Army spied on lockdown critics: Sceptics, including our own Peter Hitchens, long suspected they were under surveillance. Now we’ve obtained official records that prove they were right all along
- Military operatives were part of an operation that targeted politicians and high-profile journalists who raised doubts about the official pandemic response
- READ MORE: Critics slam £14.9bn of ‘extraordinary waste’ on overpriced, faulty or unused pandemic-era equipment
A shadowy Army unit secretly spied on British citizens who criticised the Government’s Covid lockdown policies, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Military operatives in the UK’s ‘information warfare’ brigade were part of a sinister operation that targeted politicians and high-profile journalists who raised doubts about the official pandemic response.
They compiled dossiers on public figures such as ex-Minister David Davis, who questioned the modelling behind alarming death toll predictions, as well as journalists such as Peter Hitchens and Toby Young. Their dissenting views were then reported back to No 10.
Documents obtained by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, and shared exclusively with this newspaper, 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.
Military operatives in the UK’s ‘information warfare’ brigade were part of a sinister operation that targeted politicians and high-profile journalists
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’.
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.
Former Cabinet Minister David Davis, a member of the Privy Council, said: ‘It’s outrageous that people questioning the Government’s policies were subject to covert surveillance’
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 prolockdown 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 Uni