Saturday, 4 April 2020

Putin's Patsy?

Well done to Stewart McDonald, the SNP MP for Glasgow South, who has spoken out against Russian state-backed broadcasters who use crude propaganda and disinformation to undermine liberal democracies in the west.

If you ask me, Russia Today presenters like Alex Salmond are just 'useful idiots' and should be ashamed of themselves for working with this Kremlin controlled TV channel.

Russia is infecting the planet with disinformation

By Stewart McDonald - The Times

Sherlock Holmes gifted us no end of wisdom. A favourite dose of mine comes from the book A Scandal in Bohemia : “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” The coronavirus pandemic has seen no end of this.

Conspiracy theories, fake news and disinformation are nothing new and have found breeding grounds aplenty as the internet tightens its relentless grip on daily life. Gone are the days when these were the preserve of curious subscription magazines and puce-faced men claiming that Gaddafi was responsible for the disappearance of Shergar.

The modern conspiracy theory is far more subtle. It comes not just from those in tinfoil hats, bashing keyboards about the latest deep state conspiracy, motivated by a need for clicks, subscribers and the cash that follows, but often from those you trust: friends and family who, in a miasma of panic, haven’t taken the time to verify information before passing it on. They are gullible, rather than manipulative.

We should learn from some recent examples. Remember Russia’s interference in the last US election? What sometimes started as community Facebook groups for football fans or gardening hobbyists was found to be a Russian state effort, via its notorious Internet Research Agency, to slowly build an audience ripe for manipulation.

And so it is with some outlets that present themselves as legitimate news sources, such as Sputnik and RT — described by Putin’s former economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, as “the best Russian propaganda machine targeted at the outside world”. They do so by sharing news content that you can easily find elsewhere, along with talk shows and columnists you that won’t, but all with the aim of building a false relationship of trust.

These outlets care little about the impact of their actions on public health. They exist within a greater state architecture to legitimise and proselytise for the oppressive government in Moscow. Don’t be taken in by it.

We cannot allow the information space to be weaponised as an attack surface against our fellow citizens. We need an international coalition to defeat the virus of disinformation.

Stewart McDonald is the SNP spokesman for defence and a member of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee

Coronavirus: Russian fake news ‘is threat to public health’

Putin's Patsy vs Putin's Puppet (17/11/17)

Iain MacWhirter rides to Alex Salmond's rescue in this piece for The Herald with the assertion that the former First Minister is no 'puppet' of President Putin.

Well, yes, but no one ever claimed that Wee Eck was taking orders or instructions directly from the Kremlin.

The point is that Salmond is more of a 'patsy' than a puppet; his value lies in giving credibility to a propaganda TV channel and rogue Mafia-state where journalists and critics are regularly harassed, murdered even, by the forces of the state.

The fate of Alexander Litvinenko is a good example.   

Most of Russia Today's output has little to do with events in Russia itself since the channel is preoccupied with attacking the west, notwithstanding Putin's attempts to cosy up to Donald Trump.

So giving Alex Salmond editorial control of a half hour chat show is a small price to pay for his propaganda value to the wider RT network and its worldwide output. 

Which is why I'm happy to agree that while Alex is no puppet of Putin - he definitely fits the bill of a 'Putin Patsy'.

Iain Macwhirter: Salmond’s decision is foolish, but that does not make him a Putin puppet

BY Iain Macwhirter - The Herald

Russian President Vladimir Putin

SHE knows what you’re up to Vladimir, so you’d better clean up your campaign of media disinformation double quick. I’m sure the Russian President is shaking in his jodhpurs at Theresa May’s warning in her Guild Hall speech, which sounded a bit like a head teacher giving S4 a lecture on cheating in exams.

There’s no evidence that the Fancy Bears or other Russian-based hackers have been at work in UK elections, as they have apparently in the US, spreading fake news and Trump memes. But the Prime Minister said that Mr Putin is “seeking to weaponise information” directed at Britain, “by deploying its state-run media organisations”. She presumably means the Edinburgh-based Sputnik news agency and Russia Today, the English-language TV news channel, which in 2014 had around 100,000 UK viewers, and which is about to host a programme presented by our own Alex Salmond.

The implication is that Scotland is being used as an ideological beach head in the Kremlin’s information war. Scottish politicians from Ruth Davidson to Patrick Harvie have been hastily distancing themselves from RT and Sputnik, for which they have given interviews in the past. They don’t want to be collateral damage. But the former First Minister is made of sterner stuff and insists he is not peddling a Kremlin line. So where does Russia Today come from?

Sturgeon vs Salmond 'Stushie" (15/11/17)

Here's the official statement from Scotland's First Minister responding to the news that Alex Salmond had secured a lucrative contract to present a chat show on Kremlin controlled Russia TV.   


A Big Boy Did It...... (14/11/17)

'A big boy did it and ran away', seems to be the underlying message from the former justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, who tells The Herald that had Westminster offered Alex Salmond a big international job, he may well not have hitched his wagon to the Kremlin controlled TV channel, Russia Today.

Sounds more than a tad ridiculous, if you ask me.

MasAskill blames UK Government for Salmond's Russia show

By Tom Gordon - The Herald
Alex Salmond on RT

A FORMER Scottish cabinet secretary has blamed the British Government for Alex Salmond’s decision to join a pro-Kremlin TV channel.

Kenneth MacAskill said the UK should have found the former First Minister a job on the “international stage”, rather than let him waste his talents on a “Russian propaganda” outlet.

The former Justice Secretary said there were “more than enough international agencies with whom the UK has sufficient leverage to have obtained a senior position”.

Double Standards and State Violence (13/11/17)

State violence by the Guardia Civil in Catalonia sparked widespread condemnation during the recent referendum on independence, and rightly so.

Even people who boycotted the referendum were shocked at the unnecessary use of force by this state controlled Spanish police force.   

Yet in the current controversy surrounding the broadcaster Russia Today, the most extreme form of violence from President Putin's Russian state - the cold-blooded murder of Alexander Litvinenko - is being quietly brushed under the carpet.

No wonder Alex Salmond's latest career move is causing such a stir.


Kremlin TV (12/11/17)

Here's an opinion piece for Kremlin TV on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a high profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Now a judge-led public inquiry concluded that the Russian state was behind the poisoning of Litvinenko with radioactive polonium, yet Kremlin TV insists this was all down to anti-Putin propaganda.

No wonder Alex Salmond's latest career move is causing such a stir.

Alexander Litvinenko: Just another pawn in their game

John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1

Alexander Litvinenko © Vasily Djachkov / Reuters

The sight of retired British judge, Sir Robert Owen, shuffling from a dark ante room into an international press conference in London to pronounce that Vladimir Putin ‘probably approved’ the murder of Alexander Litvinenko was pure comedy gold.

It was also a travesty of justice, given the seriousness of the crime and the implications of yet another barrage of anti-Russian and anti-Putin propaganda it has unleashed across the Western media. Yet further proof that for Western ideologues Russia under Putin’s leadership can never be forgiven for refusing to stay on its knees after the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Britain had more motivation to kill Aleksandr Litvinenko than Russia, brother claims

Mr Litvinenko was an agent with Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB, prior to transferring his loyalties to Britain’s MI6 in London in return for a fee. This is not to say that his murder was anything other than despicable or heinous - or that those responsible should not be brought to justice. It does, however, help to place the crime in its proper context. In the murky world of intelligence agencies and spies bad things happen. Mr Litvinenko was in about as deep as it gets and had to know there were people out there with an interest in ending his career. Whether some of those people were working for the Russian government remains a matter of conjecture - and now more than ever as a result of Sir Robert Owen’s findings and the deeply flawed legal process that preceded them.
A history of unexplained acts

The British legal and political establishment has form when it comes to ‘flawed’ official inquiries, cover-ups, and farcical legal proceedings. Among the most questionable of those concerns the unseemly suicide of Dr David Kelly in 2003. Kelly, a biological and chemical weapons expert with ties to British intelligence, found himself embroiled in controversy when he was revealed as the source of British journalist Andrew Gilligan’s explosive expose of the ‘sexed up’ dossier on WMD in Iraq, which the Blair government had instructed its Joint Intelligence Committee to draw up as part of its argument for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Kelly revealed to Gilligan, then working at the BBC, that the dossier’s findings had been purposely exaggerated to suit a particular agenda – i.e. in favor of war – and was therefore tainted. This specifically relates to the claim in the dossier that Iraq would be able to prepare and launch a chemical weapons strike against the UK within 45 minutes. It was an assertion Kelly claimed had been added by the government to the dossier, rather than the product of the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee. In other words it was a fabrication.

When the story broke, Blair’s press secretary, Alastair Campbell - who was directly responsible for overseeing the dossier, as well as the man accused of adding the ’45 minutes’ claim to the final draft that was read out in the Commons by Blair prior to the vote on Britain’s participation in the war - went on the offensive, demanding to know the identity of Gilligan’s anonymous source inside the intelligence community.

Dr Kelly’s identify was subsequently revealed, leading to him being questioned by the police and hauled before a House of Commons Select Committee to be grilled by assorted MPs live on national television. A day later, after leaving his home to go for his regular walk in the countryside, he was found dead, reported to have opened up one of his wrists with a pocketknife and taken an overdose of painkillers.

The ensuing Hutton Inquiry into Dr David Kelly’s treatment and death was itself shrouded in controversy, concluding that there was nothing suspicious about the doctor’s death, or his treatment leading up to it, and that he did in fact take his own life. As with the Litvinenko Inquiry, the Hutton Inquiry’s proceedings were conducted in secret with its findings tantamount to a whitewash according to various experts and those who were close to the story, most notably various medical experts skeptical about the official cause of death.

Among them were the paramedics who found Kelly’s body and claimed that the official cause of death was not consistent with the amount of blood found at the scene. No matter, as per the Hutton Inquiry and a medical inquest afterwards, the case remains closed with the evidence involved in the case locked away in a government vault somewhere and marked off limits for the next 70 years.

The murky and inherently dirty world of intelligence

The point in relaying this event in such detail is not to deflect from the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. It is to understand the murky world of intelligence and how a British establishment that likes to present itself as clean and unimpeachable is up to its neck in subterfuge and a record of dodgy legal proceedings that have consistently failed to satisfy the ends of justice.

The murders of human rights lawyers Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson in 1989 and 1999, respectively, by loyalists during conflict in the North of Ireland have always carried the strong suspicion of British collusion about them, which subsequent inquests and investigations have failed to dampen. Meanwhile, the official cause of death concerning MI6 operative, Gareth Williams, in 2010 is so outlandish you wouldn’t find it in the pages of a bad spy novel.

Williams’ body was found in an MI6 safe house in London. His remains were in ‘advanced state of decay’ when they were found inside a duffel bag padlocked on the outside. Yet to this day we are still expected to believe there were no suspicious circumstances involved, that Williams somehow padlocked himself into the bag and took his own life as part of some lurid sexual activity posited by various media sources, much to the distress of his family.
Just another pawn in their game

Returning to Mr Litvinenko, the extent to which the British media has acted as an unquestioning echo chamber for Sir Robert Owen’s assertion that Putin ‘probably approved’ of Litvinenko’s murder has been staggering. It merely adds to the long list of crimes that the Russian President is alleged to have been responsible for over the past few years.

Litvinenko Inquiry: ‘Probably’ is not evidence

Indeed, if his depiction in the West is to be believed, Putin makes Don Corleone look like a petty bag snatcher by comparison, with Russia under his watch guilty of everything up to and including climate change, you could be forgiven for thinking.

It is silly and reckless, redolent of the Cold War mindset which remains entrenched among men and women for whom the only relationship Britain and the West can ever enjoy with the most populous country in Europe is either as a deadly foe or a vanquished one.

Alexander Litvinenko was just another pawn in their game.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Is Wee Eck's ego out of control? (11/11/17)

Is Wee Eck's ego out of control, is Alex Salmond bigger than the SNP, is Russia Today a Kremlin mouthpiece, is Donald Trump a dangerous narcissist?


Kremlin Mouthpiece (10/11/17)

Alex Salmond hits a new low with the news that Scotland's former First Minister is to host a 'chat show' on the Kremlin-backed TV channel Russia Today.

Russia's interference in America's presidential election has managed to destabilise the west and the EU through the election of the volatile narcissist Donald Trump, and the same thing may have happened over the Brexit vote as well.

Is Wee Eck's ego completely out of control - is Alex Salmond 'bigger' than his party, the SNP? 

I think we're about to find out.


Russian Comedy Act (14/10/17)

'Kukly' was a highly popular Russian TV programme, allegedly inspired by Spitting Image, which poked fun at the country's political establishment, like all good satire does, but the host station (NTV) was forced to close down in 2002 after pressure from President Putin and the Kremlin

David Aaronovitch uses his regular column in The Times to explain why this is not funny and why Russia's subversion really matters in western democracies.

Russia is laughing at the subversion of the West

By David Aaronovitch - The Times

Actor Keith Allen is bringing satire to the Putin-backed RT channel but he should ask himself why it really wants him

I must have met Reuben Falber around the time that he last took money from the Soviets. From 1958 to 1978, every few months, the rather unassuming man with the thick spectacles who was the assistant general secretary of the British Communist Party would brush up against someone from the Russian embassy outside Barons Court Tube station or on Hampstead Heath, and come away heavier to the tune of one envelope full of used banknotes. Only three people in the Communist Party knew about it. When the news came out after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was some consternation. My dad, who had worked as a full-time party official for 20 years, was genuinely astonished.

You wouldn’t do it that way now. The old propaganda methods all belong to the past: leaflets from planes, front organisations putting out your line, crude cartoons in lurid pamphlets, subsidised but obvious fellow travellers. These days you would use the weight of your western opponents against them. You would ask yourself what their anxieties and vulnerabilities were, and seek to exaggerate and exploit them. Disruption and disorientation are easier to invoke than acceptance of a party line coming from Moscow.

This thought came about partly because of the report we carried this week about how the actor Keith Allen is to host a hard-hitting new satire series on the RT TV channel. This follows a summer in which a double-decker bus manned by Allen and others and sponsored by RT travelled to five cities in the UK to discover new satirical talent, whose first quality, according to Allen, was that it should be “angry”.

Working with Allen will be the film-maker Victor Lewis-Smith, who said that “the first question Keith Allen and I asked is ‘Can we satirise Putin and Russia? Because if not, we’re out of the office now’.”

Lewis-Smith and Allen have teamed up to make angry art before. Their 2011 documentary Unlawful Killing, which was shown during the Cannes film festival that year, claimed that the Princess of Wales was murdered and that there had been an establishment cover-up.

The film, which was not shown in Britain because lawyers insisted on 87 cuts for legal reasons, was financed to the tune of £2.5 million by Mohamed Al-Fayed. It featured the pop psychologist Oliver James asserting that the Duke of Edinburgh was a psychopath, a “more-to-it-than-meets-the-eye” cameo of stunning vacuity from Piers Morgan and testimony from a supposed close friend of Diana’s, the “alternative healer” Simone Simmons. It’s instructive to note that earlier this year Simmons reprised her role by revealing that the late princess was still regularly speaking to her and had advised a vote to leave the EU. It was a stupid film made, I believe, by a sincere man.

Keith Allen took an RT-sponsored bus on a talent search in the summer - SOUTH WEST NEWS SERVICE

Allen is a believer in establishment and media cover-ups. He has a tattoo on his shoulder of Rinka, the Great Dane shot in lieu of Jeremy Thorpe’s blackmailer, Norman Scott back in 1975. When asked why he was working with RT on the satire tour, Allen told an interviewer from the channel: “I’ll give you two words, Jonathan Pie. RT was the only place that would give him a platform and we would like to think that RT is the only place that will give us a platform.”

Jonathan Pie is the name of a fictional British TV reporter played by actor Tom Walker. He is bitter, sweary and disillusioned, not least with the British media. An example of a riff shown on RT has Pie outside the Commons. He is furious with what he is being forced to say by his bosses. “In other news, Muslims are bad, China is bad, but not as bad as it used to be, and Russia is always bad . . .”

Get it? Now go on RT’s website. As of yesterday you’ll find a little jokey spoof poll. The question is “So what will meddling, cheating, bullying bad-boy Russia be accused of next?” The options include “starting the American opioid epidemic” and “existing”. Same message. Russia is being traduced by the establishment.

Pie no longer works with RT. Politically, like Allen, he celebrates the takeover of Labour and the vanquishing of the Blairites by Jeremy Corbyn. In that sense they are both a good fit for the channel’s British profile which features George Galloway’s talk show and which, as we reported yesterday, regularly puts some of the most hardline Corbynists, including shadow ministers, on its news sequences.

But the strategy of RT, which was set up by Vladimir Putin and is financed by the Kremlin, is not to intone the line of the Russian foreign ministry. It will do that, but only as a minor part of an eclectic mix of discussion and entertainment in which its friends and enemies and its positions are often implied or disguised. You don’t get two bars of Midnight in Moscow followed by an announcement from the Praesidium of the People’s Congress of Soviets concerning agricultural production.

You get stories about how the US is “falling apart at the racial seams”, about how Russia is taking on Isis, about how Ukraine is a fascist kleptocracy, about how it’s all lies that Syria uses chemical weapons, about how refugees are bringing crime and terrorism to European streets, about state surveillance in the West, about the brave Catalan independence fighters, about why ordinary Brits want Brexit, about how the West is mired in poverty, corruption and cover-up, about vote-rigging and how you can’t trust democracy. The enemy of RT is anything that assists or argues for western cohesion. Macron is the current bĂȘte noire, Merkel is not far behind. Obama was bad, Blair was worse and Hillary is the most despicable of all. Any renegade former agent or washed-up investigative journalist running an improbable theory gets on RT. If it disrupts, it’s in.

This, I stress, comes from the top. It’s not some kind of accident, an accretion of culture and media assumptions like our own outlets tend to be. When Facebook dug down into the Russian paid ads that went out in the run-up to the US presidential election they found that they supported every candidate who opposed Hillary: Bernie Sanders, the pro-Russian Green candidate Jill Stein, Donald Trump. And their tone was a consistent negative populism, of the “it’s all going to hell because of the elite” sort.

So good luck Keith. Especially with the promised anti-Vlad gags, which could get you in big trouble in Russia itself. But you should know that you wouldn’t be there unless someone had calculated that you were doing a job for them. Someone who may have started off their own career long ago, delivering money in brown envelopes.

Mother Russia (09/02/15)

Image result for mother russia + images

I was idly flicking the TV channels the other day when I stopped to watch a bit of Russia Today - an odd programme if you ask me, as it seems to be much more interested the the perceived faults of western societies while having little, if anything, to say about the many challenges facing Mother Russia.  

Anyway, the particular programme I stumbled across was about the changing nature of the urban environment in the UK and how city landscapes have been changing in response to  issues like terrorism.

According to the commentators on Russia Today, major towns and cities in the UK are much less welcoming that they were years ago - apparently many areas of land which were once 'public spaces' have been privatised by big business, in areas like Canary Wharf in London, for example.  

The programme also warned that UK citizens can all be tracked at will via our mobile phones as we go about our daily routine of work, rest and play - presumably by UK security services although the purpose all all this alleged monitoring was never explained.

Now having lived and worked in London during the 1980s, I immediately realised this was a load of old baloney - not least because Canary Wharf was not a lovely open public space like Hyde Park before it turned into the big commercial sector it is today. 

So, I thought to myself - "These people are talking nonsense!" - and on the screen at the time was a chap called Professor Stephen Graham who was burbling on about something or other which prompted me to 'Google' his name.

And here's what my Google search produced - a report from the BBC's web site from March 2013 which made me laugh my head off, as it confirmed all my suspicions about the kind of people who appear on these Russia Today programmes. 

"Dissociative state" indeed - that's just a fancy way of saying the man was completely drunk, off his head and out of control because why else would he be vandalising other people's property dressed in just his suit jacket and underpants?

I'll bet the neighbours felt terrorised and wished there was a bit more monitoring taking place of drunken vandals at loose in the streets of Jesmond, which I know well.

See post below from the blog site archive dated 14 December 2013. 

Newcastle professor Stephen Graham to pay for graffiti spree

A report by a forensic psychiatrist found the professor was in a "dissociative state"

Prof admits 'arbitrary' vandalism

A university professor has been ordered to pay £28,000 compensation for scratching cars while dressed in his underpants and a suit jacket.

Stephen Graham, 48, from Jesmond, Newcastle, admitted four counts of criminal damage in January.

He was given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for a year at Newcastle Crown Court.

Graham scratched the words "very silly", "really wrong" and "arbitrary" on 27 cars in Jesmond in August 2011.

'Detached from reality'

Graham, who is based at Newcastle University's school of architecture, planning and landscape, had drunk alcohol mixed with medication before he caused £28,000 of damage to cars including a Mercedes, an Audi, a Volvo and a Mitsubishi.

The cars were damaged while parked on Northumberland Gardens in Jesmond

The spree took place in Northumberland Gardens, a few streets away from where Graham lived in Lansdowne Gardens.

A report by a forensic psychiatrist, Don Grubin, for the defence, found the professor was in a "dissociative state" when he scratched the cars, and was "detached from reality".

Judge Guy Whitburn accepted his behaviour was totally out of character but said the compensation - effectively the professor and his wife's life savings - must be paid in full.

He added he hoped Mr Graham would be able to resume his career.

Julian Smith, mitigating, said his client was not merely drunk, and he showed no signs of aggression when arrested, but had a bad reaction to the medication and alcohol.

A spokesperson for Newcastle University said: "We will be considering the matter through normal university procedures. We are unable to comment further on an individual employee."

Russia Today (14/12/13)

I've taken to watching a new news channel recently - Russia Today - which as far as I can tell seems to consist of lots of people (presenters and contributors) who admire Russia greatly - while harbouring an intense dislike of the west.

Whenever Russia today covers some remotely controversial subject, a disaffected flunkey gets wheeled out to make an unflattering comparison between Nato countries like Britain or America - and good old mother Russia. 

During an industrial dispute or strike in Britain, for example, it is normal for some left wing politico, often an academic or swivel-eyed Trotskyist, to be wheeled out to tell the viewers that their country is going to hell in a handcart.

Because the Government is useless and politically corrupt - whereas we seldom see or hear very much about life under President Putin and his friends - for example, the recent barbaric treatment of Greenpeace activists.

Anyway I dearly wish that I had watched Russia Today during the great Grangemouth debacle involving the Unite trade union, its unimpressive leader Len McCluskey and the Labour Party selection contest in nearby Falkirk - which became bogged down in allegations of vote-rigging. 

Now that would have made great viewing I'm sure, for unintended comic reasons if nothing else, but my mind was on other things, I'm sad to say.

Yet every time I watch the programme, I ask myself the same question:

Do the people who control the editorial content of Russia Today understand that a similar programme could never be made in President Putin's Russia?  

If they do, then at least we can all sleep soundly in our beds - safe in the knowledge that, whatever else, irony is not dead.