Talking about the deep state and things like that which is a thread among conspiracy communities here in the United States, that there is this secret cabal here in Washington working to undermine the American people couldn’t be further from the truth, as someone who works with and around these public servants every day.
Whatever one thinks of the precise term “deep state,” Nina badly wants everyone to dismiss the very concept of secret groups operating within Washington. She works “with and around” them after all, and she says such a cabal or network of cabals does not exist.
In fact, Nina does know the truth, and it’s the opposite of what she claims above. Nina’s name appeared in one of the most explosive and aggressively censored national security leaks of the century. The leak in question exposed the “Integrity Initiative,” a dark government-funded NGO that appears to have engaged in political meddling and covert influence operations in Western countries under the guise of fighting “disinformation.”
Founded in mid-2015 under the auspices of the U.K. government-funded NGO “Institute for Statecraft,” the Integrity Initiative boasted a precociously fashionable motto: “Defending Democracy Against Disinformation.”
The Integrity Initiative “defended democracy” by recruiting secretive “clusters” of academics, national security bureaucrats, journalists, think tankers, and lobbyists in multiple European countries. These clusters would then be engaged in various ways to address nation-specific threats of so-called “Russian disinformation.”
In its organization, funding, operation, structure, and rhetoric the Integrity Initiative is the single best template for understanding how the entire hornets’ nest of NGOs, journalists, and “national security” bureaucrats work secretly and in concert to wage psychological warfare against citizens of the West. One cannot understand how the Disinformation Industry functions without understanding the little-known (and now defunct) Integrity Initiative.
Thankfully, before its demise, hackers leaked a huge swath of internal documents from the Integrity Initiative. More on that leak in a moment, but for now, here is an official description of the “clusters” from one of those leaked documents:
Full text transcribed here for readability (emphasis ours):
The network of networks:
The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by the Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America
The Integrity Initiative Aims to unite people who understand the threat, in order to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.
The nature of this response needs to render counter productive the Russian tactic of dividing countries internally and from one another. This will be the case if each Russian information and influence attack provokes the country targeted into sharing analysis of the attack with other countries in the network on a governmental basis, thereby increasing collaboration and Alliance cohesion. NATO’s political Committee can play an important role here.
An effective network is best achieved by forming in each European country a cluster of well-informed people from the political, military, academic, journalistic and think-tank spheres, who will track and analyze examples of disinformation in their country and inform decision-makers and other interested parties about what is happening.
Nina Jankowicz’s name appears in a 2018 leak as a member of the “inner core” of the Integrity Initiative’s U.K. Cluster, specifically in the sub-group dedicated to Russia.
Another name that appears alongside Nina Jankowicz’s in the leaked documents as a member of the “inner core” of the U.K. cluster dealing with Russia is Anne Applebaum. Revolver briefly touched upon Applebaum’s apparent involvement in the Integrity Initiative in an earlier piece.
Applebaum was last seen refusing to comment on the coordinated cover-up of Hunter Biden’s laptop. Applebaum’s apparent fellow “inner core” cluster wingman Nina Jankowicz repeatedly amplified the U.S. intelligence community’s discredited claim that the Hunter Biden laptop was a Russian disinformation operation:
Back on the “laptop from hell,” apparently- Biden notes 50 former natsec officials and 5 former CIA heads that believe the laptop is a Russian influence op.
Trump says “Russia, Russia, Russia.”
— Nina Jankowicz 🇺🇦🇺🇸 (@wiczipedia) October 23, 2020
From the Integrity Initiative’s formal description of “clusters” above it is somewhat difficult to infer what sort of activity Nina Jankowicz may have been involved in. But as luck would have it, the leaks included documents describing the activity of the Integrity Initiative’s Spanish cluster.
In 2018, Spain’s ruling party attempted to appoint Pedro Baños as head of the country’s national security department. The Integrity Initiative’s Spanish cluster as well as several U.K. associates immediately leapt into action to sabotage the appointment of this allegedly “pro-Kremlin” official. The following document from the leaks details their efforts:
Transcript (emphasis ours):
Midday: (II) Integrity Initiative Spanish cluster hear that a well known pro-Kremlin voice Pedro Baños is to be appointed as Director of the National Security Department, which works closely with the Spanish PMs office (La Moncloa) and is very influential in shaping policy
14:00: Spanish cluster leader alerts other cluster members and prepares a dossier to inform the main Spanish media. The cluster starts a campaign on Twitter to try to prevent the appointment.
15:45: Spanish cluster leader alerts Integrity Initiative UK Team which activates the Integrity Initiative network to generate international support for the Twitter campaign
UK team creates a WhatsApp group to coordinate the Twitter response, get contacts on Twitter to spread awareness and get people retweeting the material. Publishes opinion piece by Nico de Pedro on StopFake’s Spanish website, which was also retweeted by key influencers.
Cluster send material to El Pais and El Mundo to publish and alert contacts at UK and French Embassies.
By 19:45 Spanish Cluster assesses that the campaign has generated significant noise on Twitter. Contacts in the Socialist Party confirm that the PM has received the message. Some Spanish diplomats also express concerns
The result of the Integrity Initiative’s campaign was swift and decisive. After a week of lobbying, then-Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez named a different man to the post.
Despite ostensibly “defending democracy against disinformation,” the Integrity Initiative’s clusters operated in the shadows to interfere with yet another political event in Spain. Consider the following from a leaked Integrity Initiative “Progress Report:
Our first cluster, set up in January 2017, is headed by an academic currently at CIDOB, a Barcelona-based think tank. The inaugural seminar was co-sponsored by HQ NATO and addressed Russian malign influence in Eastern Europe and North Africa. A second inaugural session was held soon thereafter at the ECFR think tank in Madrid to ensure a balanced national coverage. This clusters draws it participants from academia, the media, civil servants and military and several political parties. Its main means of influence is through academic papers and especially through articles, written by independent journalists in newspapers like El Pais, based on material provided anonymously by the cluster. This cluster produced a major study on Russian influence in the Catalan referendum process which was circulated privately to key influencers in Spain, including the PM’s office, and throughout Europe on the Integrity Initiative network.
Just like with the Baños incident, the government-backed Integrity Initiative injected itself into a political matter — this time the Catalan independence movement.
A couple things are especially noteworthy about the operations described above.
First, we note the sinister irony that the NATO-funded Integrity Initiative, whose ostensible purpose is to “Defend Democracy Against Disinformation,” was caught red-handed conducting a secretive influence operation to meddle in the internal politics of Spain, a democratic NATO member.
Second, we note how crucial — indeed, indispensable — the social media platform Twitter was to the influence operations in question. It is precisely the importance of Twitter as a theater for U.S., U.K., and NATO backed psychological influence operations that informed our analysis of Elon Musk’s attempt to purchase the platform. We weren’t exaggerating when we described Elon’s threat to allow free speech and transparency on Twitter as a “declaration of war” against the Regime. As the Integrity Initiative’s use of the platform shows, Twitter’s value to U.S.-aligned intelligence agencies as a friendly ground for influence operations far exceeds its nominal value as a technology company.
Throughout this article so far, we have repeatedly referred to the Integrity Initiative as “state-funded.” This isn’t idle speculation. The Integrity Initiative took pains to mask the nature of its operations. Its listed address was in Scotland, despite actually operating in London. The Integrity Initiative’s funding came from a Scotland-based non-profit, the Institute for Statecraft, of which it operated under as a subsidiary. The Institute for Statecraft presents itself as an independent organization with a wide array of backers, but in reality the vast majority of its funding comes from the U.K. government. In its 2018-2019 fiscal year (running March 2018-March 2019), the Institute reported 2.2 million pounds in income.
How much money did the Institute for Statecraft receive from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in that time? 2.2 million pounds! By the way, at the same time, the FCO oversaw both the GCHQ (Britain’s equivalent of the NSA) and MI6 (its equivalent of the CIA).
As venture capitalist Marc Andreessen once asked:
Who pays for the Disinformation-Industrial Complex?
— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) April 30, 2022
The answer, it turns out, is you, the American taxpayer. Besides receiving funds from the British FCO, the Integrity Initiative also received funds directly from NATO, aka the U.S. taxpayer, in addition to funds from the United States State Department.
Funding wasn’t exclusively government-based, though, because in a fitting symbol of the growing tether between Big Tech and the security state, the Institute did receive a small chunk of money from Facebook, as the above document shows.
Perhaps more ominous than the fact that Facebook funded the Integrity Initiative is the fact that the name Ben Nimmo appears as an apparent member of the Integrity Initiative’s UK Cluster, right there with Nina Jankowicz (see Ben’s name the third from the top in the UK Inner Core Russia cluster).
At the time of the leak, Ben Nimmo worked for a group called the Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab). The DFRLab is a subsidiary of the Atlantic Council, an NGO which is also funded by the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office, NATO, and the State Department. The group brags that it has “operationalized the study of disinformation by exposing falsehoods and fake news.” You know what that means: Nimmo and DFR have become notorious for accusing all sorts of journalists and even random civilians of being “Russian bots.”
The Integrity Initiative’s leaked handbook identified Ben Nimmo’s DFR Lab, along with Buzzfeed and a handful of other organizations, as friendly outlets to rely upon when conducting its influence operations.
What is Ben Nimmo’s current position? If you guessed that Ben Nimmo now works at Facebook and helps to lead Facebook’s global threat intelligence strategy against influence operations, you’d be correct.
Next week, I’m starting at Facebook, where I’ll be helping to lead global threat intelligence strategy against influence operations.
I’m very excited to join one of the best IO teams in the world to study, catch and get ahead of the known players and emerging threats.
— Ben Nimmo (@benimmo) February 5, 2021
You simply can’t make this stuff up!
Nimmo is no stranger to Revolver, and we encourage readers to consult our previous work on Nimmo, the Integrity Initiative, and the disinformation industry here:
The picture that emerges so far is as disturbing as it is undeniable. The Integrity Initiative was a secret, government-funded influence operation that engaged secret “clusters” of journalists and academics to coordinate in order to meddle in the political process of Western democracies under the guise of combating “disinformation” and “defending democracy.”
Not only was the Integrity Initiative funded by national security bureaucracies, it conducted itself in precisely the same surreptitious manner one would typically associate with the world of spooks and espionage. One leaked document advises its reader on how to go about recruiting people for a cluster. It reads far more like an intelligence document than a journalism-related one.
“Be absolutely sure… we can trust them before we talk to them” is a baffling line for a group whose only purpose is to correct “disinformation.” Politifact and Snopes may or may not produce good “fact check” reporting, but we highly doubt they fret about being able to “trust” whomever they share their work with.
But this obsession with trust is quite understandable for a group whose actual purpose is manipulating the public, rather than informing them.
Even more telling are the lines about funding. “Always be firmly vague and helpfully uninformative” about funneling money to cluster members. On the other hand, “be very clear” about the “multiple sources” of funding for the Integrity Initiative, which just happen to include the British government and “international organizations.”
This sense that one is reading an intelligence report also permeates the group’s progress reports. Read the quotes below and ask yourself: Does this sound like a journalism operation, or an intelligence one?
The newly-formed Italian cluster is headed by an Italian professor who is also linked to the Italian Atlantic Committee. He and his colleagues have recently produced a study on Russian influence in and around the recent elections in Italy and are currently working on a study to explain the vulnerability of Italy to Russian influence. The main means of dissemination of information is through individuals in academic positions and through a series of Atlantic clubs – International affairs discussion groups in several cities across Italy. The sensitivities of the political situation in Italy, and the extent of Russian influence in political parties, means that the cluster must develop cautiously, feeling its way and seeking the best means of having a positive impact.
Greece is an especially sensitive country in which to operate, given its current political and economic challenges.
The Athens group is comprised of journalists who operate very discreetly and whose main means of dissemination is articles and a website.
Following the popular, quiet “revolution” in Armenia, we are exploring how we might safely establish an Integrity Armenia. One of the Institute’s Associates who is of Armenian origin is acting as informal adviser to the new PM, MFA and NSA. He is investigating the possibilities, including a journalist friend as a likely cluster leader. The delicate political situation requires that this be done with the utmost caution.
As the Czech Republic is well served by the European Values think tank, we have not so far seen the need to establish a cluster there, but have found it more cost-effective to link with this organisation and support its activities. However, given the recent political trajectory of Czech politics, it may become necessary to review this decision in due course.
The “political trajectory” in the Czech Republic, by the way, is the 2018 re-election of anti-immigration president Milos Zeman, who sometimes praised Vladimir Putin, supported Donald Trump’s rise in the U.S., and shared Trump’s aversion to journalists. Far from simply worrying about specific Russian lies reaching the West, the Integrity Initiative is really just worried about wider political developments it vaguely classifies as “pro-Russian.” What this amounts to is meddling domestically in Western democracy’s politics under the guise of combatting disinformation.
If there were any doubt as to the ulterior and disingenuous use of the term “disinformation” for political purposes, we need to look no further than the Integrity Initiative’s own “Guide to Countering Russian Disinformation.” The guide shrieks about the “lies” of the Trump Administration in a tone scarcely different from the most deranged New York Times article. Before saying anything about Russian disinformation at all, the handbook introduces the concept of disinformation with reference to two petty pseudo-fact checks in relation to Donald Trump.
The Integrity Initiative becomes even more suspicious when one looks at how its organizers reacted when hackers brought attention to their work. The Integrity Initiative leaks began on November 5, 2018 and were published on an Anonymous-linked hacker site called Cyberguerilla. The original Cyberguerilla website is now defunct, and our reporting has cross-referenced all documents to downloadable versions of the original leaks available on the archived version of the Cyberguerilla website.
Before the 2018 document leaks, the Institute for Statecraft “think tank” kept a bland website, hosting a handful of sponsored papers and similar work. But shortly after the Anonymous documents leaked, the Institute took down everything, leaving up only a placeholder with a contact form and a notice that it was “temporarily” removing its information “pending an investigation.” And so it has remained for the past three years.
Visitors are invited to visit the Institute’s Facebook (defunct) and its Twitter page (inactive since 2019, with all pre-2019 tweets deleted). Yet despite all appearance of being defunct, it isn’t, as it continues to provide information to Scotland’s charity ministry. Despite supposedly being wholly innocent and aboveboard, both the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft have, for all intents and purposes, closed up shop ever since hackers brought attention to their work and Western governments’ support for it.
We at Revolver were struck by how relatively inaccessible the Integrity Initiative documents were, and equally struck with the near total absence of mainstream reporting on what should be the equivalent of the Snowden leaks for the age of “disinformation.” Depressingly, the right seems to have almost totally ignored the story. Instead, coverage of the Integrity Initiative has been largely confined to marginalized (though often high-quality) outlets like The Grayzone, which do great work critiquing the national security state from a left-leaning perspective. We encourage readers to consult existing outside coverage of the Integrity Initiative leaks here and here.
Very little of this, you’ll notice, has dealt with whatever Nina Jankowicz actually did for the Integrity Initiative. This demonstrates an important point: Nina Jankowicz is in fact neither remarkable nor particularly important. She is simply one small cog in a vast machine.
The man in charge of the Institute for Statecraft, and by extension the Integrity Initiative, actually wrote an entire paper suggesting how this machine operates. Before founding the Institute for Statecraft, Chris Donnelly spent 12 years as an advisor to four consecutive NATO secretary generals. In a private memo, written for members of the British foreign office and leaked along with other Integrity Initiative materials, Donnelly describes how in a post-Brexit world the British government might consider privatizing its influence efforts.
In the above document, Donnelly recognizes the notion that a great degree of government work could be contracted to the private sector, which is allegedly more adaptable to the “speed of global change” — and, more importantly, lacks the full range of “accountability” attached to public servants. It is particularly important for government operatives to avoid accountability when it comes to free speech and censorship issues. An early 2020 article from the Atlantic noted in particular how constitutional constraints like the First Amendment have caused most of America’s censorship apparatus to be outsourced to the private sector (empashis ours):
As surprising as it may sound, digital surveillance and speech control in the United States already show many similarities to what one finds in authoritarian states such as China. Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices, which further values and address threats different from those in China. But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.
As the leaks above show, organizations like the Integrity Initiative are not exactly “private sector” either, at least in the traditional understanding of the term. As state funded organizations accomplishing state funded “national security” goals, groups like the Integrity Initiative are better thought of as extensions of the security state that have evolved to operate with less accountability. Nina Jankowicz’ own evolution as an apparent member of the Integrity Initiative to the head of a “Disinformation Governance Board” within the Department of Homeland Security attests to the emergence of a public-private revolving door for faithful members of the Disinformation Industry.
In any case, the Integrity Initiative represents the the nature of the modern influence operation. Censorship is far more than just woke employees at Big Tech companies deciding whom to ban and which topics become “trending.” Quietly but also constantly, censorship and narrative control are flowing from the state, taking the form of cutout civil society groups, NGOs, and “networks” that control domestic information under the pretext of preserving national security and fighting “disinformation.” An entire industry– the Disinformation Industry — has emerged to facilitate this process.
Disinformation is part of the Integrity Initiative’s motto for a very good reason. “Disinformation” is the skeleton key of modern domestic propaganda. The regime can now target political movements and specific politicians on the grounds that they are influenced by or in thrall to foreign “disinformation.” Previously purely political questions, like the Brexit movement or Catalan independence or Donald Trump’s reelection, are now assessed as “serving Putin’s agenda.” And now, critically, the coordination of academics, journalists, and public intellectuals to secretly push a regime-backed political line is now justified as the needed counterbalance to “disinformation” narratives.
The Integrity Initiative may be gone, but the Disinformation Industry it helped to birth remains. If Americans want to fight back against censorship and the broader domestic war on terror conducted by their own state security apparatus, it is imperative to understand this Disinformation Industry in full. Strap in — we’re just getting started.