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Paul Mason’s covert intelligence-linked plot to destroy The Grayzone exposed

Originally published: The Grayzone on June 7, 2022 by Kit Klarenberg and Max Blumenthal (more by The Grayzone)  |

A former Trotskyist and BBC journeyman, journalist Paul Mason has made a career as the establishment’s favorite gatekeeper of the UK left. Since the Russian military incursion into Ukraine, he has cemented his position as one of Britain’s most vocal “left” cheerleaders for Western military intervention.

While leading a “U.K. left” delegation to Kiev and a demonstrationthrough to streets of London in support of NATO military escalation against Russia, Mason has accordingly used his platform to assail journalists, academics, Labour party members and private citizens who oppose shipping piles of advanced weaponry to Ukraine.

In a series of recent columns, Mason called for the state-enforced suppression of facts and perspectives he considers overly sympathetic to the Kremlin, and demanded “state action” against members of the media that oppose the NATO line on Ukraine. He placed The Grayzone at the top of his fantasy censorship target list.

Mason has since announced a run for parliament on the Labour ticket to wage his crusade against “disinformation” from inside the House of Commons.

The Grayzone, meanwhile, has learned through anonymously leaked emails and documents that Mason has been engaged in a malicious secret campaign that aims to enlist the British state and “friendly” intelligence cut-outs to undermine, censor and even criminalize antiwar dissenters.

In one leaked email, Mason thundered for the “relentless deplatforming” of The Grayzone and the creation of “a kind of permanent rebuttal operation” to discredit it.

In another, the celebrity journalist declared that “the far left rogue academics is who I’m after,” then rants that he is motivated by fear of an emergent “left anti imperialist identity” which “will be attractive because liberalism doesn’t know how to counter it.”

Mason is joined in his covert crusade by Amil Khan, the founder of a shadowy intelligence contractor called Valent Projects. In the cache of leaked emails, Khan proposed to Mason the initiation of a “clever John Oliver style stunt that makes [The Grayzone] a laughing stock,” as well as a “full nuclear legal to squeeze them financially.”

The Grayzone has previously revealed Khan’s extensive involvement in the Syrian dirty war, during which he provided public relations guidance to jihadist groups, trained anti-government activists in communication strategies, and secretly oversaw supposed citizen journalist collectives backed by foreign governments. His goal was to flood international media with pro-opposition propaganda, destabilize the government of Bashar Assad, and ready the ground for Western regime change.

This ethically dubious work was conducted for a variety of intelligence-adjacent British Foreign Office contractors, such as ARK, a firm founded by probable MI6 operative Alistair Harris, and IncoStrat, which has been plausibly accused of producing propaganda for the blood-stained UK and Saudi-backed insurgents.

After leaving the Middle East, Khan reinvented himself as an expert in countering “disinformation”, and has since charged a number of blue chip clients a premium for his dubious services. As this outlet reported, the same techniques of manipulation and information warfare that Khan honed in Syria were turned against Western citizens when he oversaw a British quasi-state funded astroturf YouTube project designed to counter public skepticism of Covid-related restrictions.

Khan’s email communications with Mason illustrate the grudge he has harbored since The Grayzone exposed his devious exploits. In the missives, he descends into self-delusion, insisting this outlet’s factual, objective reporting was, in fact, state-sponsored retaliation for his crusading work “opposing military dictators and kleptocrats.”

Together, Khan and Mason plotted to assemble a coalition of anti-Grayzone actors, including the U.S. and UK government-funded “open source” outlet Bellingcat, which Mason revealingly described as a channel for “intel service input by proxy.” Khan proposed convening the de facto Victims of Grayzone Memorial Foundation at an in-person summit to “come up with a plan that addresses [The Grayzone’s] objectives and vulnerabilities.”

At one point, he even reached out across the Atlantic for advice from Nina Jankowicz, the disgraced former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board.

It is uncertain how Mason and Khan became acquainted, but their mutual coincidence of needs, motives and vendettas is obvious. The public interest in releasing the pair’s private communications is also abundantly clear. If their planned criminalization of The Grayzone for publishing facts and opinions they abhor is successful, it will have dire ramifications for any and all journalists and independent media institutions seeking to challenge the status quo.

When approached by The Grayzone, Paul Mason declined to comment on the incriminating correspondence with Khan, and claimed to have informed local police that “an attempt was made” to hack his email account. While dismissing the leaked content as “likely to be edited, distorted or fake,” he went on to pledge he would “not cease to identify and rebut Russian disinformation operations masquerading as journalism.”

In other words, Mason implied he plans to carry on with the very activity exposed in the leaked emails.

Khan and Mason collude to form anti-Grayzone coalition and shatter Corbynite left

On April 30 this year, Paul Mason emailed Amil Khan, making clear he was “keen to help” de-platform The Grayzone.

He attached a bizarrely constructed “dynamic map of the ‘left’ pro-Putin infosphere” that resembled a spider’s web, with a mess of arrows linking the names of members of parliament, media outlets, activists, causes, and British minority communities.

The barely coherent, racially-tinged chart connected the Russian government, Russian state broadcaster RT, the People’s Republic of China, and Beijing-based tech millionaire-financier Roy Singham to the “Muslim Community,” “Young Networked Left” and “Black Community” through a series of leftist outfits and UK Labour figures. No evidence was provided to support Mason’s linkages.

At the center of Mason’s chart (see below) is Jeremy Corbyn. When Corbyn served as Labour leader, Mason plotted against him in private while simultaneously posing as one of his most ardent public supporters. He also sought to influence Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in a pro-war direction.

The implication behind Mason’s Nixonian enemies chart was clear: Russia and China have weaponized the British left to corrupt key Labour constituencies–therefore the left must be neutralized.

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Mason suggested to Khan that he enlist the help of “pro traffic analysts to map” how these “different echo chambers interact, where their material begins–and work out who might [emphasis added] be pulling the strings.”

He nonetheless seemed certain about the dark forces animating The Grayzone, bombastically charging that its “attacks” on Khan and others are “fed by Russian and Chinese intel,” including hacking, “electronic warfare” and human intelligence.

Mason compared this process to Bellingcat receiving “a steady stream of intel from Western agencies.” The U.S. and UK government-funded outlet Bellingcat has frequently been accused of laundering CIA and MI6 dirt, a charge which the operatives behind it aggressively repudiate. However, Khan–a long-time advocate and associate of the outlet–did not once challenge Mason’s repeated characterization of the supposed citizen journalist collective as a clearing house for friendly spy agencies.

Underlining the sensitivity of the pair’s malicious plans for The Grayzone, Mason stressed the need for their work to be conducted via “white label organisations operating with firm infosec–Signal/ProtonMail, clean phones.”

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Khan was clearly amenable to his suggestions. Five days later, he outlined two options for taking down The Grayzone: “some sort of clever John Oliver style stunt that makes them a laughing stock”–referencing a sting operation targeting academic Paul McKeigue conducted by the dubious, intelligence-linked Commission for International Justice and Accountability back in 2021–“or full nuclear legal to squeeze them financially.”

Mason was enthused by the latter prospect, submitting that it should be “combined with relentless deplatforming,” including cutting off The Grayzone from donation sources such as PayPal, in the manner ofConsortium News and MintPress, and setting up “a kind of permanent rebuttal operation.”

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Khan agreed, proposing the pair “get a few people together who are looking at/been target [sic] by this together and do a centre of gravity analysis,” pooling “what we’ve all learnt about how they operate” in order to “come up with a plan that addresses their objectives and vulnerabilities, not just their arguments.”

Mason responded by launching into a conspiratorial aside asserting that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) post-February 16, 2022 reports showing a dramatic Ukrainian military escalation against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region represented “manipulated facts.”

He then proposed “creating a dynamic reference catalogue debunking all [The Grayzone’s] allegetions[sic] and ‘facts,’” pitching the initiative as an alternative to direct engagement or “toe to toe” debate.

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“Keen” to move on the project, Mason suggested several information warriors to join them; Emma Briant, an academic researching disinformation; Chloe Hadjimatheou, the British intelligence-linked BBC journalist who produced a multi-part podcast series smearing critics of the NATO-backed Syrian White Helmets organization as Kremlin stooges and fascists; and Bellingcat, which he said could provide “intel service input by proxy.”

Khan said he was “happy” to host a secret meeting of these individuals at Valent Projects’ London offices.

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After Mason proposed inviting a representative of the UK Foreign Office to the anti-Grayzone meet and greet, the Valent Projects chief reached out to a friend at the National Security Council’s Communications Directorate, a Whitehall unit “tasked with hybrid threats.”

His Directorate source said the British government would be averse to sending a representative to the gathering, “as it could jeopardise outcomes later.” Nonetheless, they advocated convening people “targeted” by The Grayzone, to collate evidence that could be submitted to OFCOM, Britain’s communications regulator, and/or Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the name of both a government department and parliamentary committee, “as part of a formal complaint.”

They imagined that this process could somehow trigger an investigation into The Grayzone’s “funding and activities,” leading the government to “get properly involved.”

Khan added that his pal suggested also approaching Thomson Reuters Foundation and BBC Media Action for the initiative.The Grayzone has previously exposed these media charities as having participated in covert British state-funded efforts to “weaken the Russian state’s influence.”

Khan said he would also be in touch with the Foreign Office’s newly-founded psychological warfare unit, the Government Information Cell.

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Mason’s reaction was mixed. While hailing the prospect of triggering an official government investigation into The Grayzone as “a good idea,” he seemed crestfallen the plan did not include securing material from British intelligence on who funds the site, and “what their ultimate deliverables are on behalf of the ppl [people] their work benefits.”

“An investigation into them would lead to what? Deplatforming? Anyway that’s progress,” he concluded.

Khan reassured Mason that OFCOM and DCMS could task “other bits of government to get that intel; and the findings will automatically enter the system”–meaning The Grayzone and its contributors could end up slapped with “Russian state affiliated media” labels on social media, leading to algorithmic discrimination and potential shadow banning, among other penalties.

“I think/hope there’s potential to go further [emphasis added]. It’s too easy for them to flip deplatforming with ‘the system is scared of us’. We need to look at their influence/legitimacy with audiences,” Khan stated.

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Yet Khan is likely to be extremely disappointed if he and Mason follow through on their dream of submitting formal complaints about The Grayzone to OFCOM and/or DCMS.

For one, OFCOM’s remit extends to domestic broadcast media, such as TV, radio, and streaming platforms. In other words, it does not and cannot scrutinize or sanction online content, let alone that of U.S. websites. On the same grounds, it is unclear what jurisdiction DCMS has to investigate The Grayzone. Further, no British government department, except perhaps for MI6, could possibly be tasked with unearthing damaging “intel” on this publication or its staff.

It is therefore stunning that veteran mainstream media pros like Mason and Khan were unaware of such an obvious, fatal flaw in their scheme. More importantly, The Grayzone does not and never will receive funding or direction of any kind from the Chinese or Russian governments, or any other foreign state or connected entity.

Khan and Mason plan pro-Ukraine propaganda shop backed by NATO states “through cutouts”

Mason and Khan’s brazen attempt to de-platform and financially cripple an independent media outlet on the slanderous, fictional pretext it is actually a hostile foreign information operation is especially perverse given that other leaked emails in The Grayzone’s possession reveal that Khan and Mason apparently plan to construct a hostile foreign information operation of their own.

Dubbed by Khan “International Information Brigade,” the proposed project would represent an astroturfed civil society organization which serves as “the major, forward leaning player in the information war.” While publicly operating as an NGO, the Brigade would be funded by Western states “through cutouts,” and closely intertwined with intelligence services.

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Mason responded that Khan’s plan for a state-backed propaganda operation presented as a grassroots civil society initiative was a “good idea,” and proposed “immediate translation of Kyiv independent stuff,” noting that “the European Young Socialists are doing this already and have raised funds.”

The Young European Socialists is a social democrat-oriented youth organization sponsored by the European Union. And the Kyiv Independent is a key propaganda organ of the Ukrainian government which has received financial support from the Canadian government and European Union.

Khan drafts invite to secret anti-Grayzone summit

Whether Khan and Mason’s bold plans for an anti-Grayzone summit have been put into action remains unclear. However, by May 12, Khan had drafted an invitation for prospective members to attend the initial brainstorming session. In his note, he conjured up a vast and fearsome nexus of “pro-Russian trolls” destroying anyone in the Kremlin’s way, at the center of which rests The Grayzone Death Star.

“We are getting in touch because, like us, you have also been targeted by a network of pro-Russian trolls…This network revolves around the outlet known as Grayzone and includes a dozen or so individuals who use online intimidation, bullying and harassment to promote pro-Kremlin talking points,” Khan wrote. “Social media platforms and governments have identified the [sic] RT, Sputnik etc as Russian state affiliated outlets and taken action accordingly. Grayzone, however has avoided scrutiny.”

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Mason suggested a minor amendment to “avoid libel risk”: revising the passage referring to The Grayzone as “in fact an information operation of a dictatorship.” He felt this should be softened to The Grayzone “present themselves as journalists when their modus operandi looks more like [an] information operation–whether voluntary or co-ordinated–of a dictatorship.”

Khan agreed to the alteration and proposed more summit guests. They included the BBC’s “first specialist disinformation and social media reporter,” Marianna Spring, who recently smeared several British academics for scrutinizing Western claims relating to the NATO proxy war in Ukraine. He also suggested including former BBC and Jewish Chronicle editor Martin Bright, who he said may be “heading up a group looking at the legal side of this sort of thing.”

For further participants in the anti-Grayzone summit, Khan referred Mason to Paul Hilder, the Ted Talk-ing, Labourite co-founder of the National Endowment for Democracy-funded OpenDemocracy.net and Avaaz, which has lobbied for NATO military interventions in both Libya and Syria.

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Consulting Nina Jankowicz on paranoid scheme against Consortium News

On April 8, Mason emailed Khan to express alarm about a piece in Consortium News, the independent news platform founded by the late Robert Parry in 1995, questioning the Western narrative of the Bucha massacre. “Who’s behind Consortium News?”, the subject header read.

Khan responded that he had consulted Nina Jankowicz, former chief of the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board, who resigned her post in disgrace just three weeks after being appointed due to intense criticism of her professional history, bizarre behavior, and record of censorious statements.

According to Khan, Jankowicz saw Consortium News as a case of “useful idiots rather than funding,” presumably a reference to Kremlin financial support. Khan was by contrast “not so sure,” suggesting “the gap” in its output “between 2005 and 2011” was “of a lot of interest.”

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Joe Lauria, editor-in-chief of Consortium News, expressed bewilderment at the purported disinformation expert’s observations, and outrage at the defamatory implication that the site might be in receipt of illicit Russian funding.

“There was never any ‘gap’ in our publication,” Lauria told The Grayzone.

Our founder, Bob Parry, simply switched to WordPress in 2011 and transferred some of the most important articles from the old system. There were thousands of articles so he couldn’t possibly transfer all of them, it had to be done manually. The articles that weren’t transferred can be found on Wayback Machine.

Indeed, anyone perusing Consortium’s archive of “most important” past pieces can see that numerous articles from the period cited by Khan have been avowedly republished, with their original publication dates clearly stated. This raises the question of whether such conspiratorial thinking influenced PayPal’s decision to terminate Consortium’s account in May 2022.

Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to infer Khan has been enmeshed in a wilderness of mirrors for so long as a psy-ops professional that he has lost his grip on reality, and has begun to project his own mephitic perspectives and malicious motives onto actually independent, alternative voices.

Similarly, Mason’s descent into paranoia about The Grayzone’s factual reporting may represent the terminal stage of a career that has taken him from the margins of Trotskyite activism to the molten core of the British establishment, still posing as an authentic radical to wage war on the UK left.

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions.

Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.