British security state collaborator Paul Mason’s war on 'rogue academics' exposed

Date: 2022-06-21T19:17:35+00:00

Location: thegrayzone.com


In his covert assault on antiwar scholars, “left-wing” journalist and security state collaborator Paul Mason enlisted an academic snitch who knew his targets well.

In the latest installment of The Grayzone’s ongoing investigation into the anti-democratic, security state-influenced activities of Paul Mason, we look at how one of Britain’s most prominent alleged left-wing journalists and an ever-expanding cast of covert helpers targeted scholars who dared challenge establishment narratives on the conflict in Ukraine.

Amidst his campaign to neutralize the UK antiwar left, Paul Mason declared in an email to several academics willing to inform on and undermine their own colleagues: “the far left rogue academics is who I’m after… The important task is to quarantine their ‘soft’ influencers and expose/stigmatise the hard ideologists.”

Mason’s fishing expedition was conducted in apparent coordination with Andy Pryce, a senior British intelligence official involved in a series of malign information warfare and censorship initiatives.

The journalist’s key academic enabler, self-styled counter-disinformation researcher Emma Briant, not only helped further his campaign to target antiwar figures, but furnished bogus claims about one individual which appears to have inspired a BBC smear piece on academic critics of the established narrative about killings of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha. Many of those she snitched on considered her a colleague and even a comrade.

Rather than own up to the activities exposed by the leaked emails, Briant has engaged in lawfare, threatening The Grayzone with a formal “cease and desist” demand. Sent by her lawyer on June 10th, the filing falsely charged that Kit Klarenberg, one of the authors of this article, played a direct role in the “misappropriation” of private communications.

Briant’s legal counsel went on to threaten that his client would seek a “prohibitory injunction” to prevent further reporting on the leaked material, if not launch a claim for compensation due to “damage to her career and reputation,” if this outlet failed to comply with the demand.

Briant’s attempt to muzzle The Grayzone is understandable, for as we will see, she has a lot to hide. 

Naming names within academia

On March 3rd, Paul Mason emailed his intelligence contact Andy Pryce to ask for help in identifying “a tool to trace memes and talking points to their source,” in order to “demonstrate to people how innocent amplifiers end up echoing disinfo and themes.”

Pryce was amenable, stating that he would “raise this need with colleagues.” He added that, “we need an organisation alongside Full Fact that is delving deeper and being more pointy in its messaging.” Two days later, he and Mason sketched out a blueprint for a covert propaganda mill they dubbed the International Information Brigade. (See the second installment of this series for more on this shady endeavor). 

Just over a month later, Emma Briant introduced Mason to Edinburgh University academic Huw Davies and Trevor Davis of the private intelligence firm Counter Action. The meet and greet was convened to equip Mason with the meme-tracing tool he requested of Pryce, and to help him produce an “important article” for Byline Times.

Briant urged Mason to tell the pair “more about what you are looking for, particularly any keywords or accounts/organizations you are most interested in.” Mason responded that he was seeking to identify “British left reactions to the Bucha massacre,” and “how pro-Putin/pro-PRC influence happens around Stop The War,” of which he already “had a pretty good analog mindmap.”

“I’d be interested in the disciplines and tools either of you might possess in order to bring rigour to the question: who in Britain denies the Bucha massacre/reflects the Russian line,” the journalist wrote. “It’s a harder search because I am also looking for those who downplay, ignore or question the evidence and I’m not sure what kind of keywords might be useful.”

Davies offered to conduct “network analysis” using “software” he’d previously employed in his academic work to “make some visualisations about the Bucha denialists and run the same analytics.” First, he asked Mason for “data such as who retweets who or who belongs to [Stop the War], who used to work for Corbyn etc.”

There was a problem, however: those whom Mason predicted would deny the Bucha massacre and/or reflect the “Russian line” on the incident failed to do so.

“I am more and more convinced the people I am analysing simply don’t want to talk about Bucha. Most of Stop the War’s officers have not tweeted about it,” he lamented the next day. “I wonder if anyone has done a basic – ‘who spread the Russian counternarrative’ chart? That might help me?”

After clarifying that “far left rogue academics” were “who I’m after [emphasis added],” Mason outlined the issues involved: “There’s a progression – White Helmets, Anti-Semitism ‘was a scam’ and now Bucha was a false flag.” He emphasized, though, “I don’t monitor the rogue academics much and Emma’s tipped me off [emphasis added] to their current activities.” 

Davies suggested that rather than “outright naming” particular individuals, Mason try “genealogical exposure of their techniques,” as publicly identifying people as “what they are” would simply lead to denials, and “their troll affiliates” coming after him.

Davies included a recent Twitter thread listing “a few rogues,” including Tim Hayward, a fellow Edinburgh University academic, and member of the Working Group for Syria, Propaganda and Media.

His suggestion prompted Briant to issue a revealing disclosure: “I can give you the name [sic] of all the main organisers on the academic side of things as I’m on their organizing listserve.” She was referring to an academic mailing list known as the “Organised Persuasive Communication,” and run by Piers Robinson, a dissident academic who has been relentlessly targeted in UK mainstream media.

Robinson was shocked to learn that a participant on his listserv was ratting out fellow members to a security state collaborator.

“I’m dismayed that a former colleague whom I have supported over the years appears to have abused an academic listserv,” Robinson told The Grayzone. “Rather than engaging in open debate and critique, which would have been the scholarly and ethical thing to do, Briant has instead sought to support what seems to be underhand and nefarious attempts to damage reputations and silence critics.”

“This puts a big spotlight on the professional integrity and knowledge of Briant”

When Briant singled out a member of the listserv, it was to accuse them of secret collusion with an enemy state. 

“I know he might not look influential from Twitter,” she told Mason, “but the one I know has DIRECT RUSSIAN STATE CONTACT [emphasis in original] and spreads what will help Putin to the other academics to then hopefully spread or respond to is Greg Simons.”

Greg Simons happens to be a communications researcher at Sweden’s Uppsala University specializing in Russian mass media. As for his supposed “direct Russian state contact,” it turns out to be far more mundane than Briant’s menacing all-caps characterization implied.

The evidence of Simons’ contact with the Russian state consisted of an email delivered to him in broken English by Andrei Kovalev of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. Kovalev had written Simons to request he fill out a survey related to conflict and forward it onto colleagues for use in a research paper. Simons duly circulated the request via “Organised Persuasive Communication.” 

Kovalev could hardly have been accused of serving as a Putin asset. He played a key role in Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization agenda, freeing political prisoners, ending regulations on foreign travel, and enshrining fundamental rights in the country’s new constitution. He subsequently became involved with Rights in Russia, a UK-registered charity promoting “the work of human rights organizations based in the Russian Federation.” 

For his part, Simons stated to The Grayzone that Briant’s claims about him have “no basis in truth or reality.”

“This puts a big spotlight on the professional integrity and knowledge of Briant, who spreads propaganda and misinformation on people, something claims on her Twitter profile to fight,” Simons added. “It also demonstrates a clear lack of personal integrity and deficiency in knowledge on topics that she claims to be an expert in.”

Email correspondence casts doubt on Briant’s denials

In subsequent communications, Briant revealed her “own focus” was on the role of academics in perpetuating Russian “disinformation,” professing to be “very disturbed and angry with some of what I’ve seen among the academics I’ve known quite well.”

“It’s more than just an embarrassment, some of these folks are raising genuine national security risks,” she claimed.

Briant nonetheless agreed with Trevor Davies’ warning against publicly naming and shaming academics, though only on tactical grounds – because she felt that “the approach taken to tackling the academia problem” was “backfiring.”

Briant argued instead that “identifying the strategy, techniques of recruitment, breaking down the ideology and gaslighting” offered a “sound” alternative, as it would “educate and raise awareness” of the “grooming” of individuals by the Kremlin.

Following The Grayzone’s revelations of Briant’s secret collusion with Mason, the academic has strenuously denied suggestions she was in any way attempting to censor and ostracize members of the British left. However, she seemed aware of the harm that could come to the individuals and organizations she named as Kremlin stooges – if not from Mason, then British intelligence.

Paul Mason fulminates about Michael Tracey’s presence at pro-Ukraine rally

On April 10th, Mason emailed Pryce and Briant to complain that independent US journalist Michael Tracey had attended “our” pro-Ukraine rally a day before.

Tracey has claimed that while covering the rally, which consisted of self-proclaimed leftists and unionists marching through London in support of military aid to Ukraine, Mason told him to “fuck off,” then threatened him with physical ejection from the site, before bizarrely inviting Ministry of Defence officials to join the “anti-war” demonstration via bullhorn.

In private, Mason was even more malevolent, telling Pryce and Briant, “I’d be interested to know who pulls Tracey’s (sic) strings – and what reason he’s in the UK.”

In response, Tracey told The Grayzone, “Mason ought to consider a new career – in comedy.”

While his conspiratorial outlook might have been amusing, Mason seemed to be implying that an official probe into the journalist was in order, perhaps along with his removal from social media platforms, or worse.

Briant commented to Mason that she’d been “noticing [Tracey] on Twitter too,” claiming his following consisted of “the conspiracist right in the US.”

Were Briant’s comments on email threads with Mason the product of simple happenstance, or had she been tasked with rooting out “rogue” elements on social media by powerful actors? Is her avowed “focus” on academics perpetuating purported Russian disinformation self-initiated, or directed by intelligence interests? And were these activities what led her to Mason?

As subsequent investigations by The Grayzone will demonstrate, the dubious information Briant provided to Mason about Greg Simons appears to have significantly informed a BBC radio “documentary” broadcast this June, which smeared academics who questioned the official narrative of the Bucha massacre.

The program featured commentary by Mason, was fronted by his associate Chloe Hadjimatheou, and Briant was originally scheduled to appear. In the show, the BBC denigrated the professional reputations of Tim Hayward – one of the “rogues” cited by Huw Davies – and Justin Schlosberg of Birkbeck University, painting both as Kremlin puppets. The content was so misleading and defamatory that Schlosberg is now mulling legal action.

The spook who sat by the journalist

Lurking behind Paul Mason, Emma Briant, and the entire project to neutralize the UK’s grassroots antiwar left is a single figure who has spent years deeply embedded within the byzantine architecture of the British security state.

His name is Andy Pryce, and his stated goal is to propagandize and manipulate the public through media cut-outs, molding them into drone-like cheerleaders for an ever-escalating conflict with Russia.

So who is this shadowy figure, whose name is featured on numerous email exchanges with Mason?

Pryce was the founding director of the Counter Disinformation and Media Development (CDMD) programme at the UK Foreign Office. Yet this secretive role was never mentioned on his LinkedIn page, where he listed his bio. What’s more, Pryce deleted the entire LinkedIn in 2018 after he was exposed as a key player in the scandalous MI6/military intelligence project known as the Integrity Initiative.  

In December 2018, Pryce listed himself simply as a ‘diplomat’ – a classic MI6 cover title. Further, the UK Foreign Office had studiously avoided mentioning Pryce’s CDMD until it was exposed in the tranche of leaked emails revealing the existence of the Integrity Initiative in 2018. The highly secretive nature of the project strongly suggested it was operating under the purview of MI6 intelligence service. 

Pryce’s likely intelligence role is reinforced by the fact that public summaries of the CDMD’s existence which appear on government websites have redacted the name of the organization currently in charge of the program.

A January 2020 European Commission event listing identifies Pryce as the head of public diplomacy at UKREP, London’s diplomatic mission to the EU. However, the same month Pryce appeared at the EU event, UKREP was replaced with a new office, the UK Mission to Europe, and Pryce has not been publicly mentioned in any official capacity since. So where did he go?

In his communications with Mason, Pryce mentions his personal involvement in activities placing him at the forefront of London’s public relations strategy on the Ukraine crisis, which is delivered by the recently formed Government Information Cell (GIC) and Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU). 

Staffed by spies and charged with disseminating intelligence through the media and other forums for the purpose of information warfare, both the units have operated in highly clandestine fashion. Largely unknown to the public, they have played a pivotal part in NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine.

What did Briant know and when did she know it?

Emma Briant has implied that she was wholly unfamiliar with Pryce before The Grayzone’s most recent investigation was published. However, she was copied in on the same email as the state operative.

Further, an April 7th email from Mason to Briant – delivered just hours before she introduced him to the researchers Davis and Davies – contains a reference to “Andy,” suggesting that she was on first name terms with the state operative. 

It was in this missive that Mason shared his McCarthyite “network map” of Russian and Chinese influence, clearly insinuating it had been prepared specifically for official review.

While numerous emails confirm Mason’s direct role in assisting and encouraging Pryce, a question lingers: what did Briant know about their malign initiative, and when did she know it? So far, she has declined numerous requests for comment from The Grayzone, hiding instead behind a lawyer who has threatened this outlet with unspecified retaliation for publishing factual reporting about his client’s activities.

Briant still has the chance to clarify the nature of her relationship with Pryce and Mason, and to even denounce their anti-democratic machinations. A similar opportunity remains for Mason to cease his evasions and elucidate his motives to those mentioned in his network map, and the British left more generally. It might also be productive for him to explain why he has been collaborating so closely with a certain “friend” in the Foreign Office.