In the Commons earlier, I asked Alan Duncan why taxpayers money had been used by the so-called ‘Integrity Initiative’ to disseminate political attacks from its Twitter site. You can see a clip below. But in his answer, he insisted that the FCO funding did not support the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter operation, which raises some interesting questions. Below, you can see the letter I’ve sent him this afternoon demanding answers.
Dear Sir Alan
Thank you for responding to my Urgent Question in the House of Commons this afternoon concerning Foreign Office funding of the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative, in light of the political attacks disseminated by the latter’s Twitter site.
You repeatedly made clear in response that the Foreign Office does not fund (a) the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter operation; and (b) any of their domestic activity, and that no public funds had therefore been used to conduct these political attacks.
Much as I deplore the hacking that has led to the exposure of documentation allegedly detailing the activities and funding of the Integrity Initiative, I do need to clarify some discrepancies between that documentation and your statement in Parliament today.
I refer in particular to the ‘Project Proposal Form’ for ‘Phase II’ of the Integrity Initiative allegedly completed by the Institute for Statecraft in its application for Foreign Office funding in the current financial year, 2018/19.
On Page 2 of the form, the over-arching objective of the proposal is described as follows:
“To expand our long-term programme so that European and N American countries can better understand and counter Russia’s policy of malign influence and disinformation.”
On Page 3, the third point detailing how this will be achieved reads as follows:
“Expanding the impact of the Integrity Initiative website, dissemination and Twitter/social media accounts, and increasing the reporting of the issue in mainstream and specialist press.”
On Page 22, ‘Output 3’ of the ‘Project Plan’ is described as follows:
“Dissemination of knowledge: education in understanding the threat; training in how to track, analyse and expose the threat; sharing best practice in and devising new ideas and concepts for implementing counter-measures.”
On Pages 27-28, the sixth ‘Indicator’ for ‘Output 3’ is set out, relevant extracts from which I have detailed below:
“During Phase 1, we formalised a process of social media dissemination of relevant commentaries on key issues which had been generated either by the Institute or by a third party.”
“In Phase 2 we will continue to expand our social media activity with the aims of monitoring and analysing hostile disinformation, spreading the message about disinformation activities against our democracies and how to spot them, and countering disinformation with positive information.”
“There will be 4 strands to this activity [the third of which is listed as]: Publishing content from our network and beyond to distribute messaging…”
“Our experience in Phase 1 has taught us that this is one of the most important means for countering Russian disinformation which we must amplify greatly during Phase 2.”
“We will (re-) distribute our own material and good work done by others.”
“The process will be tightly monitored with feedback and progress reporting on a monthly basis.”
“Our tweeting and retweeting has already grown in scale and has the potential to grow much more. Twitter followers [will] be increased from just under 400 now to 600 by end Q2.”
In what is alleged to be the accompanying, detailed activity and budget plan accompanying this project plan, a number of activities are outlined under the heading of:
“Expanding the impact of the Integrity Initiative website, dissemination and Twitter/social media accounts, and increasing the reporting of the issue in the mainstream and specialist press.”
The budget for these activities amounted to £257,311 of the total funding for Phase II of the initiative, which – according to the bottom line of the budget plan – adds up to £1,961,000, exactly the same total that you have disclosed in responses to Parliamentary Questions that the Integrity Initiative was awarded by the Foreign Office in the current financial year.
Furthermore, in another document purporting to describe the three ‘key deliverables’ agreed between the Institute for Statecraft and the Foreign Office for the progress of the Integrity Initiative, of which one is listed as:“making people…see the big picture [and] acknowledge that we are under concerted, deliberate hybrid attack by Russia”.
Two of the instruments by which it is proposed this ‘deliverable’ will be achieved are the Integrity Initiative’s website and its “+600 Twitter followers, inc influential players”.
I hope you will understand that – taken on face value – it is difficult to reconcile the information outlined above with the statements you made earlier to Parliament, and – while I have every confidence that you stated the absolute truth as you understand it – I hope you will not object to me asking you some questions of clarification:
1. Is the documentation I have quoted from above accurate in terms of the ‘project plan’, ‘activity plan’ and ‘key deliverables’ relating to the Integrity Initiative for 2018/19, or has it been doctored or manufactured by those putting it into the public domain?
2. If it is accurate, were changes subsequently made to the final project agreement reached between the Foreign Office and the Institute for Statecraft to exclude from that project – and related funding – any reference to the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter presence?
3. If so, why did the detailed draft funding proposal in which the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter operation was clearly an integral feature add up to £1,961,000, the same amount as the Foreign Office provided in funding for Phase II of the project, from which – based on your account today – any support for the Twitter operation was excluded?
4. Which individual(s) employed by the Institute for Statecraft is responsible for maintaining the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter account, and can you guarantee that they have had no part of their salary or administration costs in 2018/19 paid for out of Foreign Office funds?
I will have further questions in due course concerning your assertion that the Foreign Office exclusively funds the Integrity Initiative’s overseas activities and not any part of its domestic work, but for the time being, and in light of your statements in Parliament today, I wanted to give you an immediate opportunity to clarify the points above.
The Rt Hon Emily Thornberry
Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs