Hacked computer code

Scottish charity at centre of ‘propaganda’ row probed by regulator

A Scottish charity that has received more than £2 million from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is being investigated by the charity regulator after it was hacked and stolen documents published online.

The Institute for Statecraft, leads a project called the Integrity Initiative. Those behind the Integrity Initiative claim it is a non-partisan project which “defends democracy against disinformation.”

The charity, which has a registered address at Gateside Mill in Auctermuchty, Fife, has been thrust into the limelight after its computer systems were infiltrated by people claiming to be members of the “Anonymous” hacker group.

The hackers have published stolen documents from the charity online in a series of batches. They purport to include details of funding proposals to the government, meeting minutes, and the names of key people involved in the project.

According to the Integrity Initiative website, it has been unable to verify whether all the published documents are genuine, but it accepted “much of the material was indeed on the Integrity Initiative or Institute systems.”

The leaked documents have been heavily promoted by Russian state-controlled media, which claimed that the documents are themselves evidence of a UK-backed “disinformation campaign” targeting foreign countries.

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Responses to written parliamentary questions have confirmed that the charity received £296,500 from the FCO to fund the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative in financial year 2017/18. This financial year, the FCO is funding the project with a further £1,961,000.

A further parliamentary question revealed that the army had made a single payment of £6,800 to the Institute for Statecraft for “specialist training” in 2017.

More recently, the Sunday Mail found that the Integrity Initiative twitter account had tweeted critical comments of UK politicians often over their stance on Russia. This sparked further claims from parliamentarians that the project was using state resources “to disseminate articles attacking the integrity of conservative and labour officials, of conservative peers and, repeatedly, of the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.”

Responding to the allegations, FCO minister Alan Duncan MP put the tweets about UK politicians down to the charity automatically tweeting Russian-related stories.

He said: “Within the UK, the charity does some automatic retweeting of stories that relate to Russia. Of course, on some occasions that includes mentions of the right hon. leader of the opposition; equally, there could be mention of a conservative, as indeed has happened on many occasions. It has been judged to be no more than non-partisan repetition of stories that relate to Russia.”

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), which normally does not comment on ongoing investigations, confirmed on 13 December that it was investigating the charity, although the scope of the investigation is not clear.

A spokesperson told The Ferret: “We can confirm OSCR has opened an inquiry into the charity The Institute for Statecraft (SC040870). As such it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”

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