A long-awaited UK report finds no evidence of Russian meddling, but that hasn’t stopped the fear-mongering.
The report claims the UK government didn’t find evidence because it didn’t look for it, and backs increased powers for intelligence agencies and media censorship as a result. Afshin Rattansi, a British journalist and host of RT’s Going Underground, responds.
Guest: Afshin Rattansi, British journalist and host of RT’s Going Underground.
The British government has released a long-awaited report on whether Russia has interfered in UK domestic politics. For years, establishment Western voices warned that Russia may have duped British voters into supporting Brexit in 2016 – just like Russia, we were told, also decided the US election that same year.
In November 2017, the New York Times even warned that reports of Russian meddling “could raise questions about the legitimacy of the [Brexit] referendum” itself. That same month, then-British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a stern warning to the Kremlin.
Theresa May: “It is seeking to weaponize information deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photoshopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions. So I have a very simple message for Russia: we know what you are doing and you will not succeed.”
But missing from all this fear-mongering, panic, and tough talk about Russian meddling was, you guessed it, actual evidence. One of the few pieces of evidence that we got, was let’s say, underwhelming. Twitter reported that the Kremlin-backed network RT spent over $1,000 to promote its Brexit coverage to UK-based viewers. And Facebook reported a Russian troll farm spent a grand total of 97 cents spent on three ads, all about immigration and not even mentioning Brexit. So if that is what Russia was doing, you can see why Theresa May was so confident that they would not succeed.
Well this report was supposedly going to finally deliver the long elusive evidence of Russian meddling in the UK. But, as is becoming a very familiar story, it did not deliver. The investigators found no evidence of Russian interference in Brexit. But they did find a good explanation for why they found no evidence. As Scottish MP Stewart Hosie told the media, the British government found no evidence — because it didn’t look for it.
MP Stewart Hosie: “The report reveals that no one in government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum because they did not want to know. The U.K. government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered.”
The report shows an example of how the British government supposedly didn’t look for evidence and why it wasn’t found — the report says “open source material” – like Russian outlets RT and Sputnik, or social media posts “was not fully taken into account.” In short, the British government failed to turn on its television or listen to the radio, and do a media analysis like students do in college.
The panic about a Russian influence campaign against the UK is in fact yet another evidence-free influence campaign against Russia from Western governments like the UK. And this report does little to hide its agenda. It describes Russia as “fundamentally nihilistic”; in which the Kremlin believes “any actions it can take which damage the West are fundamentally good for Russia” and is “is also seemingly fed by paranoia.”
All of that that reads like projection. The committee’s so-called “Expert external witnesses” have taken part in massive disinformation and fear-mongering about Russia. They include Anne Applebaum, a neoconservative columnist; Christopher Donnolly, a longtime NATO official and head of the UK government funded Institute for Statecraft, exposed by leaks as a propaganda vehicle for UK intelligence; William Browder, who is wanted on tax evasion charges in Russia and who has led a dubious global campaign to impose sanctions on Russia and other NATO foes. And topping the list is Christopher Steele, author of the notorious and discredited Steele dossier, which fed four years of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories, even though the FBI knew it was a fraud.
Given all this, it is no surprise that report calls for more UK intelligence involvement in British politics, more powers for UK spy agencies, and forcing social media companies “to cooperate with MI5 where it is suspected that a hostile foreign state may be covertly running a campaign.” And it is also now fueling calls for British authorities to potentially cancel the license of the Russian-backed news outlet RT.
Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.