By Kit Klarenberg, an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Follow Kit on Twitter @KitKlarenberg
Leaked documents show how the Foreign & Commonwealth Office spent millions setting up a clandestine network to churn out pro-rebel material, much of it aimed at winning the hearts and minds of kids.
A swath of internal UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) files have exposed a number of covert ways in which London sought to both propagandize Syrian children and turn them into weapons, in a vast, long-running information warfare campaign at home and abroad.
The documents are just some of the bombshell papers released by hacktivist collective Anonymous, outlining a variety of cloak-and-dagger actions undertaken by the UK government against the Syrian state over many years.
The overriding objective behind them all was to destabilize the government of Bashar Assad, convince Syrians, Western citizens, foreign governments, and international bodies that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was a legitimate alternative, and flood media the world over with pro-opposition propaganda.
Children figured prominently in a number of the plans, in more ways than one. ARK, a shadowy firm headed by veteran FCO operative Alistair Harris, was central to many of these covert efforts, which may have cost the FCO many millions in total.
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Undermining government legitimacy
In one file, the company outlines pricing for runs of propaganda material including “public service announcement animations” (£4,570), “political cartoons” (£1,200), and “comic books (24 colored pages)” (£30,200).
A separate proposal submitted to the FCO by communications firm Albany details ways of offering clandestine support to “oppositionist grassroots media activism.” The company conducted numerous psyops in Syria – including managing the Syrian National Coalition’s communications during the 2014 Geneva II peace conference – and collaborated extensively with ARK in the process.
Creating “fictional material” such as radio dramas and “digital comic strips for internet deployment” was listed one of the key ways the firm would “bolster the values and reputation of the Syrian opposition,” and undermine the government’s “core narrative and legitimacy.”
Precisely which projects emerged from these pitches,