On June 7th, The Grayzone revealed how British journalist Paul Mason planned to wage all-out war on anti-imperialist and left-wing academics, activists, campaign groups, independent journalists and media sites – and particularly this outlet.
Since the conflict in Ukraine erupted, Mason has aggressively assailed any prominent figure calling for a diplomatic resolution or opposing NATO escalation, authoring columns advocating for government censorship of facts and viewpoints he perceives to be insufficiently anti-Kremlin, and demanding “state action” against media personalities that oppose NATO expansion.
Since The Grayzone revealed that Mason has also been operating through covert channels to sabotage his leftist targets, a question lingers: is the British celebrity journalist purely a freelancer, building a clandestine informal coalition of fellow travelers to undermine and ostracize his perceived enemies on his own initiative, or are his activities influenced by shadowy state actors?
An answer lies in leaked private communications between Mason and Amil Khan, chief of intelligence contractor Valent Projects, in which the pair propose individuals to invite to an anti-Grayzone summit, where this outlet’s “relentless deplatforming” and a “full nuclear legal” assault to “to squeeze [it] financially” was to be plotted.
In the email, Mason can be seen asking Khan to invite a “friend” from the Foreign Office, who “may be the same as my friend” within the department. He clearly did not want to name his friend “without permission.” Such obfuscation implies his government contact’s role – and thus their identity – is top secret, to the extent it must be protected by default even from an intelligence agency-adjacent, veteran government psy-ops contractor like Khan, who maintains links with the National Security Council.
In his correspondences with Emma Briant, a self-styled academic propaganda expert, Mason is far less guarded. On April 7th, he shared his elaborate “networks of influence” map with Briant, cautioning that “obviously this is confidential.” He added that he “offered it to Andy but he’s not getting back to me.”
Mason was referring to Andy Pryce, the head of the British Foreign Office’s Counter Disinformation and Media Development (CDMD) unit, which was founded in April 2016 to “counter-strike against Russian propaganda.” In 2020, he moved to London’s Mission to the EU (UKREP), to serve as its its Head of Public Diplomacy. It seems likely he now serves in the Foreign Office’s newly-founded Counter Disinformation Unit – an apparent rebrand of the CDMD.
Little information about Pryce is publicly available, and the CDMD has been similarly cloaked behind a veil of almost total secrecy for much of its existence. In fact, the presence of the shadowy unit within the UK Foreign Office was not public until two years after its launch. Subsequent Freedom of Information requests seeking clarity on the nature and scope of the CDMD’s role, and even its staff size, were denied on the grounds of national security.
This informational deficit is understandable given that CDMD is staffed by intelligence operatives. Under Britain’s “Fusion Doctrine,” a merging of all government “levers” to enhance London’s economic, security, and political objectives, spying agencies are given chief responsibility for identifying and battling “disinformation.”
It was not until December 2018 that the CDMD was discussed in the open by British officials. For the first time, the UK government acknowledged the unit was effectively run out of the National Security Council, a veritable den of spooks. Its program summary for 2020-21 shows important data relating to its budget has been redacted on the basis of “national security.”
The official parliamentary disclosures of the CDMD’s existence were triggered by the 2018 leak of incriminating files related to Integrity Initiative, a cloak-and-dagger Foreign Office information warfare operation staffed by former military and intelligence professionals. Pryce featured prominently in documents related to this operation.
Those files showed Integrity Initiative maintained clandestine “clusters” throughout Europe and North America, covert networks of journalists, academics, pundits, politicians and security officials, through which ceaseless black propaganda about enemy states such as China and Russia, and individuals including then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, could be spread with damaging real-world effects.
The organization and individuals connected to the Integrity Initiative were overly fond of the phrase “useful idiots,” liberally applying the Cold War sobriquet to anyone attracting their Foreign Office-funded ire. Their targets included Corbyn, left-wing politicians, anti-war activists, independent media outlets, White Helmets critics, Scottish nationalists, and those skeptical of official narratives around events such as MH17’s downing and the Salisbury incident.
It is therefore chilling that many of these same elements appear in Mason’s manic “mind map” of his enemies on the UK left, which can be seen below. Even more disturbing is the likelihood that such smears might spell out intended targets in the working blueprint for a malicious information warfare operation.
On March 5th of this year, Andy Pryce emailed Paul Mason with a bare outline of a proposal for an astroturfed civil society organization that would serve as “the major, forward leaning player in the information war.” Inspired by a “Ukrainian friend and colleague,” the UK Foreign Office hand branded his project the “International Information Brigade ” (IBB).
Two days earlier, Pryce boasted of engineering YouTube’s recent ban on “Russian stuff.” Ministers have confirmed the Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU) where Pryce is likely posted was responsible for the ban, and added that it was “working closely” with social media platforms to ensure the rapid removal of “disinformation and coordinated inauthentic or manipulated behaviour.”
The CDU is staffed by Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence “experts in assessment and analysis, disinformation, and behaviour and attitudinal change.”
Pryce maintains multiple high-level contacts in Kiev. Integrity Initiative had an intense interest in the country, where it maintained intimate ties with the armed forces and intelligence services, and worked closely with organizations and media outlets fomenting hatred of ethnic Russian minorities and encouraging Holocaust revisionism. These outfits include StopFake, which has previously received significant Foreign Office financing.
In a March email to Mason, Pryce wrote that IIB would maintain “contacts into government [but] not [be] controlled by government,” and be “the beneficiary of intelligence but also help guide governments [and] funded by a collective from like minded Western countries – perhaps through cut outs.”
Mason was intrigued by the proposal, asking if its existence would be public, and if so, “would it be high profile or white label?” Either way, he warned it would become a “target,” and advised that a “matrioshka approach,” or Russian nesting doll-style masking strategy, be adopted. If the “real” IIB “was a private core of committed people,” he advised Pryce, “you could be far more effective.”
In subsequent exchanges, Mason reiterated his caution, declaring “the core/periphery has to be done right otherwise you end up with the same problem as Statecraft” – a reference to the Institute for Statecraft, Integrity Initiative’s parent “charity.”
“The opposition are not stupid, they can spot an info op – so the more this is designed to be organic the better,” Mason added.
Still, the journalist’s imagination was clearly running wild at the prospect of IIB’s creation, particularly given it would be able to do things “media and organic networks could not.”
Examples he cited included “pixelated use of prisoner videos,” which mainstream news outlets typically refrain from showing, and which the Red Cross urges against. Mason also proposed “doxxing” Russian social media personalities, releasing the names and personal data of Russian military and intelligence officials, publishing data scraped from their Facebook profiles. Finally, he pitched a malicious project called “Putin Proxy Watch”, which would track “the memes, themes and talking points from their source to bad actors” in Britain.
“Everything would have to be effects based – and guided by infowar experts,” Mason salivated. “One of the biggest problems will be the libel laws, which I would argue should be suspended for foreign agents.”
Mason’s sinister spider’s web of perceived Kremlin assets clearly demonstrates that he views much of the British left to be witting or unwitting purveyors or consumers of Russian disinformation. Thus, his “Putin Proxy Watch” would almost inevitably amount to routine defamation of innocent people as treasonous fifth columnists – simply because they expressed the “wrong” opinion on matters of war and peace.
Mason reinforced the paranoid quality of his map of the UK left in communications with Emma Briant, an academic propaganda and disinformation researcher.
In response to Mason’s previously mentioned April 7th email, Briant expressed surprise that Declassified UK, an independent media outlet founded by British historian Mark Curtis and investigative journalist Matt Kennard, was missing from the target list.
“Maybe they aren’t obvious to place,” she speculated.
Mason countered, saying he could not decide whether Declassified UK was “pernicious,” as he did not “see them regularly quoted by the bad actors.”
He added, however, that British media outlet openDemocracy represented “people not to trust,” on the basis its contributors “have been remarkably not interested in the Ukraine war,” and “a lot of the people they have writing for them are peace types.”
Briant went on to express her view that while “some” Declassified UK journalists were “not bad,” and note the outlet had “put out an important statement against Russian invasion of Ukraine,” other reporters were “long term involved in defending Russia and pushing its line on Syria” and therefore represented enemies within.
“They are close to Wikileaks and it’s [sic] nexus, it’s been pushing the ‘Russiagate’ stuff, trolling Carole and discouraging people from reading the Guardian…which is an important dimension of this [emphasis added],” she fulminated in an April 8, 2022 email.
It is unclear precisely who those “others” were, or how they had in any way furthered the Kremlin’s propaganda line. Over the years, Declassified UK has published numerous articles critical of the governments of Syria and Russia, and has consistently condemned Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Neither the website’s output nor any of its contributors could conceivably be accused of the mildest Kremlin sympathies, nor even being unconscious components of a “pro-Russia network” in Britain, no matter how small.
But by publishing substantive challenges to the slanted and misleading reporting of the Guardian’s Russia-obsessed correspondent Carole Cadwalladr, Declassified apparently wound itself up on the enemies list of one of Mason’s key allies.
In the April 8 email (see above), Mason and Briant also discussed how to solicit funding from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) of liberal oligarch George Soros. In 1991, the Washington Post placed Soros at the heart of a network of “overt operators” which assisted the CIA and intel fronts like the National Endowment for Democracy in carrying out “spyless coups” in the former Soviet sphere. Indeed, the billionaire’s foundation was an obvious example of the kind of funding “cut out” suggested by Pryce.
British intelligence specializes in the tactic of cut-outs. In April 2021, following the closure of the controversial Quilliam Foundation “anti-extremism” think tank, journalist Ian Cobain revealed how the organization’s budget publicly appeared to flow from a “Middle Eastern benefactor,” but was in reality “channeled” by MI6. A decision to eventually grant overt government funding to Quilliam was later judged to be a huge mistake, compromising its legitimacy from day one.
“Should have run it from within the agencies. They do this sort of stuff all the time. And you never find out,” an intelligence source told Cobain.
Mason said he had intended to ask openDemocracy co-founder Mary Fitzgerald about routes to securing OSF “resources,” but then recalled she was a close friend of Greek economist and statesman Yanis Varoufakis, formerly of the left-wing Syriza. Why this deterred Mason is anyone’s guess, particularly given he at one point claimed to champion Syriza.
Still determined to solicit OSF sponsorship, he asked whether Briant knew anyone else they could approach.
Evidently, Mason’s intelligence-driven crusade against the left knows no limits. In his mind, it seems that anyone failing to toe the establishment line is a legitimate target for censorship and smearing. His feverish state of mind was on full display in an email to Andy Pryce, dated March 2nd, in which Mason melted down about Twitter influencers pointing out the racial double standards in Western pro-Ukraine hoopla.
Included in Mason’s email are screen-grabs of tweets by renowned pro-Palestinian musician Lowkey, journalist Matt Kennard, British-Bolivian journalist Ollie Vargas, and Black Alliance for Peace, among others.
Mason went on to detail a multi-part conspiracy theory of how such an idea could proliferate, and asked Pryce, “how to respond?” before spitballing a few potential resolutions.
“Black and Asian voices to support Ukraine outright – not just talking about refugee issues,” Mason demanded. “Map and verify the origins of the meme and the involvement of proxies like Ollie Vargas. Punch back with facts and arguments?”
Ollie Vargas, a correspondent for the Bolivia-based Kawsachun News, responded indignantly to Mason’s characterization of him as a “proxy.”
“My work is 100% focussed on Latin America,” Vargas commented to The Grayzone, “ and I’ve only ever made a few passing comments on Russia/Ukraine, and only when the conflict first broke out. It’s yet another sign of Mason’s dangerously paranoid mind that he thinks I’m a ‘proxy’ for anyone involved in an issue that has nothing to do with my work or personal life. Fortunately, I live in a country outside the reach of the intelligence services he seems so keen to mobilize against those he disagrees with.”
Based on other communications, “facts and arguments” are clearly not on Mason’s agenda. In fact, his coping mechanism for dealing with each and every detractor that comes his way is apparently to urge state operatives to silence them.
Numerous emails viewed by The Grayzone consist of discussions between Paul Mason and Andy Pryce about meeting up at London pubs to “operationalise stuff” and plot against their shared leftist enemies.
One such communication, dated May 12 and sent to Pryce under the subject line, “Catch up!” reads like a greatest hits of Mason’s recent activities and accomplishments.
In the email, Mason celebrated the failure of the “Stalinist left” to disrupt the political momentum for massive arms shipments to Ukraine, while simultaneously predicting that “the gas goes off and the food goes short” as a direct result of the war’s escalation.
He then boasted to Pryce that he’d had “a bit to do with” Finland’s NATO application, claiming he was “working on a ‘left’ shadow Strategic Concept that is hawkish on military, but defensive only on geopolitics and nukes.”
Mason also mentioned that Amil Khan and himself were “trying to put together a complaint against Grayzone, that might trigger some investigations on the official side into their funding.”
Next, Mason highlighted his participation in a production by BBC producer Chloe Hadjimatheou on the “disinfo tactics” of the Stop The War Coalition, a prominent British grassroots antiwar organization connected to the Socialist Workers’ Party.
Led by Hadjimatheou, the BBC released a radio program this June which claimed to track how “academics, journalists and celebrities have shared misinformation in their attempts to raise questions about the official narrative” of the Ukraine conflict.
In reality, the BBC’s Hadjimatheou presided over a 30 minute-long smear of Edinburgh university academic Tim Hayward and Justin Schlosberg, a media researcher at London’s Birkbeck University, to the point that the latter is considering legal action. It would be entirely unsurprising if the network’s attack piece represented the International Information Brigade’s first broadside in the public sphere.
As subsequent investigations will show, the Mason’s fingerprints – as well as those of British intelligence – were all over the BBC’s assault on dissident academics.
Update: We have clarified this article to reflect Andy Pryce’s new posting at London’s Mission to the EU (UKREP), where he serves as its its Head of Public Diplomacy. It seems likely Pryce also serves in the Foreign Office’s newly-founded Counter Disinformation Unit.
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