Revealed: Britain’s secret propaganda war against al-Qaida
A Whitehall counter-terrorism unit is targeting the BBC and other media organisations as part of a new global propaganda push designed to “taint the al-Qaida brand”, according to a secret Home Office paper seen by the Guardian.
The document also shows that Whitehall counter-terrorism experts intend to exploit new media websites and outlets with a proposal to “channel messages through volunteers in internet forums” as part of their campaign.
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The strategy is being conducted by the research, information and communication unit, [RICU] which was set up last year by the then home secretary, John Reid, to counter al-Qaida propaganda at home and overseas. It is staffed by officials from several government departments.
The report, headed, Challenging violent extremist ideology through communications, says: “We are pushing this material to UK media channels, eg, a BBC radio programme exposing tensions between AQ leadership and supporters. And a restricted working group will communicate niche messages through media and non-media.”
The disclosure that a Whitehall counter-terrorism propaganda operation is promoting material to the BBC and other media will raise fresh concerns about official news management in a highly sensitive area.
The government campaign is based upon the premise that al-Qaida is waning worldwide and can appear vulnerable on issues such as declining popularity; its rejection by credible figures, especially religious ones, and details of atrocities.
The Whitehall propaganda unit is collecting material to target these vulnerabilities under three themes. They are that al-Qaida is losing support; “they are not heroes and don’t have answers; and that they harm you, your country and your livelihood”.
The RICU guidance, dated July 21 2008, says that the material is primarily aimed at “overseas communicators” in embassies and consulates around the world, confirming the global scale of the Whitehall counter-terrorist propaganda effort now underway.
But it also says that other partners should be encouraged to integrate this work into their communications at home as well: “It is aimed primarily (but not exclusively) at those working with overseas influencers and opinion formers.”