that provide great detail on the mechanics of the anti-Syria propaganda network used by the western imperialists in their attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of President Bashar al-Assad have been released into the public domain by the activist collective Anonymous under the title Op HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] Trojan Horse: From Integrity Initiative to Covert Ops Around the Globe.
At present, two sets of documents under the heading ‘Part 1: Taming Syria’ have been released, implying that more are still to come.
The documents, comprising project drafts, progress reports, bills of sale, financial statements and more, provide an in-depth exposure of the intimate relationship between the governments of various imperialist powers, principally Britain through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO, formally Foreign and Commonwealth Office or FCO), and an array of private public relations outfits working with the Syrian opposition forces.
So deep does the network extend, so far did the tentacles of the imperialists reach, that “virtually every aspect of the Syrian opposition was cultivated and marketed by western government-backed public relations firms, from their political narratives to their branding, from what they said to where they said it”. (Leaked documents expose massive Syria propaganda operation waged by western government contractors and media by Ben Norton, The Grayzone, 23 September 2020)
Four PR firms in particular have been named as key players in the sordid operation that played out over the past decade: Analysis Research Knowledge (Ark), The Global Strategy Network (TGSN), Innovative Communications and Strategies (InCoStrat) and Albany.
In this article, we will briefly look at the role each has played, along with an overview of the types and quantity of resources at their command.
For further detail, we recommend the excellent Grayzone article by Ben Norton, cited above. Norton was interviewed on the subject by George Galloway in episode 67 of MoATS, which is also recommended viewing.
Ark: ‘rebranding’ Syria’s extremist Salafi-jihadist armed opposition
Ark FZC was founded by former British diplomat and United Nations staff member Alistair Harris, a man “whose formative early years were spent seeking to understand and positively impact (!) ethno-sectarian conflict, from northern Ireland to the Balkans”.
Based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, Ark considers itself a humanitarian NGO, falsely claiming that it “was created in order to assist the most vulnerable” by setting up a “social enterprise, empowering local communities through the provision of agile and sustainable interventions to create greater stability, opportunity and hope for the future” – whatever that might mean. (Ark website, retrieved 30 September 2020)
Ark played arguably the biggest role in the propaganda war against Syria, overseeing some $66m-worth of contracts supporting armed terror gangs in Syria.
As revealed in the leaked documents, the firm asserted that its “focus since 2012 has been delivering highly effective, politically and conflict-sensitive Syria programming for the governments of the United Kingdom, United States, Denmark, Canada, Japan and the European Union”.
Critically, Ark was responsible for popularising the notorious White Helmets, so beloved and relied upon by the imperialists to push their anti-Assad narrative, by controlling their social media accounts. The whitewashers also produced the 2014 pro-White Helmets documentary Digging For Life, which garnered much airtime on Orient TV.
The firm brought together and enabled communications between the White Helmets and PR firm The Syria Campaign, run out of London and New York, which was pivotal in popularising the terrorist group in the USA. And it was Ark that created “an internationally-focused communications campaign designed to raise global awareness of the (White Helmets) teams and their life-saving work”.
The company was not shy about working with open terrorist organisations either.
Ark oversaw the PR campaign for the Supreme Military Council (SMC), which led the misnamed ‘Free Syria Army’ (FSA). It worked to “provide a ‘rebranding’ of the SMC in order to distinguish itself from extremist armed opposition groups and to establish the image of a functioning, inclusive, disciplined and professional military body”.
It was Ark’s plan to “soften the FSA image”, to make it palatable, building on the work started by Basma, a project financed by Britain and the US, which had“carried out a limited rebranding for the FSA that was well received”.
One document reveals how Basma ‘rebranded’ an SMC promotional sticker, replacing the image of a jihadi fighter dressed all in black with face covered and aiming an assault rifle, with the bust of a soldier in military fatigues gazing into the distance. Ark took up this work with gusto.
Another document divulges how Ark worked with another contractor, Tsamota, to develop the Syrian Commission for Justice and Accountability (SCJA), now known as the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA). The CIJA has been outed as an imperialist-funded regime-change organisation whose employees worked hand in glove with al-Qaeda to attack the Syrian government in the field of law.
Ark was omnipresent in Syria.
The contractor carried out extensive media training of opposition activists and spokespeople at all levels, teaching them how to speak with the press and helping to arrange interviews with media outlets, both English and Arabic, through “citizen journalism workshops with Syrian media activists, to working with senior members of the National Coalition to develop a core communications narrative”.
In addition, jihadi spokesmen would be “trained and equipped by Ark on topics from the basics of camera handling, lighting and sound to producing reports, journalistic safety, online security and ethical reporting”.
Following such training, recruits would be introduced to, interviewed by and submit items to Ark’s long list of“well-established contacts”, including journalists at the BBC, the Guardian, the Times, the Financial Times, Reuters, the New York Times, CNN, Sky News Arabic, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and Orient TV, among others.
In one document, Ark brags of how, since 2012, it “provided regular branded and unbranded content to key pan-Arab and Syria-focused satellite TV channels such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, BBC Arabic, Orient TV, Aleppo Today, Souria al-Ghadd, and Souria al-Sha’ab”.
“Ark has almost daily conversations with channels and weekly meetings to engage and understand editorial preferences,” it proudly declared.
Within Syria, Ark bombarded the population with a deluge of pro-opposition propaganda. In a mere six months, 668,600 of their carefully curated products, including “posters, flyers, informative booklets, activity books and other campaign-related materials”, were distributed.
In addition to extensive print media, Ark used its ‘Radio in a Box’ kit to provide equipment to 48 transmission sites and regularly worked with 14 FM radio stations. The agency boasted of being a “key implementer of a multi-donor effort to develop a network of FM radio stations and community magazines inside Syria since 2012”.
When all is said and done, Ark’s masterful handling of the imperialists’ dirty work earned its directors a tidy sum. In 2018, when the contractor’s work was drawing to a close, the British government was invoiced for $2.3m for that year alone.
TGSN: Ark’s partner in crime
TGSN is another intelligence cut-out of the imperialists’ masquerading as an independent group of “practitioners and policymakers with a shared commitment to [don’t laugh] resolving conflict and increasing social resilience to political violence”, whose website has the tagline, hilarious if it weren’t so disgusting, ‘Restoring peace andbuilding social cohesion”. (TGSN website, retrieved 30 September 2020)
This British firm is headed up by one Richard Barrett, a former director of MI6’s global counterterrorism unit, making it abundantly clear where its allegiances lie.
In TGSN, Ark found a natural business partner.
Together, this wicked duo oversaw some 97 video stringers (ie, freelance journalists, photographers, or videographers who contribute reports, photos or videos on a piece-work basis), 23 writers, 49 distributors, 23 photographers, 19 in-country trainers, eight training centres, three media offices, and 32 research officers within Syria as part of its communications operations.
As if to inject some dark humour to the whole horrific affair, Ark and TGSN signed a document with the British foreign office that was very much in keeping with the times, pledging to “ensure gender is considered in all capacity building and campaign development”, all the while adhering to “UK guidance on gender sensitivity”.
It was at this time that the Syrian city of Idlib was seized by Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate, which carried out sickening public executions of women accused of adultery while forcing the rest of the female population into full-body coverings and domestic seclusion.
The terrorist group’s atrocities in Idlib and elsewhere were aided, abetted and ‘rebranded’ by Ark, TGSN and their rotten ilk.
InCoStrat: multinational enabler of terrorism
According to InCoStrat, its role in Syria was “managing and delivering a multi-donor project in support of UK foreign policy objectives … specifically providing strategic communication support to the moderate armed opposition”.
To achieve this end, it was in constant contact with a “network of over 1,600 journalists and key influencers with an interest in Syria”, whom it used to further imperialism’s pro-opposition and anti-Assad narrative.
This particular contractor’s claim to fame was its role as liaison between its various clients, which included the US government, various UAE and Syrian businessmen who supported the overthrow of President Assad and the ‘Syrian National Coalition’ – that failed attempt by western powers at setting up a parallel Syrian ‘government’ in exile.
So involved was InCoStrat with this abortive attempt that it advised senior opposition leaders and was in charge of running the coalition’s media office from Istanbul in Turkey. It was InCoStrat which arranged a BBC interview in 2014 with Ahmad Jarba, who was at the time ‘president’ of the supposed ‘coalition government’.
As with the ubiquitous Ark, InCoStrat boasted of “extensive experience in engaging Arab and international news media”, and worked directly with “heads of regional news in major satellite TV networks, press bureaus and print media”.
Across Syria, the company worked with some 130 stringers, over 120 reporters and “an additional five official spokesmen who appeared several times a week on international and regional TV”.
The firm also established and operated eight FM radio stations and six community magazines in Syria, the better to bombard the population with imperialist propaganda.
InCoStrat also wormed its way into the opposition’s armed forces, bragging of its “strong relationships with 54 brigade commanders in Syria’s southern front”, which it claims involved “daily, direct engagement with the commanders and their officers inside Syria”.
In contrast to Ark’s method of working more or less at arm’s length, InCoStrat staff dived right in, getting their hands well and truly dirty. The firm operated a two-pronged approach: “a) Guerrilla campaign. Use the media to create the event”, and “b) Guerrilla tactics. Initiate an event to create the media effect.”
This strategy was followed to great effect.
When Syrian government forces laid siege to Homs, for example, which at that time was occupied by terrorist gangs who waged a campaign of mass sectarian murder and kidnap against religious minorities and Alawite civilians (Alawites are part of shia Islam, while the terrorists in question were sunni fundamentalists), InCoStrat coordinated the international campaign to have the siege lifted – in effect handing a victory to the terrorists.
InCoStrat’s notoriety extends well beyond the borders of Syria. The organisation has had its hand in similar projects in Afghanistan, Honduras, Iraq and Libya, working not only for the British but also for the governments of the United States, Singapore, Latvia, Sweden, Denmark and Libya.
In Iraq, its agents trained anti-Saddam Hussein journalists in the city of Basra following the imperialist invasion in 2003. In Libya, after it was wrecked by the Nato bombing campaign of 2011, InCoStrat worked with the puppet ‘Libyan National Transitional Council’as it sought to take power on behalf of imperialism.
Albany: unabashed imperial propagandists
Finally, we come to Albany, a smaller but no less sinister contractor for Her Majesty’s government, which“secured the participation of an extensive local network of over 55 stringers, reporters and videographers” in order to peddle Britain’s imperialist lies in Syrian media.
Albany’s principal contribution to the rapacious war effort was the creation of Enab Baladi. Billed by western media as a popular, grassroots media operation that had naturally experienced tremendous growth, the outfit was actually groomed and promoted by Albany, which transformed it “from an amateur-run entity into one of the most prominent Syrian media organisations”.
It was also this filthy contractor’s lot to facilitate communications between existing opposition media outlets and extremist opposition militias (many of which have now been designated official terrorist groups by the US state department and various European governments) via an “engagement leader who has deep credibility with key groups including (north) Failaq ash-Sham, JabhaShammiyeh, Jaysh Idleb al Hur, Ahrar ash-Sham, (centre) Jaysh al Islam, Failaq al Rahman, and (south) Jaysh Tahrir”.
Notably, in 2014, Albany ran the National Coalition’s communications team at the peace talks held in Geneva.
Albany’s methodology involved providing training in a “newsroom process”, which would “curate” news by “collecting and organising stories and content that supported and reinforced the core narrative”.
Lastly, it was Albany that sounded the warning of the Basma project’s loss of credibility after internal emails were leaked revealing that the platform’s funding came from the US and Britain. “The Basma brand has been compromised following leaks about funding project aims,” it flagged up in one report.
The leaks clearly concerned Albany, which pointed out that they had “damaged the credibility and trustworthiness of the existing branded platform”.Hoping to find a way out of this dilemma, it noted that “credibility and trust are the key currencies of the activities envisaged and for this reason we consider it essential to refresh the approach if the content to be disseminated is to have effect”.
Shortly thereafter the Basma website was deleted.
Taken together, the latest leaked documents “provide clear insight into how the Syrian opposition was cultivated by western governments with imperial designs on Damascus, and was kept afloat with staggering sums of cash that flowed from the pockets of British taxpayers – often to the benefit of fanatical militiamen allied with al-Qaeda.
“While Dutch prosecutors prepare war crimes charges against the Syrian government for fighting off the onslaught, the leaked files are a reminder of the leading role that western states and their war profiteering companies played in the carefully organised destruction of the country.” (The Grayzone, op cit, 23 September 2020)
Unsurprisingly, imperialist corporate media hacks have been entirely mute on this enormous revelation, hoping to suffocate it with their silence.
While none of what is contained in the leaks will be particularly new to communists, who have from the start of the war against Syria pointed out the imperialists’ aims and desires, it is absolutely in the wider public interest that such documents are widely distributed and discussed.
Of course, the journalists of the so-called ‘mainstream’ media lack even the most elementary integrity, and will only write and publish what their imperialist paymasters approve. They will also be taking heed of the plight of Julian Assange, who is presently being forced through the motions of a totally illegitimate sham extradition hearing to legitimise his handover to the US authorities for daring to expose their crimes. As can be seen from the lack of coverage of that case also, the fraternity of tame presstitutes are keen to avoid sharing Mr Assange’s fate.
Friedrich Engels famously noted that the best-paid historians are those who will best falsify history in the interests of the ruling class, and the same can be said for journalists. You will be extremely hard pressed to find any independent journalists, reporting factually and without bias, in receipt of the kind of pay that is ‘earned’ by these amoral charlatans, who regurgitate whatever rot the imperialists demand.
The foreign office is, of course, aware that these documents have been released, and ‘believes’, needless to say, that the leak was the handiwork of Russia.
Middle East Eye has reported that “senior FCDO officials are less concerned about the contents of many of the documents – as the existence of the propaganda programme had already been made public – than they are about the apparent ease with which the department’s computer systems were broken into”. (UK government probing cyberattack over Syria propaganda leaks by Ian Cobain, Middle East Eye, 28 September 2020)
Such a lack of concern about the leaks making it into the public domain underscores the trust the government has in British media totally to ignore their contents. Perhaps our rulers are more disturbed at the possibility that the Ministry of Defence, which has been operating parallel programmes in the military sphere, might be hacked in the same way.
As more and more of imperialism’s supposed war aims are exposed as lies, and more of its methods are revealed as illegal, immoral and downright depraved, disgusted civil servants, soldiers and other insiders are bound to facilitate more of such information leaks to the public.
Despite the huge marketing efforts aimed at burnishing its credentials and concealing its true nature, the imperialist war machine is facing a most welcome crisis of legitimacy.