U.K governments units and the British Army’s 77th Brigade covertly spied on government critics during the COVID-19 lockdown under the guise of fighting misinformation, a Big Brother Watch investigation has found.
The investigation report, titled “Ministry of Truth”, is based on hundreds of pages of government documents and data, as well as exclusive testimony from a whistleblower who worked in the British Army’s “secretive information warfare machine”, the 77th Brigade.
The report, together with the recent Whatsapp message leaks showing the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock wanted to deliberately scare the public into complying with lockdown rules, give a glimpse into what went on behind the curtains as the British government struggled with how to ensure the public complied with lockdown restrictions despite expert advice, including The Great Barrington Declaration, amongst others, explicitly rejecting the need for such measures.
According to the report, an Orwellian group of five secretive units across government, called “anti-fake news units”, conducted large scale monitoring of dissent on social media – including critical comments from politicians, academics, activists, journalists and even members of the public – under the guise of tackling misinformation.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Conservative MPs David Davis & Chris Green, journalists including PeterHitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer, and academics from the University of Oxford and University College London all had comments critical of the government recorded by the anti-fake news units.
The Cabinet Office’s Rapid Response Unit [RRU] pressured a Whitehall department to attack newspapers for publishing articles analysing Covid-19 modelling that it feared would “affect compliance” with pandemic restrictions. The RRU also included Conservative MPs, activists and journalists in “vaccine hesitancy reports” for opposing vaccine passports.
The Counter Disinformation Unit [CDU] from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport used its special relationship with social media companies to recommend content be removed. Third party contractors trawled Twitter for perceived terms of service violations and passed them to CDU officials.
Whistleblower from the 77th Brigade of the British Army
Some of those units were supported by soldiers from the British Army’s 77th Brigade, which usually conducts “information warfare”. The brigade spied on the British public, collecting tweets from British citizens about Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic and passed them to the Cabinet Office. They also conducted “sentiment analysis” about the government’s Covid-19 response
The whistleblower from the British Army’s 77th Brigade claimed that Brits were routinely monitored and flagged without any safeguards in place to stop millions of social media posts being scanned during the disinformation searches.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said the whistleblower’s revelations show that military power was intentionally misused to “assess lawful speech within Britain”:
“His statement would suggest that the whistleblower’s claims do not just reveal the wrongdoing of a military unit gone rogue, but that they reveal the intentional assignment of the British Army to assess lawful speech within Britain, which appears to be condoned at the highest level.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace admitted to Parliament that the 77th Brigade analyses UK disinformation and announced a probe into the whistleblower’s claims about the types of social media posts the secretive army unit flags to government. But he said the Brigade “is not to be involved in regulating, policing or even reporting opinion that it may or may not agree with.
Wallace’s admission contradicts claims by the British Army, made in reference to the public disclosure of their Covid “counter-disinformation” work, that the 77th Brigade “do not, and have never, conducted any kind of action against British citizens and that “all work is internationally focused.”
Big Brother Watch Director, Silkie Carlo, said the report showed an “alarming case of mission creep” and how the government was misusing the concept of “wrong information” as a black cheque to “control narratives online”:
“This is an alarming case of mission creep, where public money and even military power have been misused to monitor academics, journalists, campaigners and members of parliament who criticised the government, particularly during the pandemic.”
“The fact that this political monitoring happened under the guise of ‘countering misinformation’ highlights how, absent serious safeguards, the concept of ‘wrong information’ is open to abuse and has become a blank cheque the government uses in attempt to control narratives online.”
Whatsapp Message Leaks
As the British Government turned “fighting disinformation” into a secretive operation to monitor political dissent during lockdown, leaked WhatsApp messages reveal how health secretary sought to scare the public into complying with successive lockdowns.
“We frighten the pants off everyone,” Matt Hancock suggested during one WhatsApp message with his media adviser.
The WhatsApp messages seen by The Telegraph show how several members of Mr Hancock’s team sought to utilise “fear and guilt” to make people obey lockdown.
The solution in December was “to frighten the pants off everyone” with a declaration of a new strain of Covid-19, known as the Alpha or Kent variant.