Russian state hacked charity, says Foreign Office

12 Dec 2018 News

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has defended its £2.2m funding of a charity accused of political bias, blaming interference by Russian state media.

Institute for Statecraft, based in Fife, Scotland, runs a programme called Integrity Initiative - which has received more than £2m in Foreign Office funding over the past two years.

The Sunday Mail reported that the Integrity Initiative Twitter account - which has more than 3,000 followers - shared a series of links to articles criticising Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his allies.

The newspaper quoted posts that linked to articles that called Corbyn a "useful idiot" who "helped the Kremlin cause", as well as one that said the Labour leader's communications chief Seamus Milne had worked "with the Kremlin agenda".

Sir Alan Duncan, foreign office minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday that he had ordered his department to investigate why the account shared the links.

The Foreign Office spokesperson has now said that the Tweets show “no systemic bias” and that the charity has “undertaken to review their editorial policy”.

However, the department said it did not endorse nor fund the charity’s social media activity, although this is disputed by Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry.

The department also said its funding was to support the charity’s work to counter disinformation overseas, not in the UK.

A spokesperson said the latest negative coverage about the charity was a result of Russian state interference.

They said: “The Institute for Statecraft, an independent charity, was hacked several weeks ago and numerous documents were published and amplified by Kremlin news channels.

“The Russian state media campaign’s objective is clear. This is yet another example of Russian disinformation intended to confuse audiences and discredit an organisation which is working independently to tackle the threat of disinformation.”

The charity, which was set up in 2015 and initially funded by private donors, complained last month that some of its internal documents were stolen and published by “Russian state propaganda outlets”.

Call for investigation

Meanwhile, Labour MP Chris Williamson has called for a public inquiry into the charity’s Integrity Initiative programme.

He said the programme “interfered in domestic policies of a fellow European democracy” by working to discredit individuals such as Pedro Banos, a member of the Spanish Socialist Party, who was in the running to be the Spanish government’s director of national security until the charity published alleged links between himself and the Russian government.

Williamson also raised concerns that two employees of the charity working on the Integrity Initiative are reserve members of the armed forces while another holds an honorary role.

He said: “I’m calling for a public inquiry into the Integrity initiative and similar information war efforts being funded by our government.

“Their approach of silencing and oppressing aspects of public debate doesn’t strengthen democracy, it debases it.”

Civil Society News has asked the charity for comment.

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