Leaked emails expose the fingerprints of UK intelligence all over a factually challenged BBC special that aimed to deprive antiwar academics of their jobs and destroy their reputations.
On May 31, BBC Radio initiated an embarrassing imbroglio when it broadcast a factually challenged, overtly propagandistic documentary special called Ukraine: The Disinformation War.
Fronted by a British state information warrior named Chloe Hadjimatheou, the program professed to investigate “where the new red lines are being drawn in an age of disinformation,” and how “academics, journalists and celebrities have shared misinformation” by attempting to “raise questions about the official narrative” of the conflict in Ukraine. In reality, the show amounted to a malicious state propaganda assault on academics who questioned the dominant narrative of the war.
The program took aim at Tim Hayward of Edinburgh university and Justin Schlosberg of Birkbeck in London, singling the academics out for challenging official claims about Russia’s invasion. BBC’s Hadjimatheou portrayed the two as pawns of the Kremlin who personally posed a direct threat to democracy, world peace and the “international rules based order.”
It was clear the goal of the program was to end the careers of Hayward and Schlosberg, and intimidate any other credentialed academic who might consider dissenting against British foreign policy.
What might have been less apparent to casual listeners was that the BBC’s smear-job was coated with the fingerprints of British intelligence.
British state broadcaster frames targets with wild distortions, innuendo
Among Hayward and Schlosberg’s most unforgivable sins, according to the BBC special’s producer, Chloe Hadjimateou, was publicly urging their Twitter followers to question the declarations of Western officials and mainstream media outlets about April’s still-dubious Bucha incident, in which Russian troops allegedly massacred scores of military-aged men.
Yet neither academic had cast doubt on whether something terrible had actually taken place in Bucha. What’s more, Schlosberg has been an outspoken critic of Russian state-backed media who has condemned Moscow’s invasion many times, even stating that Russia may well have carried out a “civilian massacre” in the Ukrainian city, “on top of other heinous war crimes.”
However, such sentiments did not fit the program’s preordained agenda. So it was necessary for Schlosberg’s views to be grossly distorted to the point of libel, via omission, manipulation and selective editing.
Three weeks after broadcasting its defamatory attack on dissenting academics, the BBC was forced to issue a clarification and formal apology, acknowledging that Hadjimatheou had ascribed perspectives to Schlosberg he did not express, while nonetheless failing to address the most egregious misrepresentations in which she engaged. A further correction was published on August 5. These rare admissions of fault were prompted by Schlosberg filing formal complaints.
— Justin Schlosberg (@jrschlosberg) June 23, 2022
In attacking Hayward, the British state broadcaster took a more aggressive approach than it did in its attack on Schlosberg. BBC producers contacted an indeterminate number of Hayward’s students, including through their private cellphones, hoping to dig up dirt on the academic and identify individuals willing to publicly condemn him, his courses, and political positions.
In the end, the BBC obtained statements from two Edinburgh University students willing to snitch on Hayward. The first, Kvitka Perehinets, was a Ukrainian native Hayward had never taught or met, but who had many negative things to say about his tweets on Bucha, and Russia’s alleged bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol.
The BBC emphasized that “many” of Perehinets’ relatives remained in Ukraine, with “some of them fighting.” Yet the broadcaster completely omitted the fact that the student was a prolific contributor to Kyiv Independent, a propaganda operation funded by Western governments and intelligence cutouts, which disingenuously claims to be supported entirely by reader donations and “commercial activities.”
In @BBCWorld‘s latest hit piece against @Tim_Hayward_ describe @kvitkanadiia as a ‘student’ without disclosing her state funding. She’s an author at @KyivIndependent. Which uncritically amplifies Ukrainian govt disinfo and was set up with seed money from the US/CAN govts & EEfD. pic.twitter.com/kOEHynH74l
— Michael Martin (@MichaelNo2War) June 2, 2022
The second student had been taught by Hayward but only during a course during the Fall semester of 2021 which was completely unrelated to the Ukrainian conflict. Her criticism centered on Hayward’s invocation of the OPCW’s coverup of the April 2018 Douma false flag in a single lecture, as part of a critical thinking exercise, about which no official complaint was ever lodged.
Hayward was not apprised of the students’ comments at any point prior to broadcast, including during his lengthy interview with Hadjimatheou, or even when he approached her and her colleagues after learning of their fishing expedition.
Further, neither he nor Schlosberg were offered any opportunity to respond to the assorted charges leveled at them by a rogues’ gallery of establishment pundits featured in the program, which furthered its misleading, specious narrative.
Among those called in to denounce the academics was Marianna Spring, the BBC’s “specialist disinformation reporter” – an un-ironic although inadvertently accurate title, given her own predilection for perpetuating fake news. Spring branded Schlosberg’s comments on Bucha a demonstration of “how disinformation and misinformation operates – through omission.”
“It might not be your intention…[but] if you have a decent following, profession or a title that means people are likely to trust what you’re saying, you play a part, and you can’t pretend you aren’t a weapon in this war, if you do that on social media,” the pseudo-expert Spring alleged.
Journeyman journalist and British intelligence collaborator Paul Mason chimed in to reinforce the BBC pundit’s points. The Grayzone has exposed Mason’s involvement in a clandestine effort coordinated with, if not directed by, a British intelligence official named Andy Pryce. In a series of email exchanges obtained and published by this site, Mason and Pryce plotted to disrupt and destabilize the anti-war, anti-imperialist left in the UK and abroad.
In his comments to the BBC, Mason accused Hayward, Schlosberg, and others like them, of “actively promoting the talking points of the Kremlin,” even when they “condemn the invasion” of Ukraine.
“The degradation of facts into maybes is really important,” Mason said. “All that Russia needs is for [a] false fact to embed itself in a commonly accepted view. The persistent dissemination of small lies adds up to a big false picture of history. It goes from newspapers to academia. It goes from academia into diplomacy.”
These talking points were echoed by James Roscoe, a longtime British state propagandist whose CV includes stints as chief press officer to Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Queen’s communications secretary, and multiple Foreign Office roles, including in Iraq and on counter-terrorism, suggesting an intelligence background.
In an unintentionally revealing comment, Roscoe revealed the true motives behind the West’s counter-disinformation push. When those like Hayward and Schlosberg challenge prevailing narratives around controversial events, he said, “what [people] hear is, ‘this fact is disputed’, and that’s the critical thing.”
Questioning the official line is entirely unacceptable from Roscoe’s perspective, particularly with regard to international bodies. As he remarked, “[states] are not in a position to make a decision one way or another, and the way that feeds into the UN, is that they’re stuck in the middle.”
Neither Roscoe nor the BBC acknowledged that he has continually attempted to sway opinion within the United Nations Security Council while serving as London’s Acting Deputy Permanent Representative to the organization.
On May 4, for example, Roscoe branded Kremlin claims about the existence of US-funded biolabs on Ukrainian soil as “discounted and patent nonsense.” The US Department of Defense has since admitted the biolabs did indeed exist.
— NI Bureau (@NI_Bureau) August 16, 2022
Holding the BBC to account for “McCarthy-style atmosphere around dissenting views”
The British state broadcaster’s effort to ruin the reputations of a pair of antiwar academics contained an ‘”offline” component too.
Not long after Schlosberg’s interview with Hadjmatheou was completed, the BBC put a number of loaded questions to his employers at Birkbeck based on extremely damaging misrepresentations and outright falsifications of his public statements, political and academic positions, social media activity, and teaching approaches.
The exercise may well have been intended to compel Birkbeck to publicly condemn Schlosberg, if not terminate his employment. Instead, Hadjimatheou’s slanderous queries were forwarded to her target. Schlosberg responded with a withering and extensive rebuttal to each smear. While Hadjimatheou acknowledged receipt of the response prior to broadcast, none of his ripostes were cited in the program.
Schlosberg’s rebuttal appears in full below:
Schlosberg’s intervention nonetheless influenced the content of Ukraine: The Disinformation War, in unseen ways. Before transmission, a purported academic expert on disinformation named Emma Briant published several frenzied tweets accusing him of having her scheduled appearance in the documentary canceled. The posts indicated Schlosberg’s responses to the BBC’s bad faith attacks had been shared with her, a puzzling and deeply unprofessional move for a producer to make.
Even more curiously, Schlosberg’s complaint did not reference Briant, nor was she mentioned in his interview with Hadjimatheou. So why did she believe he had played any role in her omission from the program?
One explanation could be that it was originally intended for Briant to reinforce the malicious dog-piling and defamation of the academics featured by Mason, Spring, and Roscoe, but Schlosberg’s robust pre-broadcast critique generated interference from higher level producers concerned that the program had become so wildly prejudiced its credibility was hopelessly and undeniably compromised.
As such, it may have been necessary to cut Briant from the show to maintain the vaguest semblance of “balance” and basic journalistic standards, and provide a modicum of insulation against potential legal action. This could have prompted Hadjimatheou to furnish Briant with Schlosberg’s responses to explain why she was excluded from the program, which then led the disinformation warrior to erroneously conclude he was personally responsible.
Nonetheless, Briant seems to have played a significant behind-the-scenes role in the making of Ukraine: The Disinformation War. As The Grayzone exclusively revealed June 21, she has collaborated closely with Paul Mason in a secret war on “rogue” academics that challenge pro-war orthodoxy.
The disgraceful genesis of a BBC smear job
As part of this covert collaboration, Emma Briant privately introduced Paul Mason to researchers and scholars this April in order to equip him with professional tools to pinpoint “who in Britain denies the Bucha massacre/reflects the Russian line.”
Among the academics with whom Mason was put in touch, Huw Davies at Edinburgh University, specifically cited Tim Hayward as one such “rogue.” He also offered to provide software to assist the journalist’s quest – a resource that could have flagged social media postings by Schlosberg, given his well-shared tweets on Bucha.
In her emails with Mason, Briant also fingered Greg Simons, an academic at Sweden’s Uppsala University, accusing him of enjoying “DIRECT RUSSIAN STATE CONTACT [emphasis in original].” The basis of this bombastic charge was Simons’ receipt of an anodyne survey by Andrey Kovalev, an academic at a university in Moscow, and then forwarding it to a listserv in which both he and Briant participated.
Briant boasted of her access to that mailing list, bizarrely suggesting Simons’ routine email communication represented a clear example of the Kremlin’s sinister “techniques of recruitment.” She argued it should be publicized to “educate and raise awareness” of the Kremlin’s “grooming” of academics and others in the Western world. However, her feverish analysis overlooked Kovalev’s well-established record as a reformist liberal linked to a UK-based charity documenting human rights abuses in Russia.
Briant also failed to mention the revealing requests she issued to that same listserv. In one instance in 2015, she solicited contributions to Defence Strategic Communications, the in-house psyops journal of NATO whose editorial board she occupied. Would the self-styled “maven of persuasion” consider this to amount to direct Western state contact?
Briant furnishes BBC with false claim of academic’s Russia ties
This May, as an apparent result of Briant’s rumor-mongering, BBC correspondent Anna Meisel invited Simons to be interviewed by her colleague, Chloe Hadjimatheou, duplicitously framing the program as an open-minded examination of whether “there is a McCarthy-style atmosphere around dissenting views.”
“We have also been looking into claims that Russian academics and journalists have been attempting to groom and befriend [emphasis added] Western academics and researchers apparently in an attempt to make them more sympathetic towards the Kremlin,” the BBC’s Meisel wrote, using precisely the same language Briant did in private.
“We’re really interested in talking to you about your relationship with Andrey Kovalev…As we understand it, he approached you and asked you to participate in a security survey which you then circulated amongst academics who subscribe to an email discussion list…We’re interested to know whether you participated, whether anyone else on the list did and why you felt it was appropriate to introduce Mr Kovalev and his survey to this group of academics?”
Simons ignored the offer. Had he accepted, the charge that he was a facilitator in the “grooming” of academics by the Kremlin would no doubt have been a central theme of the program – and by extension, Hayward and Schlosberg would be similarly accused.
Simons wasn’t the only prospective interviewee to reject the BBC’s advances either. Lowkey, a British rapper and anti-war activist, also received an email from Hadjimatheou this May.
Posing as a sympathetic potential ally – a strategy Hadjimatheou has previously employed to lure individuals she intends to smear – she misrepresented the program’s objectives, telling Lowkey her interest was “why it is that certain presentations of what is being reported” about the conflict in Ukraine “are causing such a storm.”
It would not be long before the unethical tactics employed by Hadjimatheou and her colleagues earned them an unprecedented dose of accountability.
BBC’s Chloe Hadjimatheou linked again to pro-war UK state propaganda campaign
Ukraine: The Disinformation War contained little news value and served no clear public interest. The Grayzone has not received a response to questions placed with the BBC press office about how the program came about, who pitched it, and why it was commissioned.
It is abundantly clear, however, that British authorities are engaged in a determined effort to suppress freedom of expression and inquiry on campus. In March, Robert Harlow, a Conservative MP chairing the parliamentary Education Committee, asked then-Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi whether he would personally contact universities employing “useful idiots for President Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine” such as Tim Hayward. Zahawi responded by revealing that his ministry was “already on the case” and “contacting those universities.”
“Putin and his cronies are a malign influence on anyone in this country buying their false narrative. I repeat: it is a false and dangerous narrative and we will crack down on it hard,” the secretary fulminated.
Unfortunately for Zawahi and company, the British government does not have the power to dictate who universities can and can’t employ, or directly compel them to fire staff on the basis of their legitimate opinions. Not yet, at least. It would be unsurprising then if the mission of deplatforming Hayward and Schlosberg, among others, has been outsourced to civil society actors.
Paul Mason’s left-busting crusade on behalf of British intelligence makes him a prime candidate for such a task. It could be no coincidence that mere weeks after Briant introduced Mason to several colleagues to help hunt down “rogue” Bucha massacre “deniers,” Hayward and Schlosberg first received messages from the BBC.
For daring to highlight racial double standards in Western media coverage of the Ukrainian conflict, Lowkey was also identified as a target by Mason in emails to Andy Pryce, head of the Foreign Office’s Counter Disinformation and Media Development division – a unit directly involved in censorship of social media and online content.
Britain’s Stop the War coalition, which counts Lowkey as a prominent patron, is a particular bête noire of Mason’s. In numerous emails sent to members of his clandestine nexus, the journalist seethes with contempt for the group. At one point, he boasted of having “successfully cauterised” the group along with former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, to the extent that “not a single Labour MP will touch them.”
It is therefore likely that Mason’s machinations triggered Lowkey’s invitation to appear in Ukraine: The Disinformation War. In fact, Mason emailed Pryce, the UK intelligence officer, the day after that invite was sent, informing him that Hadjimatheou was “doing an investigation into Stop The War’s disinfo tactics.” He added that he’d “contributed some critical soundbites,” and expected his targets to “go mad and claim it’s all state harassement [sic].”
For her part, Hadjimatheou appears to be a go-to when state-linked operatives require the reputations of dissenting voices to be destroyed. A typically obscure figure, she has an eerie habit of surfacing at intermittent intervals to front lavish multi-part apologias for groups and individuals tied to British intelligence.
In April 2016, for example, Hadjimatheou produced the elaborate Islamic State’s Most Wanted, which glorified the work of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, an ostensible citizen journalist collective reporting on abuses by ISIS in the Syrian city it claimed as its de facto capital, and made heroes of its activists.
In truth, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently was an astroturf operation created by a Foreign Office contractor called ARK, which was itself headed by the probable MI6 operative Alistair Harris. The endeavor appears to have achieved little beyond enraging local residents and ensuring many of its contributors were brutally killed by ISIS.
.@chloehadj‘s first major BBC project on Syria was the product of a “national security-directed bankrolling bonanza.” Her second one was an assault on critics of the UK-funded White Helmets’ founder, who killed himself after his corruption came to light. https://t.co/5jQLGbWaUG
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) June 2, 2022
Hadjimatheou was also placed in charge of an extensive cleanup of the mess left by the mysterious November 2019 death of James Le Mesurier, the former UK military intelligence officer who founded the US and British-funded Syrian White Helmets organization. After Dutch mainstream media published a report exposing the corrupt financial practices that likely led to Le Mesurier falling from a balcony to his death – a probable suicide – Hadjimatheou snapped into action to produce a 15-part BBC radio series called Mayday.
Confirming what was already abundantly clear, adjudicators agreed that the White Helmets propaganda show by BBC hack @chloehadj failed to meet the Corporation’s editorial standards for accuracy by reporting false claims. https://t.co/ljVxPdbfaJ
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) September 5, 2021
Airing throughout October 2020, the program elevated its protagonist to the status of secular saint, libeled and defamed critics including Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal, whitewashed the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) coverup of the false flag attack in Douma, Syria, and denigrated courageous OPCW whistleblowers to such an extent the BBC was forced to acknowledge major flaws in the serial.
BBC’s Hadjimatheou named as prospective collaborator in leaked intel emails
While obviously designed to shut down scrutiny of Le Mesurier and the bogus, human rights-violating humanitarian group he created, Hadjimatheou’s series raised more questions than it answered – particularly on the nature of her relationship with British intelligence, via ARK. Mason’s leaked emails now place her in close proximity to his Foreign Office “friend,” Andy Pryce.
Pryce’s Counter Disinformation and Media Development is funded by the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, the mechanism by which British intelligence bankrolls cutout organizations. These beneficiaries include ARK and Le Mesurier’s Mayday Rescue.
The most recently available official program summary for CDMD states that Pryce’s unit seeks to “protect UK national security by reducing the harm to democracy and the rules-based international order caused by Russia’s information operations.” Its work is said to include “mentoring with UK media organisations; consultancy on programming; funded media co-productions.”
If that excerpt was not sufficient to raise obvious concerns about the circumstances in which Islamic State’s Most Wanted, Mayday and Ukraine: The Disinformation War came about, consider that during the latter’s production, Mason was cooking up plans to take down The Grayzone in coordination with many of the individuals connected to the program.
This May, an intelligence contractor named Amil Khan proposed to Mason that they construct a coalition of individuals who had “been target [sic]” by The Grayzone, in order to collate evidence that could be submitted to a British government body or regulator, thus crippling this outlet financially, and ensure its “relentless de-platforming.”
Mason recommended inviting the state-funded “open source” media outlet Bellingcat to ensure “intel service input by proxy.” He also proposed including Briant, Hadjimatheou, and his “Foreign Office friend”, a euphemism for Pryce.
Khan concurred and suggested adding Marianna Spring, the BBC disinformation pseudo-specialist, to the mix. Though it is unclear how far this effort progressed, Hadjimatheou repeatedly mentioned The Grayzone in her interviews with Hayward and Schlosberg.
Was this outlet also a prospective target of the BBC’s credibility-strained documentary?
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions.