Even private citizens were included in those secretly surveillanced by government merely for questioning the pandemic narrative.
Those who spoke out against lockdowns, passports and vaccines became targets of a UK Government surveillance group run by Army Intelligence according to the Mail on Sunday.
A shadowy Army unit secretly spied on British citizens who merely criticised Government policy on Covid lockdown, The Mail on Sunday revealed.
Military operatives in the UK's 'information warfare' unit (77th Brigade) were part of a sinister operation that targeted politicians, high-profile journalists and even private citizens for the 'crime' of raising doubts about the official pandemic response.
The Unit was originally set up to counter Russian disinformation, or at least that was the official line, but the unit has been used to spy on Britain's own citizens suspected of being Government opponents.
Documents obtained by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch exposed the work of Government cells such as the Counter Disinformation Unit, based in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office. But the most secretive is the MoD's 77th Brigade, which deploys 'non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of adversaries'.
Mail on Sunday report:
According to a whistleblower who worked for the brigade during the lockdowns, the unit strayed far beyond its remit of targeting foreign powers. They said that British citizens' social media accounts were scrutinised – a sinister activity that the Ministry of Defence, in public, repeatedly denied doing.
Papers show the outfits were tasked with countering 'disinformation' and 'harmful narratives... from purported experts', with civil servants and artificial intelligence deployed to 'scrape' social media for keywords such as 'ventilators' that would have been of interest.
The information was then used to orchestrate Government responses to criticisms of policies such as the stay-at-home order, when police were given power to issue fines and break up gatherings. It also allowed Ministers to push social media platforms to remove posts and promote Government-approved lines.
The Army whistleblower said:
'It is quite obvious that our activities resulted in the monitoring of the UK population... monitoring the social media posts of ordinary, scared people. These posts did not contain information that was untrue or co-ordinated – it was simply fear.'
Last night, former Cabinet Minister Mr Davis, a member of the Privy Council, said: 'It's outrageous that people questioning the Government's policies were subject to covert surveillance' – and questioned the waste of public money.
Mail on Sunday journalist Mr Hitchens was monitored after sharing an article, based on leaked NHS papers, which claimed data used to publicly justify lockdown was incomplete. An internal Rapid Response Unit email said Mr Hitchens wanted to 'further [an] anti-lockdown agenda and influence the Commons vote'. Writing today, Mr Hitchens questions if he was 'shadow-banned' over his criticisms, with his views effectively censored by being downgraded in search results.
Military operatives compiled dossiers on journalists including the Mail's Peter Hitchens
He says: 'The most astonishing thing about the great Covid panic was how many attacks the state managed to make on basic freedoms without anyone much even caring, let alone protesting.
Now is the time to demand a full and powerful investigation into the dark material Big Brother Watch has bravely uncovered.'
The whistleblower from 77 Brigade, which uses both regular and reserve troops, said: 'I developed the impression the Government were more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering any potential foreign interference, and I regret that I was a part of it. Frankly, the work I was doing should never have happened.'
The source also suggested that the Government was so focused on monitoring critics it may have missed genuine Chinese-led pro-lockdown campaigns.
Silkie Carlo, of Big Brother Watch, said: 'This is an alarming case of mission creep, where public money and military power have been misused to monitor academics, journalists, campaigners and MPs who criticised the Government, particularly during the pandemic.
'The fact that this political monitoring happened under the guise of 'countering misinformation' highlights how, without serious safeguards, the concept of 'wrong information' is open to abuse and has become a blank cheque the Government uses in an attempt to control narratives online.
'Contrary to their stated aims, these Government truth units are secretive and harmful to our democracy. The Counter Disinformation Unit should be suspended immediately and subject to a full investigation.' A Downing Street source last night said the units had scaled back their work significantly since the end of the lockdowns.
I was serving in the British Army in March 2020 when I was seconded to 77th Brigade, on the basis I would be helping root out foreign state misinformation on social media. We were told what was legally allowed – such as 'scraping' online platforms for keywords – and what was illegal. This included repeatedly looking at a named UK individual's account without authorisation, although some people would do that from their own accounts after their shift.
We would take screenshots of tweets from people expressing dissatisfaction with the UK Government's action against Covid. The project leader would then gather these screenshots and send them to the Cabinet Office. Feedback from the Cabinet Office would direct us over what to look for the next day.
To skirt the legal difficulties of a military unit monitoring domestic dissent, the view was that unless a profile explicitly stated their real name and nationality they could be a foreign agent and were fair game. But it is quite obvious that our activities resulted in the monitoring of the UK population… the social media posts of ordinary, scared people. These posts did not contain information that was untrue or co-ordinated – it was simply fear.
We learned from the feedback that the Government were very keen on hearing what the public thought of their Covid response. I entered this role believing I would be uncovering foreign information warfare. Instead, I found the banner of disinformation was a guise under which the British military was being deployed to monitor and flag our own concerned citizens. There may have actually been social media campaigns from China to promote lockdown policies but because we were directed to monitor sentiment towards the success of lockdown, we would have completely missed them. I had the impression the Government were more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering foreign interference, and I regret that I was a part of it.
Recently, I looked over my medals and thought of all I have done in my career – things I am proud of, in the defence of the people of this country – except my work on 'disinformation' in 77, which hangs over my career like a black cloud.
It was about domestic perception, not national security. Frankly, the work I was doing should never have happened. This domestic monitoring of citizens seemed not to be driven by a desire to address the public's concerns, but to identify levers for compliance with controversial Government policies.
I do not doubt that the activities I participated in were conceived for good reasons, but they were undemocratic, wrong, and should not be allowed to happen again.