The Silent, Sudden Death of A Global Censorship Unit
In recent weeks, a flurry of reports by The Daily Telegraph investigations team has shed unprecedented light on the sinister role of the British government’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the aegis of battling “disinformation,” in tandem with the British Army’s 77th Brigade psyops battalion and the shadowy Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU), the Cabinet Office-based RRU hunted down individuals and organizations online criticizing the government’s coronavirus response. Anyone questioning the necessity and efficacy of lockdowns, mask mandates, and other pandemic measures was targeted for surveillance, censorship, de-platforming, and more.
In attempting to firefight the scandal, the British government has issued an official “fact sheet” on the RRU. Per Whitehall, the Unit simply “used publicly available information to identify trends in media and social media coverage…to help government departments understand how their announcements were being reported on and received by the public and the media.” It was purportedly “like a digital cuttings service,” which shuttered for unstated reasons in “summer 2022”.
At no point is it acknowledged that the RRU routinely forwarded the information it hoovered to government departments “to take action if they felt it was required.” This was admitted in a parliamentary answer in February this year, although the nature of that “action” was not clarified.
The establishment media never discussed the RRU’s existence or its operations in the four years it operated. Ironically though, in attempting to deny the Unit was in any way secret, the fact sheet notes its launch was announced publicly in July 2018 in an article on the British government’s website – which was deleted not long after publication.
Given the article’s content, the reasons for its expurgation may be self-evident. In it, the RRU’s then-chief Alexander Aiken, the most senior spin doctor in Whitehall, traces his Unit’s origins to an attempt to prevent “false narratives from alternative news sources…gaining traction online” in the wake of British airstrikes on Syria.
These airstrikes were conducted in April 2018 in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government in Douma. Many sources at the time, including veteran journalist Robert Fisk, questioned whether this was, in fact, a “false flag” staged by the CIA and MI6-backed opposition to precipitate Western intervention.
Such suspicions were so widespread, Aiken recorded, that “due to the way search engine algorithms work, when people searched for information on the strikes…unreliable sources were appearing above official UK government information”:
“In fact, no government information was appearing on the first 15 pages of Google results. 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.”
Subsequently, leaked Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons documents, universally ignored or rubbished by the mainstream media, confirm that the Douma incident was a false flag. British agents systematically sabotaged the OPCW’s resultant investigation. This journalist has also exposed how an incestuous web of MI6-linked operatives was involved in staging and publicly marketing every alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria to precipitate US boots on the ground.
In other words, a compelling prime suspect in the Douma incident took the lead in dictating what information and perspectives related to the event citizens worldwide did and did not see online.
‘Behaviour and attitudinal change’
The RRU’s censorship crosshairs were also avowedly trained on national and international coverage of British domestic issues, including the National Health Service and crime. Aiken suggested the Unit’s approach was highly influential overseas.
“We are at the forefront of a growing international consensus on the need to take action against inaccurate or misleading information, whatever its source or intent,” he boasted. “There is now an opportunity and urgency for the UK Government to set the highest standards in tackling misinformation with efficiency, propriety, and transparency, maintaining our position as an innovator in communications.”
It is uncertain why the RRU was closed. Perhaps it was considered superfluous, given that the British government maintains several parallel entities with even greater power to police online spaces and influence perceptions. This includes the CDU, central to London’s crackdown on alternative viewpoints and inconvenient truths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Very little is known about the Unit, although in March, a government minister revealed it works closely with the newly-created and similarly opaque Government Information Cell “to identify and counter Russian disinformation targeted at UK and international audiences.”
The Cell reportedly “brings together expertise from across government,” including “experts” on “analysis, disinformation, and behavior and attitudinal change” drawn from British security and intelligence services, and directly coordinates with major social media platforms to remove content and ban, content providers.
“Behaviour and attitudinal change” is also 77th Brigade’s beat. This is achieved through maintaining a vast militia of real, fake, and automated social media accounts to disseminate and amplify pro-government messaging, and discredit the British state’s enemies, domestic or foreign.
After the 77th Brigade’s launch in 2015, officials repeatedly claimed that the unit not only did not conduct information warfare operations targeting British citizens but was legally prohibited from doing so. When in April 2020, British military chief Nick Carter announced the Brigade was “helping to quash rumors from misinformation, but also counter disinformation,” it raised obvious concerns these safeguards were being breached. These suspicions were quietly confirmed in June of that year by an Army spokesperson:
“The MOD team has been working within the Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit to tackle a range of harmful narratives online. As a UK government unit, [77th Brigade] have two primary audiences – government departments and British citizens, as well as anyone else seeking reliable information online.”
In January this year, an ex-Brigade whistleblower revealed how British law was routinely circumvented by the Ministry of Defence and RRU in the government’s crusade against pandemic dissent:
“To skirt the legal difficulties of a military unit monitoring domestic dissent, the view was that unless a profile explicitly stated their real name and nationality, they could be a foreign agent and were fair game. But it is quite obvious that our activities resulted in the monitoring of the UK population…These posts did not contain information that was untrue or coordinated [emphasis added].”
Many people within and without Britain were subjected to psychological manipulation strategies honed on battlefields against enemy militaries. The online profile of a 77th Brigade veteran notes they were deployed straight from a tour of the Middle East – where they “successfully implemented behavioral change strategies against ISIS” – to “countering dis- and misinformation during the COVID-19 crisis.”
It wasn’t just average citizens on the receiving end. Investigations by Big Brother Watch indicate the RRU kept a close eye on elected lawmakers, academics, and journalists who opposed vaccine passports, criticized poor state financial support for businesses, the modeling used to justify a second lockdown in November 2020, and NATO, among other matters.
‘Between peace and war’
In Britain, the vital dividing line between the military and civil society has theoretically endured as long as a parliamentary democracy. Yet, London has long been planning to erase this boundary at home and overseas.
The Ministry of Defence regularly publishes little-known projections of “strategic trends” it foresees globally in decades to come, which offer “guidance about strategic challenges and opportunities.” The findings, in turn, shape intelligence, security, and military strategy. As far back as 2010, these projections foresaw a world in which an increasingly impoverished Britain could remain a significant world power, “even when the physical contest cannot be won,” by influencing “perceptions, beliefs and opinions” abroad:
“Influence will be attained when the behaviour of the target audience changes through the coordination of all levers of power…Influence will not just be about messages or media, but how the combination of word and deed are portrayed, interpreted and understood through the lens of culture, history, religion and tradition. Notions such as winning and victory are likely to be of little relevance if an adversary can remain credible in the battle space of ideas.”
Fast forward to 2020, and an official British Army handbook declared that “conflict in the Information Age” has “removed the traditional distinction between ‘home’ and ‘away’ (and ‘peace’ and ‘war’).” As such, the military’s psychological warfare techniques are required to achieve full-spectrum “information advantage” across “physical, virtual and cognitive dimensions, at home and overseas, and across the grey zone between peace and war.”
This disturbing analysis was reinforced the following year in Ministry of Defence doctrine, which asserted that “old distinctions between ‘peace’ and ‘war,’ between ‘public’ and ‘private’, between ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ and between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ are increasingly out of date.” It added:
“The triumph of narrative determines defeat or victory, hence the importance of information operations. Established techniques, such as assassination, deception, economic coercion, espionage, theft of intellectual property, and subversion, gain potency through the clever use of cyber, digitized information, and social media.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, London has been working overtime to ensure the “triumph” of particular narratives. They serve to keep the proxy war grinding on, maintain the endless flow of arms to Kyiv, and neutralize public and political opposition to ever-greater Western escalation.
It was not for nothing that then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson flew to Kyiv in April 2022, at a time Russia and Ukraine were on the verge of inking a peace agreement under which the latter would assume “permanent neutrality” and formally cede Crimea and Donbas. The disgraced former premier successfully torpedoed that deal, encouraging President Volodymyr Zelensky to keep up the fight.
A core component of the propaganda blitz launched by London to manufacture consent for prolonging the conflict was the Bucha massacre. Johnson was the first source to publicly assert that the killings of hundreds of apparently unarmed civilians by Russian forces indicated Moscow’s genocidal intent in Ukraine. The international media eagerly leaped upon the potent allegation, although a subsequent UN investigation failed to validate the charge.
At the time, the US Defense Intelligence Agency was far more circumspect, an anonymous official telling Newsweek the deaths could have resulted from “intense” ground combat over control of the town. They warned the “Bucha Effect” had “led to frozen negotiations and a skewed view of the war.”
“I am not for a second excusing Russia’s war crimes nor forgetting that Russia invaded the country,” they said. “But the number of actual deaths is hardly genocide. If Russia had that objective or was intentionally killing civilians, we’d see a lot more than less than .01 percent in places like Bucha.”
Such comments reflect a broader wariness on Washington’s part. In December 2022, the BBC reported on how Whitehall officials were intensely concerned about the “innate caution” of US President Joe Biden, “who is understood to be concerned about provoking a wider global conflict.” A nameless apparatchik revealed that London had “stiffened the US resolve at all levels” via “pressure.”
The recently released RRU “fact sheet” openly states that the CDU is “currently focused on disinformation related to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and has already countered Russian disinformation about Ukraine, including denials of mass casualty events – including the Bucha massacre.”
Several Russian officials, and Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, did claim to have evidence the killings in Bucha were the work of British special forces. However, none has emerged in the months since. Some may have, where Russia’s request for an emergency UN security council meeting on the incident was approved.
Instead, that proposal was vetoed by London. We are left to wonder if, as with Douma, the fox has been left in charge of the hen house.