Russian ‘Black PR’: The Practice of Ruining Reputations

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Russian ‘Black PR’: The Practice of Ruining Reputations

DATE: 3pm, 14 January 2021

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Bob Seely MP, David Satter, Dr Jade McGlynn



Bob Seely MP 00:00
We’re about to, for

David Satter 00:03
you, I have a cup of coffee. So we’re all taking something.

Samuel Armstrong 00:07
Good afternoon, everyone we now live, we’re just going to give everyone two minutes just filtering slowly. As everyone gets the answers, great time to go get us a glass of water or a cup of coffee, stretch your legs. And we’ll start at two minutes past the hour Exactly. Once I’m confident that all of the people are trying to filter their way and have indeed filter their way in. Well, by my clock, we’re at two minutes past the hour. So welcome, everybody to this Henry Jackson society event. We’re delighted to have you with us. And we’re discussing today, Russian Black PR. In our recent reports on the topic, we called the practice of ruining reputations. It is an issue that is begun to be seen as something that not only affects Russia and the Russian Federation, but also the UK and our democracy, our media, our financial institutions and professional services. And I don’t think it there could be a better time to discuss it as the UK leaves the European Union and faces many of these challenges under its own unique regime. And just as I don’t think there’s a better time to discuss it, I don’t think there’s a better panel to discuss it with. We’re joined today by David Sater, who is one of the foremost thinkers on this topic. He’s covered this issue for some while now, I won’t go into just how long? I’m sure he’ll cover that. But he’s covered this phenomenon since its origins in the 90s, also by Dr. J. mcglinn, who’s a research fellow at the Henry Jackson society and an expert in Russian disinformation allottee by Bob Seeley, who’s the MP for the Isle of Wight an expert in Russian warfare, and also the Foreign Affairs Committee on the House of Commons. But I’d like to begin this discussion by just going over the basics sea change. I wonder if you could set out for us exactly what is Russian Black PR? What does it mean and how does it differ from other concepts with which people will be familiar?

Dr Jade McGlynn 03:34
Thanks. So black PR, literally translated from the Russian term Jordan EPR is a somewhat expansive term as these terms do tend to be and it donates denotes a range of practices that seek to damage and discredit the reputations of individuals and entities, often in the political or business sphere. And these practices often might blur the division between legal and illegal activities and they can be used by the state by policy state or non state actors. disinformation campaigns are pretty central to black PR, often through small media outlets, regional media, but sometimes on the federal level, including quite conspiratorial minded documentaries. So if we think about sort of one victim of a black PR campaign, the tow as ammonia producer and in in Russia, we’ve been quite a small timeframe. There were various media sources, including on the federal level, accusing them of plotting an ISIS attack of having a drug dealer as a CFO and simultaneously forcing employees to join a religious cult in honour of the sun god raw. So although these are quite might seem entirely incredible, rumours obviously you’d be quite difficult to produce any ammonia whilst doing one of these activities. The fact that the muddy the waters they create sense that okay, there’s no smoke without fire maybe they aren’t. honouring the sun god Ra, but they’re up to no good. But as well as this information Jordan APR or black PR goes beyond this. So other practices that are commonly associated with it include compromise, so sort of publicising, compromising material, like his or her or his likewise and use it, which is sort of like prepaid publications placed in the media, and impact from political uses, you have the sort of use of doubles or toy nicaea. It’s a process where individuals have the same or very similar names to an election rival registers candidates in order to confuse voters. And obviously in a country like Russia, where there’s a sort of politicised arbitrariness and how legal and judicial systems work, a country where you can buy a court decision or a tax investigation. blackberry is also an integral part of business life, and especially in the widespread practice of corporate reading, known as Raiders for so this is the hostile takeover of an enterprise against the will of its owners or directors. And it’s really the corporate this corporate use of black PR that the report here focuses on.

Samuel Armstrong 06:13
Great, I wonder if I could change. David, this sounds to me in some ways, similar to some of the things that are new in studying history at university going on on the Soviet Union. How does like to fit into a history of Russian disinformation? And and how’s the new word of that different?

David Satter 06:38
Well, I’m glad glad you asked that question. Because I think it’s always good to have historical context. The Soviet we, what people tend to forget, is that the Soviet Union was based on it, not just on black PR, but on an entire alternative version of reality. And that alternative version of reality up until glasnost, which began pretty much in 1988 was imposed by force. And there was no alternative to it. So Russian people are well, are well trained, and have a lot of experience in in disinformation, in the manipulation of facts in the use of the press, in order to present an entirely false version of reality, and events and and to ruin people. So it was on that base, that the new Russia began to develop it, its practices. What tended to happen was that then the the the so called young reformers, who were going to turn Russia into a supposedly democratic market based society. In fact, we’re more most of all concerned about making sure that the communists could not be reelected, democratically or otherwise. And one of the ways they did that was by creating oligarchs. And it seemed to matter very little, that the oligarchs were simply looting the country. And as a result, becoming immensely powerful and immensely rich. These oligarchs in turn, created their own security services, because they were, they had justifiably afraid of being killed. But those security services, most of which were taken from the, from the former KGB, the personnel came from the former KGB. Those security services also had a big analytical department, which was devoted to collecting information about their rivals. oligarchs also understood that they had to buy newspapers and media outlets. Now the newspapers and media were generally it while television was profitable, the the the newspapers were not. But media was considered essential because it was a way of ruining your competitor. So what you began to see in Russia in the or in the early 90s, and then it continued, was, you know, the the oligarchs began to expose each other on the basis of information collected by their security services about their rivals. Now, Andrew in his report, talks about the enemies I’m very glad to see it because it’s often overlooked the role of disinformation and black PR in the 1996 election, but the massive campaign against the country As candidate Gennady Zyuganov, who was by no means a desirable candidate, I don’t. I’m not not saying that we should have had the gun office as President of Russia necessarily, but the the means were, were through which the campaign against him were waged, were completely dishonest. And they and they, the there’s a spending limit in Russia, on, on what a candidate can can can spend in a presidential election well, as a result of secret contributions, including from the oligarchs, yeltsin, and his team vastly exceeded that, and then used it to buy off journalists use the use the information, and the whole, mid die bog, which means Thank you, I don’t know, God forbid, campaign, which was launched against Ghana, was paid for with this illegal money. And, and, and, and produced by by bribed journalists. So that’s the Jews in a nutshell, that’s the tradition. That’s the tradition. That’s where it comes from. And that’s what we face now. It continues in all of the ways which Andrew discussed in his report.

Samuel Armstrong 11:25
So we’re talking here of a phenomenon that’s essentially political in origin, it comes from very wealthy people attempting to eliminate their enemies, Bob, there’s a corporate side, there’s a political side to this. But there’s also a sort of geopolitical sides to this. And we know that black PR practices are being waged against enemies of the Kremlin. And in the West, how should we see this in sort of connection or concert with Russia’s wider warfare or conduct it perceives to be as warfare against the US?

Bob Seely MP 12:07
Yeah. Okay. Thank you so much. And thank you, for everyone for for listening in. It’s a pleasure to be here. So I shall try to be as interesting and provocative as ever. I’m going to take issue with what you say just for the sake of a good argument. I don’t think it’s political in origin. Because as David eloquently pointed out, and Jade summed it up superbly. I thought that this goes to the heart of Russian behaviour. And actually, if you look at its strategic culture, this goes back into the heart of political identity, but a very specific type of a political identity, a sense of ownership of state identity by the KGB, but the FSB, now by the KGB before, and probably before that by the checker, that’s our secret police. What we’re seeing this so called Black PR. I think for me, we need to sit and just be sense of Russian, the Russian tradition, the amoral but brilliant and creative tradition of Russian subversive conflict, and specifically around a toolkit known as active measures, which was evolved from 1959 onwards into a highly integrated form of espionage led conflict, the ideological struggle sort of summed up significant elements of it. So disinformation, smears, corruption of individuals, kompromat, occasional assassinations, depending on your version of active measures, it could include paramilitary operations, or some people had a very narrow version, which was just this information. And I’m looking now, at the first characteristic of Modern Warfare as defined in the 2015 version of Russia’s military doctrine. And the first characteristic of warfare. Sorry, conflict. sovremennye viny conflict is the integration of military and non military tools combined with people power, Special Operations, very vague term, and the integrated use of political political force, economic force, informational, and other measures of a non military character. So whilst black PR may have a use in corporate battles, radio spoke, as described by Jay. And we get in, in the UK amongst Russian groups here fighting for influence and power over each other. Actually, this sits within the tradition of Russian subversive warfare, championed by the KGB, as well as the FSB now, but also sits within the idea of a full spectrum toolkit of conflict. And I think we should see it in that blog.

Samuel Armstrong 14:33
Very good. And, Bob, you mentioned there that this is ongoing in the UK, it has a corporate nature. What are the different ways that this phenomenon this Russian activity that would be concerning and deeply troubling were happening there becomes even more so because it manifests itself in the midst of our democracy, the contest over ideas and the trees In the worst,

Bob Seely MP 15:01
yeah, this is a really crucial point because bluntly, there isn’t really that much we can do about the about the use of black PR, or, of course, this information in Russia, but what we can look at is whether or not there’s things we can be doing in the West, to protect ourselves against its use against the way that it infiltrates into, into a variety of sectors really. So there’s the main way that it tends to end up is pretty much for information laundering, so the surfacing of news force was or otherwise from from unverified sources into them into sort of mainstream. So often, that will involve maybe the interaction of domestic and foreign actors not necessarily in bad faith, though, of course, that’s very possible. But essentially, where these, these sort of smears end up in being reproduced in western newspaper articles, or even if they are, they do just remain in, in Russian, small Russian language, live journal blogs, and they will still be picked up by certain sort of information, Canadian, so like LexisNexis. And then they can also emerge in court documents. So it’s not just the publication of English language articles, and that black PR has become sort of a common feature of business disputes, Russian business speech and transactions. The West is also, you know, because Russia, just in case somebody says before Western courts, did you find some piece of like PR sort of emerged here. And we also see in the case studies, in the report about how it’s appears to have influenced this banking decision. So for example, there’s allegation that black PR produced by Russian state actors against Browder and led the NatWest closure of his account. So it very much doesn’t stay in Russia. And it’s important that we, I mean, we can talk more about some of the recommendations later, but it’s important that I think certain industries are more aware of how to guard their services from essentially being misdirected by this disinformation.

Samuel Armstrong 17:20
Yes. And that strikes me as a fascinating element of what what is said here, often in communications, they talk about winning the argument, but with black PR, it seems to be seems to me that the action whether or not anyone believes it, a times Western firms have allowed the mere allegation itself to end up tearing images of individuals and influencing regulatory decisions. And I wonder, David, often these campaigns, I think, knowing are they are they exploiting the way that the UK is? media, financial legal systems are operating? How?

David Satter 18:04
Absolutely, that’s why the UK is so popular. Because it can be exploited me, every contract that’s signed virtually, in Russia, every big, big contract has a clause, that disagreements are to be adjudicated, not in Russia, but in the UK, where there’s a functioning legal system, and where they can count on objectivity. But what they use to their advantage in in financial dealings, because, of course, that we, the UK, and the the the, the system of law, which exists there, and of course, it also exists in other Western countries is a, you know, in effect helps Russia compensate for the for the complete criminalization of law enforcement in Russia. So the regime can use the law enforcement system in Russia in order to you know, enforce its rule, but where it becomes inconvenient, there’s a safety valve in London, you can simply go in and where are you in some situations you need to be able to adjudicate disputes. And London and the British legal system provide a great service in that respect. The thing to bear in mind, I think that for all of us, as we discuss this issue, is that in the Soviet Union, and in Russia today, information is a weapon. It doesn’t have either in the psychology of the country or in its practices. The the status of Something that is valuable in its own right and needs to be respected. We have to interfere in the British in the, in the British press and plant false information about people that that Russia wants to discredit the Putin regime wants to discredit. That’s I mean that that’s absolutely typical of the way in which they operate, it’s the way in which they operate inside Russia. And the same practices, of course. And I think we should pay. Also considerable attention to this, even in our discussion now is used in order to dissin form Western opinion about critical events in the world and in Russia itself, the murder of Boris Nemtsov, for example, the shooting down of the Malaysian air airliner, all of these were, the subjects of big disinformation campaigns played out in the western press, including, of course, the UK press. And so we’re not dealing with something. When we talk about black PR, we’re not talking about an isolated phenomenon. We’re talking about something that goes to the core of what Russia is, and, and which, of course, we should be aware of.

Samuel Armstrong 21:21
Yes. And just before I turned to Bob, I should say that we’re gonna be taking as many questions and answers, taking as many questions and giving as many answers to the audience as we possibly can in this discussion. There’s a q&a function at the bottom of your zoom, if you write in and submit a question there will call absolutely as many of them as we possibly can. But please do submit your question, and we’ll make sure we try and get it answered by the panellists. Bob, David refers to this phenomenon as a weapon, you refer to it as part of Russia’s campaign of active measures, hybrid warfare, activities in the grey zone, whatever you want to call it. Yeah. How big a security threat is this? Well,

Bob Seely MP 22:09
I think, okay, it’s difficult to say, but it’s not a thing that you particularly want happening in your country. And I think there are some problems that this is exposing, I think, back in 2010, David Cameron, who I thought was I do rate and and George Osborne, I think had a too much of a laissez faire attitude to Chinese and Russian money, especially after the financial crash. And I think now that we’re forging a new identity separate from the European Union, I think we have to make sure we have high standards. I’m not talking about trite moral posturing. And I’m not talking about virtue signalling. But we don’t want to, I think there is an issue of dirty money corrupting the city’s reputation, and corrupting London’s reputation. And whether you look at that shell companies buying up houses, even the bishops Avenue in London, or indeed, even down here on the Isle of Wight, where you look at sort of the company itself, not even bothering to check the identity of directors, I think we really need to tighten up our standards, because we are in a values battle with the Russian Federation. And it’s and it’s consistent and utter immorality, not the Russian people, but the state that’s being created by the security elites. And I do think as well as being a centre of wealth, we have to be a centre of integrity. And I very much think these two go hand in hand separate to that we need a foreign lobbying act, as you know, Sam, Henry Jackson, society, and myself, and we’re offering a document in what the next few weeks on what a foreign lobbying act for the UK could look like. All these members of the House of Lords maybe occasionally members of House of Commons to who’ve got themselves caught up in these sort of ethical questions or find themselves being manipulated or working for big money for Russians, that arguably they shouldn’t be working for. All this damages our reputation. And if you look at Trump, Trump is an instructive lesson. There was question marks justified in my opinion over whether this guy was actually in the pay of the Russians or being blackmailed by the Russians. There are two options with Trump, either he thought that the Russians had compromising material on him, or they did too. But either way, he behaved in an absurd and fawning position to Putin. And he actively seemed to try to be working to do the Gulf, the Russian government favours in a way that has never been articulated properly, or explained properly. Now, either Putin had in Trump, you know, The Manchurian Candidate, or he had somebody who was very nervous about dealing with him, and actually made a fool of himself in western democracy. But whether actually Putin had somebody he couldn’t, he could manipulate, or somebody who just damaged Western democracy. Either way, there was a win win. And the more Putin can argue, as his media folks do, there is no fundamental difference between our system and your system. Whoever has money pays for the media that puts the propaganda out. You know, there is no moral difference between a moral system and you Or supposedly moral system, the more Putin can make that point and the more that the the the spokespeople for the new Russian state make that point, the more it damages us. So we need to be seemed to be more successful. We need to remember that democracy has a threat in Russia, in China, who are both using overt and covert forms of conflict and ideological struggle, or, you know, I don’t know if you can call it ideological because there’s not a lot of ideology involved. But there are national interests, which they’re pursuing, at the cost of democracy, and at the cost of some of our national interests as well. And I think we have to be mindful of that. So we need to tighten our act in this country, the city needs to tighten up its politicians and the parliament, and the government needs to tighten up act to act as well. And finally, we need we need a much greater sense of strategy. We need a national strategy Council in this country, not just the National Security Council. Security is great when you’re dealing with problems as they’re hitting you, like COVID, like the Ukraine war, like the Arab Spring, you know, like the financial crash, or like floods, like all these things, but we need a sense of what the world what our country is going to look like, in the next 510 1520 years. Because all these black swan moments are hitting us with increased regularity. And to that I would add the growth of authoritarian governments and authoritarian the sort of active measures subversive style behaviour, both from China and from Russia.

Samuel Armstrong 26:22
Thank you for that. And it strikes me that over the past question for any of you really, the last few weeks and months we’ve seen what to me strikes me as one of the most grotesque acts of disinformation ever waged by a Western pop politician on their own public, with Trump raising and those around him raising deeply untrue information about the conduct of the way that election was handled. smears and conspiracies about completeness and about individuals. Is that different to bad PR is the how do we see that in connection to what Russia, Russia and others are doing in spreading fake news and disinformation.

David Satter 27:11
You know, I’m here in Washington, where which kind of the epicentre of, of all this, of course, as long as we have the epidemic, I can’t travel to London, much as I’d like to, and I am often there, but I want to pick up on one thing that Bob said, just that, you know, before we get into this, he was remarking that, that Putin and his acolytes like to just say that, well, the West is just as corrupt as we are. They just they’re just not as honest about it, or as open about it, in fact, that that is directed not just at the West that’s directed at the Russian people. Yeah. And I mean, and the that is absolutely key, a key point about the way in which the regime propagandise is its own people don’t look to the west don’t think that there’s an alternative this the way it is. And so, when we we behave in a manner which, which can be seen to, to be confirming this, we’re hurting our long term effort to reach out to the Russian people and to help them to you know, to find a new path in the future. Now, as far as the the the Trump situation here, which of course he I think you all can imagine, it’s it’s pretty much in golf to everybody. You know, he was impeached yesterday again for the second time. On the election he issue. I myself have tried to look at what are these allegations? Exactly. Our press and American press, you know, prefaces every report about the allegations by saying the false allegations that debunked allegations, this is a news stories where it was sent not not in editorial columns.

David Satter 29:18
the what they’re the I mean, I personally from what I can see, I’m convinced that Biden won the election fair and square. What they’re talking about, though, are 1000s of affidavits and statistical anomalies, which whose significance really ought to be looked at, which would require a detailed investigation likely to go on for four months. There was certainly no time between the time between the date of the election and the date of the inauguration, to even begin to on Earth. Some of these allegations, that doesn’t mean that they’re true. But these are this election was took place under extraordinary circumstances because of the epidemic under conditions in which fraud was much, much easier to pull off than it would have been, you know, where are we voting by machine. So I, my I would not classify this as Russian style disinformation. I think that the, the desire, I mean, obviously, those who are on Trump’s side, are exaggerating what they know. But there’s a there’s a body of evidence that needs to be looked at, and it will take months to look at it. For you know, by all indications, it won’t lead to the, to where the Trump people would like it to lead. But, you know, if we get into a situation in which we, you know, we don’t want in reacting to fear of distant formation, we don’t want to make the opposite mistake of failing to consider what is presented to us in an objective manner. And I’ve seen this a lot with thee with dealing with Russia, to move away now from from the US, you know, versions of events, which seemed fantastic, and that require a real leap of imagination are dismissed, and they’re dismissed by our journalists, by our academics. Uh, not because they aren’t true, they later oftentimes turn out to be true. But because they’re really you know, what people can’t imagine or don’t envisage they don’t want to think about. So we need in in dealing with this information to be to be aware that it’s out there. And also to be aware that sometimes truthful information appears and unexpected in an unexpected guys. So

Samuel Armstrong 32:09
it strikes me that we’re very pleased to have them with us and a number of members of the media with us today in Western media,

Bob Seely MP 32:16
right. So can I just come in on that? Just very briefly, look, I do think there is, I think there is a certain trait here, and I can’t describe everything to the Russians, that’d be a bit unfair. But it is a trait being used by by the Kremlin, which is and sort of comes out probably a virtuous circle, or putting up multiple lines to multiple people, just to create a temporary confusion so that everyone believes their own truth and nobody believes anything consistently. And so Trump coming out with sort of multiple stories, throwing out as much mud as possible to create a sense of uncertainty and chaos is a technique which, whether it’s linked or not, has been used in the, in the Russian Federation. I’ll give you an example. When I did the circle of leaks report for rusi for the Royal united services Institute, sorry to talk about another organisation. When we did our circle of leaks looking at all those leaks that came out of the actual stuff circle of so Clinton’s Rasputin, we got hold of a copy of the document for the Mh 17 briefing lines. So the Kremlin had eight separate lines, that it was briefing out, saying eight different things and setting out to audit sources not to have a rival version of truth, but to have no truth because you’re simply creating a cacophony of multiple conspiracy theories ranging from two provocation to start world war three Ukrainians jot it down, Ukrainians deliberately sent it over. It wasn’t a civilian plane. This is our Franz Ferdinand moment, whatever, you know, World War One and flaming everything. So you have an attempt to create chaos through just information overload, or putting out so many false lines. And I do think there is some consistency there. I’m not saying that’s because Trump’s a Russian tool or anything, but I’ve just noted it as a as a behaviour.

David Satter 34:03
Oh, but I you know, I I did. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that what I’ve written about the Malaysian airliner but he what you’re saying is, of course, correct. That was the, the the the subject of of the, of the biggest disinformation campaign or the biggest the biggest social media campaign ever waged by, by Russia. And that is, but but on the other hand, those willing to look at, at the true sinister nature of what happened are very few. I mean, it’s still easier to say, well, they’re hiding the fact that, that they accidentally shut down the plane, then to say they’re hiding the fact that they deliberately shut down the plane. So you know, when you deal with

Bob Seely MP 34:59
nobody’s saying it In the annual is accused them of deliberately shooting down the plane is clearly a mistake. Okay, fair enough. I apologise.

David Satter 35:06
Just if you get a chance you read what I wrote a wall street journal about it because and I cited the evidence Why? There’s I mean, this is, you know, it’s a that is so outside the western frame of reference

Bob Seely MP 35:23
that potentially I mean, I think what we were looking at now and I will go and I’m very well aware of all your work in the apartment bombings, and actually, it’s incredibly important. So pay tribute to the stuff you’ve done that again, that is outside of Western conception that the FSB, which thinks it has the right to do what it wants in Russia to defend the identity of Russia actually starts blowing up buildings in Russia, to start a war in Chechnya, to make sure that one of its own former FSB officer comes to power on a wave of popular anger. Now, I’m not saying it’s true or not, you clearly have a very strong opinion. But actually, we need to, you’re right, with all this stuff, we need to get out of a Western mindset of thinking there are norms and values, because arguably, potentially the way the power plays out in Russia, arguably in the Soviet Union, but also after the Soviet Union, because of the absolute bankruptcy of that state. And its cultural behaviours, you know, there is a there is an an A morality that I saw, I think some people find difficult to certainly that mean there to sacrifice their own people, you know, in for in, they will do that willingly and the Malaysian airliner, the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner that was an international flight. Yeah. Yeah.

Samuel Armstrong 36:37
What do we move on to? To the question of UK journalists, it doesn’t just apply to journalistic it applies to UK firms doing due diligence, it really applies to anybody in the legal sphere, judges, perhaps you have to consider legal filings placed before them that includes links or allegations in the Russian media or indeed, in in the Western media, about individuals or oligarchs who, in the corporate censors. Often what this about a particular risk of being subjects of a Russian Black PR operation? How How should we, you know, sort of professional response to that? What level of scrutiny Do we need to apply to claims made about or by individuals in the Russian Federation?

Dr Jade McGlynn 37:28
If I could take this out? I would say that, in particular, really, this is quite a big task for corporate and business intelligence firms. This if we take this back to black PR and and actually, just to tack on a point on the discussion, boy, I think it is important to remember that, you know, um, as much as it’s a very grand purveyor of disinformation, most disinformation in each country is domestic. And Russia is also able to exploit them. Obviously, sometimes I should make up lies, but it very much helps Russian disinformation, if there are very real problems that that Russia exploits. I do think it is worth bearing that in mind, on but to go back to how to tackle Russian, black PR. I mean, so yeah, especially the corporate business intelligence firms. Because of know, your customer and anti money laundering initiatives, they’re very centred around due diligence practices that i think that you know, well, they are a legal requirement under certain regulations. So they have to be fit for purpose, they have to be fair. And in general, most due diligence reporters, being diligent, will make sure to include pretty much every claim on that they come across. But of course, this then leads to sort of red flags being raised as confirmed risks off the back of the vaccination, sometimes completely fabricated allegations. And so then probably needs to be a shift there between just collating or collecting all the information, maybe you could still do that. But then having a higher bar for what’s considered or included for consideration in in risk assessments. And I think as well, there needs to be clearer complaints procedure. So if an individual if sort of, some likely has been cheated on individually, they can clearly prove in sports, there needs to be a fair and transparent process where they can query it sort of that inclusion or sort of asking against it and and pretty much has always been any discussion of disinformation as a role for sort of social media, social media platforms in taking this down, but I think like anybody talking around topics related to this information, there needs to be, you know, a multi multi pronged approach. It’s not just one thing. That’s that’s going to deal with blackvue. And that’s really just focusing on on black PR, rather than rather than even broader problem of, of this information, as opposed to black, about for specific purposes, information for specific purpose.

Samuel Armstrong 39:55
Okay, great. Now I’m going to start taking some questions now. to cool them in groups of three. Now, when I call your name, Jamila, who is running the detector event today, she’s going to allow you to talk on the system. But it’s very important that you unmute yourself so you can ask your question live. So we’re going to start with a question from Michael Langer.

Question 1 40:20
For for Bob, and David, with the new Biden coming in, as opposed to the Obama Biden, what’s the first piece of advice you think you would give to Joe Biden is the first thing he should do in dealing with Putin and his people? What’s the first thing you should do right out of the bat? It’s different. I

Samuel Armstrong 40:36
think. We’re now going to take a question from Paul Beaver. In a second, great call if you unmute yourself.

Question 2 40:49
Go Yeah, I’m muting myself. Actually, this is Hello, everybody. This has been very useful. Thank you. This is a question for Bob, do you think that the integrated review will give us any clarity on the national strategy which you talked of there being a lack of not just a defence and security strategy, and some indication of where the United Kingdom’s place in the world is? Because people do look at us and look for guidance from us, we might consider ourselves to be a little island off the west coast of the Eurasian landmass, but actually, people look at us for for for leadership, and I suppose political backbone. Thank you. Great.

Samuel Armstrong 41:33
And last question from for this round. In john McLeod, john McLeod. JOHN, if you can unmute yourself.

Question 3 41:42
Hi. Yeah, thanks for that. And yeah, no, I was just getting Bob partly answered this question. I was going to quote Lenin and say what is to be done? In other words, you know, what are the what are the steps that the UK should be taking all the prizes? Really? Haha, don’t do it. And so, yeah, I mean, I think that’s it’s just interesting. And Bobby sort of preempted it, but just very interested to hear what sort of recommendations they got. Because, you know, we, we worked very effectively. With the Soviet Union, even though they were on the other side, we had extensive educational and cultural relationships with them. And I think in the end that won the day. But is that is that going to work this time? Or what do we need to do to enable us to be be friends with the Russian Federation, which is ideally what we would like to be?

Samuel Armstrong 42:30
Yeah, you’ve got three questions there. But why don’t we start with you, we’ll go through read one, you can answer as many of those or as few of those as you like,

Bob Seely MP 42:40
just on that the what is to be done learning and what is to be done stress the role of propaganda to instil new mass consciousness. So it is worth remembering, even from the days of the Bolsheviks that the Russian revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, and the Soviets had a very instrumental view of truth and information. And it was a weapon of war, and it actually had much to do the Bolsheviks that was the only weapon they had until they took control of the state. And as the first question, What would I say to Obama and the only thing that really grabs me at the moment, there are so many specific things to do, but what I would do is start to align democracies, because democracies have got to be better at understanding the subversive threats and the overt threats to them. But we need a new alliance of democracies. And we need that light Alliance restored, we need to include Japan, and Australia and New Zealand and Singapore, and Taiwan and South Korea and all these other nations as well. So I would I would have a new alignment of the framework. National Strategy, Paul’s question. Thank you for such a good question. I worry it won’t. But look, we’re trying and Foreign Affairs Select Committee in Ruston, if he’s on this call, and others, we’ve all been trying to make decent selections, suggestions and feed in to the national strategy. I mean, the big understanding that I hope you get across is that foreign affairs and domestic are closely allied. You know, because we’ve got troops in Estonia, we’re helping the Ukrainians. But actually, we need to make sure that we defend our values and our standards, and our institutions in this country from coverts aversion, the same as what the Australians are having to do from the Chinese people to go read Clive Hamilton’s book on on, on what the Australian experience has been with, with with Chinese covert behaviour, which is a bit more subtle, sometimes and the Russians, but but there are obvious similarity. And that is why we do need to have a strategic view overview that we don’t always have at the moment, our Russian joint work has got better, but our Chinese joint work still has an awful long way to go. And I would group them together. I know they’re different. And I know we have a much more constructive relationship with China. But at the same time, China is a country which is allegedly committing genocide, or accused of committing very significant human rights abuses in its own country. So to say that China, Russia is a threat and China’s not a threat to the international order. That they’re both that they both present significant countries. vacations in different ways. And so we need a much more cross government approach to defending our democratic values here and projecting them successfully abroad. And it’s one of the things I really hope that the government does pick up on. Finally, the educational cultural relationships. I would be wary about those because there is absolutely the evidence has been that the Russians use these 188 Plus, you know, educational and social groups, these government, non government organisations, as they were called in the 60s and 70s as a way of propagandising and transporting people who would they would then subvert in the West. So I think the the the relationships that we had with him actually were surprisingly modest. And what one the day I’m afraid was that the Soviet, the Soviet system, fell to pieces, and it fell to pieces for a lot of economic reasons. But it also fell to pieces for a lot of ethical and moral reasons. And the fact that it had killed a lot of its own citizens.

Samuel Armstrong 45:56
Right, Jerry, I wonder if you have any thoughts on those questions?

Dr Jade McGlynn 46:00
Um, yes, I do actually on John’s question around on educational cultural partnerships. I mean, instinctively, I’m, I’m very positive about this idea. Having done a number of fellowships and and exchanges in my academic career, I’m in Russia. But I think, sort of, as Bob’s stated, We do need to be careful. And this is something I’m looking into at the moment on sort of the scope for UK people to people, and especially for the relation building relationships from the UK with Russian Civil society. And I think that is good, but we just need to be very careful, especially given the crackdown that’s going on right now, in what were previously sort of very liberal universities that were left alone in Russia, we now see that essentially, the FSB is deciding who works there. And

Bob Seely MP 46:44
I mean, just on that point, right, so to come in for David, but But actually, it’s really, we have to be very careful about this now, because they’ve tightened up the law on so called foreign agents. And if you are accepting money from the British Council, or you’re accepting money from the foreign and development office, you are technically a foreign agent. And as such, you can go to prison. So you have, we have to be very careful about this. Because it’s not us being unfriendly to Russia. It’s, you know, over 10 years ago, they were exposing on primetime TV, British diplomats who were working with some of these Russian NGOs, and basically literally accusing them of being spies. Because if you look at Russian doctrine, and the the threats facing Russia, these are not only physical threats, but these are threats to the spiritual soul of Russia. And this is a military doctrine, or anti spiritual and moral soul of Russia, is a stated risk in military doctrine, because Russia is facing not only what it perceives to be a physical threat from NATO. I don’t believe that but I understand the Russian nervousness over its defensive over its borders, because it always had defence in depth, because it had so much landmass, I understand Russian fears, and I don’t agree with them, but I accept that they’re significant. But there was also the psychological fear of a Russian state not being able to control its people. And that is maybe a more significant fear at the moment. And that is why the West has to be portrayed as an enemy. And Russia has to be seen as a country surrounded by enemies who want to destroy the spiritual and soul entity of Russia. And that’s actually a destabilising and very dangerous factor.

Dr Jade McGlynn 48:19
Yeah, I completely agree, actually, especially in terms of the definitions, the very securitized and definition of culture and the idea of Western culture is something that’s almost existentially problematic, an existential danger almost, to the Russian people and to the Russian state. And we see this in AI, although he’s since left his post, and is now he’s now a presidential aide of in the various pronouncements of Vladimir Minsky, who came up with some really crazy conceptions of culture to the point where even Vladimir Putin pushed back into gear that might be a bit much to culture is very securitized, and that’s, unfortunately, just an increasing trend. And despite the opposite of competition between the Ministry of Education, which is trying to improve Russian University’s reputation, it seems to be losing that competition against those who have a more securitized understanding of culture and education in Russia. And I think just to come back to the point as well. We around a foreign agency, this is a very loaded term and realistically with some of these edge educational civil society partnerships, are we really helping? Are we really helping these people if they’re going to be labelled with such and loaded loaded terms? We need to think about that as well. Are we endangering people in Russia? By trying to establish partnerships? This

Samuel Armstrong 49:46
is not just about us? Yeah. David, I would have gotten an answer to those questions that it was something that popped out at me of what Bob and Jake were discussing, but the UK still has rescue media centres. At our universities, in exactly the same way we have Confucius institutes across a great number of our universities, should we be careful about this, this allowing facilities of a Russian soft influence and the ability to pedal will be at three epidemic press potentially allegations or smears or entries?

David Satter 50:26
Well, we should have we should be where I can give you a personal example, I was invited to speak at CRS po in Paris, about the situation in Russia also connected with with not my latest book, but the one before it, which was titled The less you know, the better you sleep. And the without telling me even the lecture was cancelled at the last minute, I was already in Paris, there was no explanation, in fact, no contact with me of any kind, it was just cancelled. I ended up speaking somewhere else. But the but the point is then Lamont and the other French newspapers, and the Times of London also wrote about it. They, they found out that the reason for this was that the the, the leadership at Siemens pole was afraid that if I spoke there, that the Russians would retaliate against the exchange programme that seals co head with the Institute of International Relations in Moscow. And so that’s what you have, that’s the first thing you have to guard against, that they will hold that they will use this in order to limit your freedom of speech, your access to information, and your ability to to to to adequately understand the situation over there. And I’ve had I had that, then I’m on the subject of what would be the first thing to say to President Biden, when he takes office, which is going to be pretty soon regarding Russia, is that I think that the key the principal issues right now more than anything else, are the destruction of the Malaysian airliner and the murder of Boris and himself. And these are exactly the issues that need to be raised. Not the way we usually raised them in a superficial and when they give us an absurd explanation, and we accept it, but with a sense of responsibility for really understanding what happened, and making it clear that that we can and will react in the case of you know, there was an American citizen on board. The Malaysian airline, I think there were there were a significant number of British subjects onboard. Yeah. And it’s not a it really isn’t a joke to shoot down an international airliner. It’s not something that can be just swept under the rug. It’s it has been, and you know, I I personally been active in trying to do something in both of these cases. And I mean, what I can do, our government can do as well. Because this guy, and we know that from this, we have the other other things which directly affect the UK, including the murder of, of either Russian citizens or naturalised British subjects who have Russian origin in London, of which, as we well know, there have been quite a number at the killing of Chechen emigres all over Europe. We don’t want we would it is not in our interest to tolerate an assassination campaign carried out from Russia, on our soil. And when I say our soil, I mean, you know, the, whether it’s the US, UK or the West, I mean, it UK has been kind of an epicentre of this,

Samuel Armstrong 54:09
that they’ve attended.

David Satter 54:10
And the the I’ve just just to just to complete it, you know, the, the more passive we are, when these issues are, yeah, when things like this happen, the more superficial we are, well, the more vulnerable we become.

Samuel Armstrong 54:27
Thank you. Thank you very much. for that. It seems that there’s agreement that the Biden administration needs to be less tolerant less permissive of Russia’s conduct. But I wonder we’re gonna say one more round of questions, but I wonder if I could ask you that question about the risky media centres they are UK universities, which the

David Satter 54:46
sad I’m sorry, I missed the name.

Samuel Armstrong 54:48
The Roski Media Centre medicines, rescue media centres,

Bob Seely MP 54:51
the cultural centre here. Yeah.

Samuel Armstrong 54:56
I wonder if I could ask that question. But just before I do, I should say that we raised the kids case of NatWest earlier, who bill Browder said shut down his accounts following a black PR campaign from the Kremlin, I should say that in response to that when we declined, originally made, NatWest had said that decision was made a number of years ago, and was simply a commercial decision based on a number of different factors, all of which were considered extensively and with great care, the letter was subsequently revisited, and the decision remained with appropriate notice periods given. That’s what that was say. And it’s fair that we give them a chance to say that, but Bob, the risky Mia sensors,

Bob Seely MP 55:40
and I don’t think they’re quite the same as the Confucian centres because I think the consumer fusion centres are propagandistic outfits, like Putin would love the risky mere centres to be propagandistic outfits. Because various Russian politicians and maybe Jade remember the name is Bill Nye, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee over in Russia, is it called I can’t remember his name we’ll come to in a second. And, and others have said that we should do more with our diaspora. A diaspora should be a weapon for Russia, etc. So there is a clear desire to get the Russian diaspora to do things the Russian state would want. Having said that a lot of people Russians are here because they’re trying to get away from the Russian state. So I just think the Russian russkiy mir is going to be less successful as a propaganda outfit than for example, the Confucian centres. And from that point of view to us in the West, in a non Russian speaking world, they’re less of a threat. They like the Russia, some people in Russia would like them to be a threat, but they’re not. Secondly, however, was two niches for pardon my accent and risky me, I’m much more of a concern in former Soviet republics, because there is there if you read the Estonian annual spy report put out by the Estonian secret agency in a very open these people, they will say and if you talk to people in Ukraine as well, that there has been, there has been an attempt to weaponize ethnic Russians linguistic Russians living outside the borders of the Russian Federation. To the extent now you can see russki mayor and restaurant Nichelle as agencies, to try to propagandise those groups to find people who may be useful actors for them, be it in Estonia or Latvia or Lithuania, or in eastern Ukraine or in Georgia or Kazakhstan or elsewhere. You can that’s one element of this. If you take this behaviour to its logical extremes, Russia is now giving out passports to people in places like Abkhazia, which is technically Georgia. They’re giving up passports in the Donbass, which is technically Ukrainian. They’ve even given giving up passports, in bits of Kosovo to Serbians allegedly. So they’re doing this to weaponize human beings, up to the point of giving up passports in order to have grounds to interfere in those states. I think Jade may want to come in at this point.

Dr Jade McGlynn 58:01
Yeah, I do. Um, firstly, it’s Leonid Slutsky is the head of the Duma foreign affairs. But um, yeah, I just wanted to say I think it’s a really good point you’re making it up or something useful under ischemia being more of a threat in the post Soviet states around compatriot policy, but I do you think there is a growing presence definitely nothing comparable to what happens in the post Soviet world. But there is a growing move to involve these sorts of organisations, particularly what our needs are actually much more than a schema in, in culture, and we see this in Serbia. Serbia is a really good example.

Samuel Armstrong 58:36
One last question. And I’m going to summarise one that a lot of people have asked, but you answer is going to have to be very

Bob Seely MP 58:43
sound. There’s a very important question. I think, General Jeffrey was asking about newness, and is this new? I mean, I think that’s a really fascinating and important point.

Samuel Armstrong 58:52
Three questions, including that one, then summarise the first question that will take lives from Gary PS. Five.

Question 4 59:03
Thank you. Hi, Bob.

Bob Seely MP 59:04
Is that Gary from Bednar? Yes.

Question 4 59:09
Well, thank you. So since the fall of Soviet Union, it allowed the UK and others especially law enforcement of which you know that that’s my background to do move away from monitoring and capturing Soviet threat and towards a greater focus on counterterrorism. At what point considering there, the doctrine of hybrid warfare and so on and so forth. At what point do we need to refocus our energies and resources back towards countering this this Russian this Russian disinformation campaign and the Espionage that’s undoubtedly going on.

Samuel Armstrong 59:50
Great. Thanks, Gary. And then the last question that a lot of people have asked about is around the Russia report from the intelligence Select Committee, based on extensions is still causing Russian Black PR practices still posing a threat to our democracy. And has the Bob, I guess a question particularly for you. Has the UK Government done enough to respond to the recommendations of that intelligence Select Committee report? Yes. Okay.

Bob Seely MP 1:00:15
Are we asking answering that now?

Samuel Armstrong 1:00:16
We’ll do that. Now. I’ll start with you.

Bob Seely MP 1:00:18
Just a what? Hi, Gary, again, is are we doing enough? Oh, look, we don’t know what the agencies are doing. My guess is, they’re probably doing enough because they’re aware of an FBI threat. However, that’s somewhat misses the point of the modern Russian threat, because the modern Russian threat is not just two people who’ve got a little workbook that says I’m a spy. And here’s my idea as a spy, when I get back to the FSB headquarters, it’s actually from, from oligarchs who are close to Putin. You know, it’s from people freelancing on behalf of the Russian state. It’s from businesses, it’s from, you know, what Sputnik doing in Edinburgh, it’s pretty obvious, they’re going to be used to encourage Scottish nationalism and separatism, for example. So the threats that we’re dealing with are not traditional espionage, blokes with trill bees, and you know, raincoats, but actually too much more sophisticated. And it’s going back to the sort of stuff that Jays been dealing with the radio. So this culture of sort of Soviet a morality plus two sort of active measures, subversive toolkit meets global capitalism, that’s like mafia sort of vibe, where, you know, it’s all about power, destruction of enemies using tools, including the law, if you can use Western law against people. So that is the real threat. And have we really got our heads around that now? No, because this culture is so alien to us, that we have great difficulty in understanding it. So yeah.

Samuel Armstrong 1:01:41
Great, David, very, very quickly respond to any of those questions. Um,

David Satter 1:01:49
I’m not sure now, which requests we want to respond to, because we have a lot of a lot of things that

Samuel Armstrong 1:01:57
perhaps question on is this is this new?

David Satter 1:02:01
Is the Russian do I this information new, of course, it’s not new, it’s traditional. It’s it goes back to the Soviet period. It goes back to the time of the czars, it goes back to the chrono, the the, the the There’s our secret police, from which by the way, the KGB inherently received a lot of its practices. It’s not new at all. And the question is, why does it exist? What is it that they’re trying to do? And what they’re trying to do is, you know, during the Soviet Union, the animating factor in the behaviour of the country was the ideology. We talked about a country, you know, the Russia being a difficult country to be to understand it’s difficult, particularly if we aren’t willing to make the effort. The Russia also has an animating factor in its behaviour, which explains everything else. But that’s the desire of a small group to make sure they hold on to power, and the abuse of information and disinformation, directed mostly against their own people, but also against the West and also in, in, in the UK, in particular, is part of that effort. And that’s how it should be understood. And so if, if, if, by Stan, on the other hand, if we don’t like the consequence of a country that’s run for a kleptocratic, a small kleptocratic group, then integrity of information is in the national interest of Britain, of the US and the West as a whole.

Samuel Armstrong 1:03:45
David, thank you, I’m gonna have to really they’re off. They’re just very quickly in the centre. Point.

Dr Jade McGlynn 1:03:53
And so really, my point actually was more that I wanted to read around the newness idea, and I think it’s helpful to see this as something that’s evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. So yes, definitely has roots, we can see this, that doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same. I think sometimes we can be blinded by looking at things as if they’re complete repeats. Not that’s not necessarily the case, of course asked involved, if only because the information of ecosystem is very different now. But yes, it is a good point of evolution, not revolution, not revolutionary. Right. My son, can

Bob Seely MP 1:04:25
I comment on that point? 30 seconds, 30 seconds. It’s very difficult to argue newness because fake news isn’t new. The information campaigns isn’t new. And the integration isn’t new. We sometimes think it is. However, there is some newness, there is potential news. There’s practical stuff like criminals and mercenaries we’re not using the same way before. So there’s a few practical issues. And clearly we didn’t have the internet before. So apart from that, there’s a theoretical issue. There’s not ideological struggle. It’s just about the creation of chaos that’s new to a certain extent. The digital age opens up a new array of possibilities. So how you use these recipes In these templates is newer. And also there’s a level to be made, I would say that the main issue of newness is in terms of the greater, almost total integration of the military and non military, when before because of the power of the Red Army, you had a significant gap, a difference between the KGB tools of active measures, subversive warfare, and the conventional. Those have even Chernenko back in the Soviet days are talking about orchestrating all that together. But I think under Putin, you’ve got about as greater level of integration as you’re ever going to achieve. And I would say that is new to a certain extent. But as Jade was saying, it’s basically a highly significant evolution, but not new in itself.

Samuel Armstrong 1:05:41
Well, with that I’m gonna bring this very overtime event, guys, but it’s only a tribute to the interest of the conversations. I’ve allowed it to go on this long. But thank you very much to everyone who joined us. Thank you to David, thank you to Bob. Thank you to Jade for the speaking. And thank you to all of you for coming. We hope to welcome you back to another Henry Jackson society event. Very soon indeed. Thank you.


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