Saturday, 19 June, 2021

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‘Russian disinformation’ is Western focus, but Carole Cadwalladr libel case exposes how real problem is ‘British disinformation’


Russian Disinformation. Russian Disinformation. Russian Disinformation. How many times have you heard that over the past four years? But what about British disinformation? This phenomenon seems to completely escape scrutiny.

Much of the current Russia paranoia began with claims that Donald Trump was recruited by Russian intelligence years ago as a sleeper agent, and then given a leg-up into the presidency of the United States with the help of the GRU. The claims of ‘collusion’ were repeated over and over, and yet at the end of the day none of them could be substantiated. And where did it all start? In the now-notorious dossier assembled by former British spook Christopher Steele.

Steele, it has now been revealed, got his information from a guy called Igor Danchenko. He, in turn, got a lot of it from a former classmate, Olga Galkina, described as an alcoholic “disgruntled PR executive living in Cyprus,” and as such obviously a well-informed source with intimate knowledge of the Kremlin’s innermost secrets.

In short, the Steele dossier was a load of hokum, commissioned by a British Black PR operative and then fabricated by some random Russian emigres with no access to anything of value. And yet, millions believed it.

And then, we have the story of Brexit. Ever since the 2016 referendum which resulted in Britain leaving the European Union, we have been repeatedly told that the victory of the Leave campaign was made possible by ‘Russian interference’. Most significantly, it was claimed that the Russian government illicitly funded the Leave campaign by funnelling money through the campaign’s most significant financial backer, businessman Arron Banks.

Leading the charge against Russia and Banks was journalist Carole Cadwalladr of the Observer (as the Sunday version of the Guardian is known). “We know that the Russian government offered money to Arron Banks,” she said. “I am not even going to go into the lies that Arron Banks has told about his covert relationship with the Russian government,” she added, “I say he lied about his contact with the Russian government. Because he did.”

But it turns out that it was Cadwalladr who had a tricky relationship with the truth. Angered by her assertions, Arron Banks sued her for libel. Three weeks ago, she publicly backed down from one of her accusations. “On 22 Oct 2020,” she said, “I tweeted that Arron had been found to have broken the law. I accept he has not. I regret making this false statement, which I have deleted. I undertake not to repeat it. I apologise to Arron for the upset and distress caused.”

This week, Cadwalladr went further. The judge in the libel trial ruled that the meaning of her statement that Banks had lied about his relationship with the Russians was that he had lied about taking money from Russia, and that she had intended this as a statement of fact, not a call for further investigation. In the face of this judgement, Cadwalladr withdrew her ‘truth’ defence and has been ordered to pay Banks’ costs relating to this aspect of the case. In doing so, she effectively conceded that she was not willing to defend as fact the proposition that Russia financed Leave via Banks. While Cadwalladr continues to fight the case using a ‘public interest’ defence, the withdrawal of the truth argument is a dramatic concession.

And yet, it has had an enormous influence. The allegations that Russia ‘interfered’ in Brexit have been repeated again and again – in parliamentary reports, newspaper articles, scholarly journals, books, social media, and so on. Despite their falsehood, they have enjoyed a spread and influence that Russian ‘meddlers’ could only dream of.

Will the peddlers of British disinformation repent? Will they now pen scores of articles admitting that they were wrong? Will they give evidence to Parliament denouncing the scourge of false stories about Russia emanating from the British media and MPs?

Of course not. Ms Cadwalladr’s humiliation will get a few lines buried somewhere deep in some newspapers’ inner pages, and will then be forgotten. Meanwhile, the original claims will remain uncorrected in the many documents that repeat them, and the myth of Russian interference in Brexit will trundle on as a basis for denouncing the threat emanating from the East. The damage has been done. Ms Cadwalladr has been discredited, but someone else will soon be found to pick up the torch.

Credit: RT News

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