How Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council is exposed in Norway

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steigan.no has been leading the exposure of The Atlantic Council and Institute of Statecraft on the international level, Tord Björk writes.

Tord Björk.

Like in no other country has the UK and US semi secret influence campaigns met such scrutiny as in Norway. Rather then being a very new theme the Integrity initiative and its close partner Atlantic Council have been criticized by a continuum of muck raking. This is expressed both in terms of quantity and quality.

With 16 articles both by different online media including two main stream newspapers with smaller circulation, Norway is by far the country with most material published outside the UK, the US and Russia. But it is also the only country were most people allegedly claimed to be part of the UK influence project or actually involved in the US project are faced with questions and have given answers provoking even more questions. 
 
When also including criticism of the Atlantic Council the continuum becomes especially clear. If we look at the Norwegian news in chronological order we can see how this dynamic develops. It ends with the new 4th leak of Integrity Initiative material early January 2019 which includes a report from a Norwegian visit in 2016 by Chris Donnelly the head of Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative project.

Norwegian articles

A starting good point is the article concerning an Atlantic Council event in Norway published at the website steigan.no on November 13. In this article by Terje Alnes four facts are presented, one is that the prime minister Erna Solberg is awarded a prize by Atlantic Council, another that the military is offered much more money in the budget, a lot of money was also given to Atlantic Council and finally all money to peace organizations had been cut that since a very long time had received support from the government. 

On the 25 November Pål Steigan were among the first in the world to write about Integrity Initiative under the heading The British government is running a media program to smear Russia. Some days later on 30 November Pål Steigan made an issue out of a proposal of a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council to bomb the Kerch bridge at the entrance to the Sea of Azov, the only connection between the peninsula and continental Russia. Norway turned out to be a country that stops funding peace and instead funds war mongering organizations.

10 and 11 December two articles on the Atlantic Council report Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 3.0 were published at steigan.no. Pål Steigan first addressed the issue as steigan.no had been attacked in the report as  ”pro-Russian element”. The report was according to the introduction by Alina Polyakova the final installment of: 

”a three-year long project that sought to expose a less often discussed element of the Kremlin’s political warfare: the cultivation of political allies in Europe’s core. The aim of the project is to draw attention to Western Europe, where for far too long the Russian threat was either dismissed, ignored, or overlooked. As is now known, the Kremlin’s tentacles do not stop in Ukraine, Georgia, or East Central Europe. They reach far and deep in the core of western societies.” 

Shrilling isn’t it? Tentacles deep into the core of Western societies finally exposed by Atlantic Council! Steigan mocks the author of the Norwegian chapter Øystein Bogen by saying that for some odd reason he excluded from the CV in the report that he had studied at the defense intelligence academy. 

Terje Alnes made the simple and telling conclusion in the second article about the report and its author author that ”Clearly, in the political worldview of Bogen and Atlantic Council, it is not possible to be critical of what NATO and the United States do, whithout at the same time supporting Putin and Russia.” Alnes also claimed that it was a serious allegation to be a Trojan Horse and told the story behind the metaphor making those accused as someone working for the enemy. 

Further coverage of the debate in the UK on the attack on Jeremy Corbyn by Integrity Initiative soon followed by Pål Steigan on 14 December and on 17 December Kari Angelique Jaquesson made a laughing stock of both Integrity Initiative, Atlantic Council and all believers in that Putin weaponizes everything including humor. Both published at steigan.no

Radikal portal

On the 19 December a new actor enters the scene, Aslak Storaker, a member of the small parliamentary left wing party Rødt (Red) and peace activist. He had also been attacked in the report Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 3. His article is published at Radikal portal, a place were several left wingers publish material. He refutes the claims made in the report showing how systematically both in the case of Norway and Sweden people including himself stating that Russia has breached international law in Ukraine are presented as promotors of a Russian narrative as they allow themselves to be critical also towards the West.

Klassekampen

On the 20 December enter main stream media. In three articles 20-22 December the newspaper Klassekampen examines the accusations made in the Atlantic Council report. The journal gave credit to steigan.no and Radikal portal for first having addressed the issue according to ethic principles followed by many news publishers in the country. These ethic rules includes asking alleged persons in an article before publishing, rule that seems to also make it embarrassing to not answer questions from the media. A reason why maybe all alleged members of the Integrity Initiative cluster have answered when asked about their role but also all accused in the Atlantic Council report gives answers to the press.

Forsida til rapporten fra Atlantic Council. Innfelt Øystein Bogen, Norge.


First three political parties claimed on a map in the report to be trojan horses for foreign interests are asked about their opinion. All of the party leaders thinks the accusations are hilarious. 

Interview with ex-prime minister Kåre Willoch

In the next article former prime minister and generally respected veteran conservative politician Kåre Willoch is also asked about the points in the report. His party now heading the government is not accused in the report but Willoch have several opinions that is presented as pro Russian by Atlantic Council. Among them are the claim that Norway needs to defend itself. He is thus critical towards foreign bases in the country, a position held by all Norwegian governments whether social democratic or more to the right since becoming members of NATO in 1949. Opposition against the newly established US base in Norway and the planned UK base are among the options claimed to be profusion, something Willoch dismiss. 

In the third article politicians in the North of the country from the Conservative, Center, Social democratic and socialist party were asked about their opinion of the claims made in the report that they were especially weak towards Putin which the all dismiss with some exceptions by the Conservative spokesperson. 

Klassekampen was once a marxist-leninist daily that has developed into a main stream left wing journal with a circulation of 26000 copies equivalent to 330000 in a country like the UK. The newspaper was one among the accused Kremlin’s Trojan Horses in Norway. The Norwegian author of the Atlantic Council report soon found himself in need to distance himself from the general accusation against political parties made in a map in the report in the general introduction.

The people named by Institute of Statecra as their «cluster members» i Norway.

The media criticism against the Atlantic Council report was followed by asking questions about the alleged Integrity Initiative cluster members. Henning-André Søgaard at the Defense Research Institute who was also among them was mocked by Pål Steigan. In one of his articles he stated that Søgaard was a writer for the Norwegian weekly ”Ny Tid when he was taken for plagiarism in 2007. He has also been a blogger at the Huffington Post, but in 2011 was banned by the editorial staff due to several cases of plagiarism. Still, he still appears in the Norwegian press with articles on cyber war and on the alleged threat from Russia.”

ABC Nyheter

In the main stream online media ABC nyheter everyone denied that they are members of the British-controlled Norwegian cluster. They deny totally or say they have some contacts or, as the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, Secretary-General Kate Hansen Bundt claim that her contacts with Institute for Statecraft had been limited to having been presented to the project leader Chris Donnellly on a single occasion and that «cautious probing» had been done about the organization she was leading could imagine joining a network to counter Russia’s «information operations». 

Pål Steigan was able to check the information and prove that Julian Lendley-French, who also leads the Institute for Statecraft, attended a seminar organized by Hansen Bundt as a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft. Other participants included Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. At a meeting in Stockholm arranged by Anna Wieslander, who heads the Atlantic Council in Sweden, Lendley-French also participated in a panel with Hansen Bundt as moderator. Lendley-French thanked his «very good friend» Hansen Bundt both after the meeting in Oslo and Stockholm on his blog.

Tor Bukkvoll, senior researcher at Defence Research Institute stated to ABC Nyheter concerning his alleged role as cluster member  ”I know nothing about this. I have not been asked to participate. My name has only appeared on a website. I do not know if it is possible to opt out of something I have not signed up for.” Chris Pedersen, a NATO veteran,  replies when asked about his role as one of the leading cluster members in Norway ” – I do not see myself as a leader, but am actively interested in information with a broad cooperation pattern over many years” ANC nyheter included in the article that leaked instructions from Integrity Initiative included ”Members must sign a code of conduct and a confidentiality statement.” and «The team’s anonymity remains paramount. As our activity increases, we will undoubtedly attract unwanted attention.”

Chris Donnelly, Institute for Statecraft: We are already at war and the other rules apply…(Screendump)

A new round of documents

Anonymous then published a new round of documents 4 January that included in detail how the project started in Norway during Chris Donnellys visit in 2016, where all the cluster members according to earlier leaked material actively participated except Jardar Østbø, also at the Defence Research Institute as several others. Plans were put forward for the future, also how the debate in the other Nordic countries could be influenced via Norway. As the press already had done their work it was already known what the key alleged cluster members had to say about the political accusations concerning their part in foreign meddling into Norwegian affairs. This gives us a unique possibility to compare what the actors say and what they do according to the travel report. Furthermore it gives us a possibility to look into the quality of the British intelligence. 

The report is divided into three parts. The first about meetings made 29-31 August 2016, the second about the situation in Norway and the third about recommendations for further action. 

The meetings mainly address a perceived Russian threat under headings as ”Russian infowar and hybrid war” or sexy as ”From Cold War to Hot Peace, Russia’s tools of influence and information warfare”. At a two hour informal workshop chaired by Henning-Andre Sogaard, from Defence Research Institute, Chris Donnelly head of the Integrity Initiative gave the background and concept:

”The first workshop in Brussels 22 June, conclusions and lessons learned; where will the international project go from here.” this was followed by ”[G]eneral discussion as to how this can be generated in Norway nationally” and it was especially discussed how this could take place ”across Nordic states, and Internationally.” The last sentence reporting from the informal workshop can be seen as summarizing the whole idea with the Integrity Initiative:

”Building the cooperation between the classified and unclassified world, keeping in mind that one of the main targets is the hearts and minds of the public.

Other specific topics during the visit were ”info war as an element of the Ukraine conflict.”, ”countering radicalisation”, ”Daesh info and the radicalisation of youth” and finally ”next steps re creating in Norway an education process on Russian influence and disinformation”. Out of these topics Daesh is legitimate, others as countering radicalization may be questionable when addressed in the way Atlantic Council, NATO and EU address the issue as seeing any kind of radical opinion as a threat and the rest entrenched in the Integrity Initiative way of attacking legitimate domestic opinion disguised as countering Russian disinformation. Even discussing how to use Norway as a British bridgehead to influence other Nordic countries is a topic. 

The names and institutions involved are also interesting. We look into a secluded word were people have close contacts to each others as Chris Prebensen, the main coordinator of the Norwegian Integrity Initiative efforts during this visit also making up plans for the future. Others as Kristin Ven Bruusgård Institute for Defence Studies, MOD is useful for getting informed well before appearing in public as well as directly afterwards Henning-André Søgaard at the same Research Institute fills the role to discuss what to do at a follow up at a informal workshop directly after the public appearance. A two hour meeting with Tor Bukkvoll, also Defence Research Institute, on info war as an element of the Ukraine conflict seems especially odd. Why Ukraine, a country far away and at the time of the meeting with less tensions than previously is of such a special interest calls for attention. 

Julian Lindley-French from Institute of Statecraft was a key speaker at the conference of The Norwegian Atlantic Committee.

Other meetings may also be described as secluded but more rightly so, as meetings with different police organizations on radicalisation. More problematic is the meeting with Chris Prebensen and a former Chairman of Fridtjof Nansen Institute on ”getting the Norwegians’ attention” followed up by the final meeting with Chris Pedersen on creating in Norway an educational process.

The only public meeting was a one and a half hour seminar at the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, chaired by Secretary General Kate Hansen Bundt with Kristin Ven Bruusgård and Chris Donnelly; as speakers with the already mentioned populistic heading: ”From Cold War to Hot Peace, Russia’s tools of influence and information warfare”

The part covering the current situation in Norway states that ”[A] lot of good work on disinformation and influence from Russia is being done in Governmental bodies (PST, Int Svce, Institute for Defence Studies, Communications Security, Civil Preparedness Directorate). But there is very little effective transmission of this to the press, acadaemia and public understanding.”

The report is worried about ”a sense in some quarters (military, political, public) that, because Oslo is not one of Russia’s main direct disinformation targets, this issue is not so important. This fails to recognise that Norway would be seriously affected by Russian influence on Allies, and ignores what is happening in the North and in other Nordic countries.” Once more the Nordic countries are focused upon claimed to be in need of better cooperation. 

Problems with the Norwegian public

The Norwegian public is seen as an obstacle: ”generally inclined to be soft on Russia as a near neighbour in the North (where there is a tradition of friendship and a good working relationship). Although the public can be hard-nosed about Putin and Moscow’s policies, their scepticism ofUS/western politics can lead to their being less critical of Russia’s position at times.” Journalistic principles is seen as a special hinderance: ”Norwegian journalists tend to give Russian information the same weight as western information, not testing its veracity.”

In general it is criticized that ”[S]ince 2013, less detailed attention has been given to the High North and Russia’s increasing military presence.” It is claimed that there is now growing governmental concern about Russian influence (a) on the population in North Norway and (b) on international opinion concerning the High North sea route and the status of Svalbard. 

Central in the follow up is the key Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council figure Ben Nimmo, Exploiting his coming visit to Oslo to talk to the army by arranging a follow up talk to an Atlantic Committee audience was seen as a step towards ”[I]dentify and bring to this talk a group of interested, competent Norwegians as the basis for a new network to become de facto part of the Integrity Initiative.” There was a need of identifying a coordinator ”who can write papers on this issue for publication locally and as part of our Integrity network.” The group should  ”[p]ut pressure on governmental bodies to share information, help open source exploitation and improve dissemination.” and ”[P]ublicise what Russian influence is doing in other countries (Allies on which Norway relies) and what other countries are doing about it.” Key journalists should be approached and somewhat ambitious also ”academics to track and expose the Russian distortion of history.”

The 77th Brigade of the British Army has the task of being social media warriors .

Some strange info

The maybe most telling part in the report from the Chris Donnelly travel to Norway is the amateurish claim made that ”currently 25% of the population of the three northern counties” are Russians. This is an exaggeration made by a mind seemingly obsessed by enlarging threats. The actual number is very much lower. In the county closest to Russia it is 1,2 percent and with other words in total lower than 1 percent in the three counties, the report makes an at least 25-fold exaggeration. 

Reception in Norway different

The reception of the Integrity Initiative leakage and Atlantic Council Kremlin’s Trojan Horses project differ in several distinct ways from other countries. All key actors are questioned whether they are accused of being pro-Russian or cluster members in the Integrity Initiative. What we seem to have is a still functioning public sphere were different media acknowledge each other and follow the same rules of journalist conduct. No main stream media with a large audience have publicized any news about the UK or US influence projects. But neither has so far no media in Norway have defended neither the Atlantic Council report nor the Alleged Integrity Initiative cluster members. And both main stream media that have addressed the issue are national daily news actors and no marginal actors. The more constantly attacked web sites as steigan.no have both by Klassekampen and ABC Nyheter been acknowledged according to journalistic code of conduct as the first media in Norway to address the issues.

Larger media may try to attack steigan.no on this topic but will then fall into the trap of at the same time accusing their main stream media colleagues who acknowledge this site as the primary source in Norway. There is also no way to accuse Russian media as there is no Norwegian language version of these platforms. Accusing foreign language media to be important in the domestic debate is not what you do in a country like Norway proud of its own language and public sphere with one of the most dense newspaper markets in the world. In other words one can claim that the hegemony has been placed in the hands of those criticizing both Integrity Initiative and the Atlantic Council report. 

A main reason for the hegemonic position in this case is the interview made by Klassekampen with the former veteran Conservative prime minister Kåre Willoch. This placed the debate firmly outside a more narrow circle of accused and their opponents and made the issue at stake a question of general principles. Norwegian opinion critical towards NATO or US bases on Norwegian soil should not be labelled as pro-Russian. Willoch’s general argument has been shared and put at the centre by all opinion makers from the beginning in the Norwegian debate by the radical web sites to the two main stream media platforms. 

Intervention in the Norwegian debate?

Attempts will probably be made to intervene in the Norwegian public debate. Ben Nimmo central for both Atlantic Council and Integrity Initiative can read Nordic languages and have already written about Russian desinformation in the Nordic countries. He was also according to the leaked material going to visit the army in Norway and the hopes was that this would be an occasion to widen the support for Integrity Initiative. Others as NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, also former prime minister of Norway, may try to inspire prestigious international opinion makers to write articles. But foreigners will probably not be well received in this specific debate as it concerns Norwegian integrity. The case supporting the Kremlin’s Trojan Horses and Integrity Initiative has to come from within the country.

Here another problem will appear for the dominant opinion makers in the country. As in many Western countries most parts of main stream media have followed the narrative outlined also in the Atlantic Council reports. According to this simplistic thought is the Russian narrative supported by both right and left wing extremists and populists, a claim intellectually underpinned by something called the horse shoe theory. This is popular in Norwegian as well as many other analysis filling piles of unread reports but a widely shared opinion among those parroting what think tanks produce rather then basing their opinion in serious empirical and theoretical research. This simplistic idea has also been effectively blocked by making the popular former prime minister a key interviewee as well as the embarrassingly amateur answers to legitimate questions concerning their role in foreign influence operation given by so many key Norwegian persons. 

Silence is golden

Thus silence will probably be the main strategy to try to go on as if nothing have happened. This will maybe have a better chance. The weakness in the seemingly effective Norwegian way to expose and frame the issue is that it gives the central role to established parties and mass media with limited possibilities to act further by creating wider alliances on the issue at stake. One of the reason why opposition to the claims made by Atlantic Council has been so effective is that the Norwegian peace movement and the left is very weak compared to a country as Great Britain. The parliamentarian left parties from the radical Rødt to Socialist Left party to not talk about the Social democratic party are all firmly opposing Russia. All parliamentarian parties in the country supported the bombing of Libya and have only minor opposition in details concerning western and NATO policies against Russia.

The Kosovo war

It all started during the Kosovo war when the Socialist Left party voted in favor of bombing Serbia being more aggressive in their position than the Conservative foreign minister Carl Bildt in Sweden at the time. The Norwegian left parties are far from the more critical position of the labour party or Die Linke in Germany. As the only actors so far has been media and people in political parties the situation is not as good as it looks like from the outside. The participation by trade unions in big cities in the protests against the NATO Trident Juncture military exercise in Norway in October 2018 and against a US base in the country is a positive sign that may be a beginning o a turning point in the opposition against NATO war mongering and building alliances for detente towards Russia.  

Compared to the in many aspects similar neighboring country Sweden there are clear differences in how the UK and US influence initiatives are addressed. In Sweden the horse shoe theory also have met problems but for other reasons than in Norway. Here the environmental and peace movement has been among the main accused for supporting a Russian narrative as well as parliamentarians in the Green party, a junior party to the governing social democratic party and hardly easy to put into a left och right wing extremist camp according to the simplistic horse shoe theory.  

As in Norway the criticism has often addressed both Integrity Initiative and the Atlantic Council epos Kremlin’s Trojan Horses and its chapter about Sweden. But the main actors has been using seemingly distant media platforms as a Centerparty regional newspaper owned by independent actors outside the bigger media conglomerates, an anti austerity blog, a Green party member blog, an anti-Assad left wing newspaper and a pro-Syrian blog and members of Activists for peace on their English blog and Swedish social media as well as Synapze, an independent left wing net journal. Members of Friends of the Earth together with peace activists protests jointly with members of the Green party. It is rank and file members of political parties acting while the party leaders keep and while popular movements takes the lead not only addressing UK and US influence operations but also actors as EU disinfo and NATO:s Stratcom challenging all main institutions attacking independent peace voices under the disguise of acting against Russian disinformation. 

The situation in Sweden

This may seem as being too ambitious. But the movement in Sweden opposing Western policy in Ukraine and generally towards Russia in spite of being very small compared to countries like UK or Germany have gathered some experience and has no help nor can be hindered by any political parties. Without knowing it the peace movement opposing Swedish Ukrainian policy was confronted by the Integrity Initiative already in 2017 if one should believe the leaked list of cluster leaders. According to the leaked documents the cluster leader in Sweden was Martin Kragh, the most prestigious academic and think tank expert in the country. He launched this year a major offensive against interlocutors of the Russian narrative. The offensive is so far not mentioned in leaked documents only Martin Kragh. The offensive was carried out according to the methods proposed by the British influence operation. It was a great failure producing some 100 mainly critical articles and poddcasts, probably the most scrutinized in almost every detail of all operations carried out as a cooperation by a group of journalists, researchers and other during a long time with the words of Kragh himself and as the Integrity Initiative sees as ideal, the only problem being that it failed. 

Thus the debate on the new information about the UK and US influence operations in Sweden is only in its early stage. To silence it will not be as easy, especially as the the connection between peace and environmental movement in Sweden is well connected internationally to other popular movements both in Norway and other Nordic countries but also to many cooperation partners in all pats of Europe as well as in the wider world.

Thus the combination of the Norwegian and Swedish example may point at new possibilities to address the challenge not only Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council pose to popular movements but also similar institutions as EU:s East Stratcom and NATO:s Stratcom. This by following the content rather than the money. In this way creating alliances based on issues and material interests empowering movements by showing the weakness of the arguments whether put forward by these internationally active projects or any other actor. Making the political argumentations the main issue rather than putting the main effort into exposing how states tries to manipulate might give governments or their paid NGOs more attention than they deserve. At least in countries like Norway and Sweden were domestic actors has by themselves contributed to the attacks against peace voices. But maybe more important in countries like the UK were projects like Independent Initiative might be involved in actions of international wider consequences. 

Tord Björk
Member of Activists for peace and Friends of the Earth Sweden

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