British government employs thousands directly in propaganda and related activities

16th April 2018 / United Kingdom
British government employs thousands directly in propaganda and related activities

The article below is an excerpt by David Miller from OpenDemocracy entitled: “Russia, Novichok and the long tradition of British government misinformation.” This excerpt relates directly to the number of people the British government employs directly in propaganda.


To support their lies the British government employs thousands of people directly in propaganda and related activities. The other weekend in a talk at the Media Democracy Festival in Central London, I discussed British government deception activities and made the claim it employed “thousands” of people to distort and deceive. Afterwards, both at the event and on Twitter, I was challenged on the figures – was it really “thousands”?. While it may not be very well known, the government does employ thousands of people in what used to be known as “propaganda”. We don’t know exactly how many since the government is a little touchy about some of the people it employs in this capacity. Nevertheless data from the Office for National Statistics, for 2017, show that the number of people who work in “communication” (including media work, social media, strategy, internal comms etc) in central government departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies, totals 3,450.

This is an increase in the total of 2,830 in those positions in the decade preceding the financial crash. After reaching a high of more than 4,000 in 2010, numbers declined modestly under austerity cuts, to 3,240 in 2013, climbing again to the current figure just under 3,500.

It is clear that these figures are an underestimate for a variety of reasons. For example, the 490 employed in the MoD seems not to cover the media people in the armed services themselves. In 2007, for example, the total MoD complement was reported as over 1,000, but this “excludes many military personnel involved in communications work” according to the official Defence Communications Strategy.

One imagines that the 370 people at the Home Office includes (probably) one hundred or so in RICU, the propaganda unit that masterminds covert propaganda on counter terrorism in the UK. The ninety listed at the FCO presumably includes those in the rather scarily titled Counter-Daesh Coalition Communications Cell which is known to work with the US and UAE governments (amongst others), in countering ‘terrorist’ propaganda. But the figures do not include any of those specialists paid to do PR by the government. Some of these are in covert roles, such as Breakthrough Media employed by RICU to produce government propaganda messages that can be issued in the name of Muslim civil society groups as if it were their own work – as was the case with the alleged ‘women’s rights’ group Inspire. Nor does it include the firm or firms that have been active in providing the propaganda operation of some elements of the Syrian opposition – only the ‘moderates’, we’re assured…


Also not in the figures – as the ONS has confirmed – are the unknown numbers that work for the intelligence agencies. Both MI5 and MI6 most likely have sizable staff groups working on propaganda, whether ‘communication’ is in their formal job title or not.


Looking back on the Iraq debacle it was plain that those in government formally charged with communications – Alastair Campbell and the like – were not the only people involved in very detailed discussions about the precise phrases to use to mislead the public. Many of those in the intelligence apparatus, including the intelligence assessments staff in the Cabinet Office (120 of them in the latest data) and others in the MoD, FCO etc were intimately involved.


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And let’s not forget GCHQ whose secretive propaganda unit – the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) – was disclosed by Edward Snowden. In 2011 JTRIG housed 120 people. Amongst the Snowden documents was a review of the group written by a UK academic which states that JTRIG engages in operations “characterised by terms such as ‘discredit’, promote ‘distrust’, ‘dissuade’, ‘deceive’, ‘disrupt’, ‘delay’, ‘deny’, ‘denigrate/degrade’, and ‘deter’.”


JTRIG works closely with DSTL – based at Porton Down. In addition to the work they do on chemical and biological warfare agents, DSTL has a very significant number of people working on propaganda. It has been a key agency in undertaking research on ‘Information Operations’ (IO) and on ‘Psy Ops’ – both military euphemisms for propaganda – and currently advertises an Orwellian-sounding ‘Influence programme’. Amongst other things, it was influential in the creation of RICU at the Home Office. None of the people working on this activity are included in the zero return that DSTL gave to the ONS on communications. Presumably, they are all subsumed within the 3,120 listed as working in ‘Science and Engineering’ at DSTL, of a total of 3,750 staff.


All in all, therefore, it would not be surprising for the total figure of people working in propaganda for the British government, to significantly exceed five thousand people.


The propaganda techniques discussed here are not a secret, but perhaps they are not as widely known as they ought to be. Perhaps if these techniques – and the army of disinformation professionals who are paid to make stuff up and spread it – were more widely known we would be less subject to the hysteria in the press and Parliament we have seen in the Skripal case.

It is not that everyone has been swept up in the hysteria. There are millions of British citizens who have kept their wits about them. The contemporary period is indeed one in which many more people than in the previous two decades are more confident about existing outside the ‘filter bubble’ conjured up by the government, the spooks and the mainstream media. But there is some evidence in the polls that some – including some on the left – were taken in by the propaganda.

It is not that the public is the main target for this campaign anyway. In truth, the object of the game is to gain freedom of action for the political elite to pursue their chosen path in foreign policy and in war-making. And the attack on Corbyn and the Labour Party is part of that process of disciplining the only proximate force with a reasonable chance of stopping the rush to aggression in Syria and indeed against Russia. Recent statements from some parts of the Corbyn project, agreeing with the Prime Minister on the threat from Russia, are a sign that the propaganda has some traction.

Now it has been decisively shown to be built on a deceptive Whitehall phrase it is urgent that we push back. Let us stop decrying those who ask inconvenient questions, as conspiracy theorists. Let us not hang our allies out to dry on the say-so of right-wing trolls.

Let us instead challenge every dubious statement from the government. Let us be confident in our pursuit of truth. Let us not bow to the intimidation of the government, the media and the right to go along with the next hysteria du jour.



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