A shadowy military operation was launched in Great Britain to conduct surveillance on Covid response critics and treat them as ‘enemies of the state.’
Military operatives in the U.K.’s ‘information warfare’ brigade were part of a “sinister operation that targeted politicians and high-profile journalists who raised doubts about the official pandemic response,” the Daily Mail reported on Sunday.
The official documents exposing the domestic espionage operation were obtained by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch. The documents were shared exclusively with the Daily Mail. They expose the inner workings of the Counter Disinformation Unit, which is based in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office.
Influence operations were run out of the MoD’s 77th Brigade seeking to “non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of adversaries,” according to the report.
A whistleblower that contacted the Mail who claimed to work for the brigade said the unit had strayed far beyond its scope of targeting foreign powers. British citizens’ social media accounts were even scrutinised, which the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence, in public, has repeatedly denied doing.
The Mail reports that U.K. government justified its domestic surveillance and censorship activities as countering ‘disinformation’ and ‘harmful narratives… from purported experts.’
“The information was then used to orchestrate Government responses to criticisms of policies such as the stay-at-home order, when police were given power to issue fines and break up gatherings,” the Mail reported. “It also allowed Ministers to push social media platforms to remove posts and promote Government-approved lines.”
The Army whistleblower added: “It is quite obvious that our activities resulted in the monitoring of the UK population… monitoring the social media posts of ordinary, scared people. These posts did not contain information that was untrue or co-ordinated – it was simply fear.”
The whistleblower from 77 Brigade told the Mail: “I developed the impression the Government were more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering any potential foreign interference, and I regret that I was a part of it. Frankly, the work I was doing should never have happened.”
Silkie Carlo, of Big Brother Watch, said: “This is an alarming case of mission creep, where public money and military power have been misused to monitor academics, journalists, campaigners and MPs who criticised the Government, particularly during the pandemic.”
“The fact that this political monitoring happened under the guise of ‘countering misinformation’ highlights how, without serious safeguards, the concept of ‘wrong information’ is open to abuse and has become a blank cheque the Government uses in an attempt to control narratives online,” he continued.
“Contrary to their stated aims, these Government truth units are secretive and harmful to our democracy,” he added. “The Counter Disinformation Unit should be suspended immediately and subject to a full investigation.”
Follow Kyle Becker on Twitter @kylenabecker.