As most of our readers will not have access to this report in the Times, we reproduce it here for the information of all those concerned with human rights and the activities of pro-Assad/pro-Putin stooges in academe:
Edinburgh professor gave names to fake Russia spy
Dominic Kennedy, Investigations Editor, Friday March 26 2021, the Times
An academic has been caught in a sting giving a bogus Russian agent the names of individuals he claims are working for western intelligence.
Paul McKeigue, part of a group of professors who dispute that Russia and Syria committed chemical weapons attacks, was willing to put at risk a former soldier and journalists by naming them as suspected spies.
McKeigue, professor of genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics at the University of Edinburgh, is a prominent member of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, a collection of fringe intellectuals.
Paul McKeigue (above) named a former soldier and journalists as suspected spies
The sting was set up by the group’s latest target, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (Cija), which collects documentary evidence from Syria so that war criminals and torturers can be held legally responsible for atrocities.
Knowing that the academics were preparing to attack its work, Cija created an anonymous email account and contacted McKeigue last year asking to discuss Syria.
The professor spent three months corresponding with a fake informant who, over time, gave his name as Ivan and claimed to be working for the Russian government in a cell based in the Hague.
In their conversations, McKeigue:
• Gave the fake spy the name of a western European journalist working for a Kremlin-owned news channel whom he suspected of being an anti-Russian infiltrator;
• Claimed that Sergey Krutskikh, a first secretary at the Russian mission in Geneva, had been corresponding with Working Group members using an encrypted messaging system;
• Disclosed that he had been seeking to undermine the trial in Germany of two former Syrian officials prosecuted for torture offences; and
• Betrayed a confidential source, giving her identity and details of the information she had given him.
The professor also gave the bogus Russian agent the identities of people he suggested were working for western intelligence.
They included Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British Army officer and author of the memoir Chemical Warrior, who was falsely labelled by McKeigue as “an MI6 asset”.
Last night De Bretton-Gordon, the former commander of the UK Biological and Defence Regiment, who has helped doctors treating gas attacks in Syria, accused the academic of being willing to put his life in danger and called on police to investigate.
“This is treacherous activity,” he said.
McKeigue also referenced a London reporter he claimed had been working for MI6. He identified an author and a BBC producer, both of whom he said were involved in “staging” attacks in Syria to smear the Assad government, an ally of the Kremlin.
The academic also pointed to a London university department that he said had close links with British intelligence. He named a management consultant based in Britain who he thought might be a “spook”.
The Working Group’s most extreme public positions have included that the White Helmets humanitarian rescue group in the Syrian civil war massacred civilians so that they could film the bodies and falsely claim they had been gassed by Assad.
It also suggested that Russia was framed by the West over the poisoning in 2018 of Sergei Skripal, the Russian double agent who had been working with MI6, and his daughter in a nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The attack resulted in the death of Dawn Sturgess, 44, a British woman who came in contact with the substance.
Nerma Jelacic, Cija’s director for management and external relations, told The Times: “We wanted to test their allegiances and connections to governments. This is not some academic or scientific body, as they try to describe themselves. This is a group of ideologues seeking to misconstrue, twist and even make up facts in order to prove their preset theories. But we were surprised they were so willing to engage and so open to sharing information with what they convinced themselves was an agent of a foreign power.”
Challenged by The Times, McKeigue stood by most of his conduct. He defended naming some of the alleged agents because he believed or suspected his information was true. The rest was gossip or making a passing comment.
Asked whether he had tried to get private email addresses hacked, he said any information was welcome. He said that he had embellished his claims to “Ivan” to keep dialogue going with a source: “The views I expressed are not necessarily my real views. I kept an open mind throughout about who or what I was communicating with.”
He had been “seriously at fault” for identifying his source and had no evidence that a real Russian official communicated with group members, he said.
The University of Edinburgh said: “Freedom of expression within the law is central to the concept of a university. We recognise and uphold the fundamental importance of freedom of expression, and seek to foster a culture that enables it to take place within a framework of mutual respect.”
Toby Cadman, a London barrister specialising in international justice, said that McKeigue had “engaged with what he believed to be an agent of the Russian state for the purpose of undermining individuals and groups documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria”.
He added: “This is a matter that the UK law enforcement and prosecuting authorities will now need to look at.”
What Paul McKeigue told “Ivan”: extracts from the messages
January 7, 2021 Scientific colleagues of mine who have advocated managing the coronavirus epidemic by focused protection of the vulnerable rather than lockdowns have found (to their surprise) that they are subjected to vicious denigration in the media, just as our Working Group has been. I think people are now beginning to understand that the UK’s information warfare machine is directed against its own population.
January 20 The BBC producer . . . Does your office know anything about him? . . . It’s clear to us that he has been involved in staging incidents in Syria since 2013.
January 30 What we’re interested in finding out more about is who or what co-ordinates the network of journalists and other communicators that attacks us, and anyone else who expresses doubts about the official narrative on the Syrian conflict. This includes the BBC journalists I mentioned . . . I would guess that they are briefed via some team messaging app. Maybe your office can find out more.
Behind the story
WORKING GROUP ON SYRIA, PROPAGANDA AND MEDIA
The academic-led organisation produces papers disputing whether atrocities in Syria can be attributed to President Assad. It cast doubt on Russia’s responsibility for the Salisbury poisonings. Members include:
A professor of political sociology at Bristol University, he quit Labour last year after claiming that Sir Keir Starmer took “Zionist” money. He has been investigated by police for a possible hate crime over remarks allegedly made during his lectures and by the university over claims of antisemitism. His support campaign has said Zionist groups were known to make spurious police complaints to intimidate pro-Palestinian activists.
Above: Vanessa Beeley
The Syrian-based British blogger described meeting Assad in 2017 as part of a “US peace delegation” as her “proudest moment”. The daughter of the British diplomat and historian Sir Harold Beeley styles herself as an “investigative journalist”.
A former journalism professor at Sheffield University.
The professor of environmental political theory at Edinburgh has shared coronavirus conspiracies online.
THE GROUP THAT SET UP THE STING
Based in a secret location, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (Cija) has collected a million official documents smuggled out of Syria for use in court actions against the perpetrators of atrocities. Its paperwork helped bring the prosecution of two former Syrian officials in Germany for torture offences. One has been convicted, the other remains on trial. Relatives of the Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin, who was murdered in Syria in 2012, were able to present documents from Cija to a US court to make the case that she was targeted by Assad’s regime.
Cija uses a network of investigators on the ground. Evidence gathered by it and other organisations in Syria has pointed clearly to the deliberate targeting of civilians, hospitals and aid convoys by Russian and Syrian aircraft.
Cija was founded in 2012 by William Wiley, a criminal and humanitarian law practitioner who has worked for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and at the International Criminal Court.