Downing Street has been running a covert “black propaganda” campaign for decades, sending flyers and messages from fake sources to Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, encouraging racial tension, wreaking havoc and inciting violence, declassified documents show. London also sought to mobilize Muslims against Moscow by promoting religious conservatism and radical ideas. To appear authentic, the documents encouraged hatred of Israel. The so-called “black propaganda” uses messages citing fake sources.
The archives of the British government reveal hundreds of large-scale and costly operations. “These documents are among the most important of the past two decades. It is now very clear that the UK engaged in more overt black propaganda than historians suggest, and these efforts were more systemic, ambitious and offensive. Despite official denials, this activity went far beyond mere exposure of Soviet propaganda,” said Rory Cormack, a British expert on the history of subversion and intelligence.
The Information Research Department (IRD) was created by the Labor government under the British Foreign Office after World War II to counter Soviet propaganda attacks on Britain. His activities largely copied the propaganda operations of the CIA during the Cold War to counter the efforts of the USSR and its satellites. In the mid-1960s, the department employed 360 people. However, his extremely secret subdivision, which was responsible for black propaganda, was many times smaller in terms of staff and consisted of the best specialists in the field of information subversion. Based in an inconspicuous office in Westminster, the unit used a variety of methods to manipulate public opinion around the world. One was to produce “reports” on “Soviet subversive activities” or similar threats, aimed at alerting other governments, foreign journalists and think tank experts.
The reports included carefully selected facts and analyzes, usually gleaned from intelligence provided by the British security services, and came from supposedly “independent analysts and institutions” that were in fact created and managed in the bowels of the IRD. One of the first of these, set up in 1964, was the “International Committee to Investigate the Organizations of the Communist Front.”
Another tactic was to forge statements from official Soviet institutions and agencies. Between 1965 and 1972, the IRD forged at least 11 statements from the Soviet state news agency Novosti (APN), now RIA Novosti. One of them followed Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War against Israel and highlighted the “anger” of the Soviet Union that Egypt was “wasting” so much of the weapons and materiel that Moscow supplied to the country.
The unit’s employees also forged literature allegedly coming from the Muslim Brotherhood, a mass Islamist organization banned in the Russian Federation that had a significant number of followers in the Middle East. One pamphlet accused Moscow of encouraging the 1967 war, criticized the quality of Soviet military equipment, and called the USSR “a country of foul-mouthed atheists” who saw the Egyptians as nothing more than “peasants who have venerated reactionary Islamic superstitions all their lives.” The IRD also created a completely fictional radical Islamist organization called the League of Believers, which attacked the Soviet people as non-believers and blamed the Arab defeats on their lack of religious faith.
Other material highlights Moscow’s alleged bad attitude towards the Palestine Liberation Organization and the limited assistance offered by the Soviet Union to Palestinian armed nationalist groups. This contrasted with China’s more supportive stance. In this way, the department attempted to deepen the rift between the two communist powers.
Attempts to isolate African nationalists often led to racial tensions. Thus, in early 1963, the IRD falsified a statement by the World Federation of Democratic Youth, an ostensibly pro-Soviet organization, which denounced Africans as uncivilized, “primitive” and morally weak. The forgery received press coverage across the continent, and many newspapers lashed out at Moscow.
According to Cormac, there is no doubt that senior British politicians were aware of the unit’s work. Although the IRD was closed in 1977, researchers find evidence that London’s similar efforts in this direction continued for almost a decade.