Monday 22nd July 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

Undercover and InfoWar Operations in Yorkshire (3)

Undercover and InfoWar Operations in Yorkshire (3)


Background and terminology

This is the third article on the subject of undercover and information warfare operations in Yorkshire.

The first covered the influence of the military on armed and undercover police operations and can be viewed here:

The second covered the influence of the military on police information warfare operations and can be viewed here:

The increase in aggressive application of information warfare, information operations, and media operations policy is not confined to the police or the armed forces. This article covers undercover and information warfare operations by public bodies, in this case Local Government Organisations.

For reasons of consistency, some repetition of the definition of terms from Part 2 is necessary. Information warfare/operations is a  military term and it is defined below:

  • Information Warfare [2] is a United States military concept involving the collection [2] of tactical information, assurance [2] that one’s own information is valid, spreading of propaganda [2] or disinformation [2] to demoralize [2] or manipulate [2] the enemy and the public, undermining the quality of opposing force information and denial of information-collection opportunities to opposing forces. Information warfare is closely linked to psychological warfare[2]. The United States military focus tends to favor technology, and hence tends to extend into the realms of electronic warfare[2], cyberwarfare[2], information assurance and computer network operations[2], attack and defense. Most of the rest of the world use the much broader term of Information Operations[2] which has combined the making use of technology, as well as focusing on the more human-related aspects of information use.
  • Media manipulation [2] is a series of related techniques in which an image or argument that favors their particular interest of the organisation is promulgated. Media manipulation tactics may include the use of outright deception and often involves the suppression of information [2] or points of view, by crowding them out, by inducing other people or groups of people to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere. In military terms it can be utilised as part of propaganda or psychological warfare.
  • Black Operations [2] are covert operations [2] by a government, a government agency, or a military organization. This can include activities by private companies or groups. Key features of black operations are that they are secret and not attributable to the organization carrying it out. The main difference between a black operation and one that is merely secret is that a black operation involves a significant degree of deception, to conceal who is behind it or to make it appear that some other entity is responsible.

This has developed into military media operations. Information operations and media operations are not passive concepts. They are pro-active and aggressive. They can include information suppression, media manipulation, media suppression, psychological operations aimed at disaffecting enemy morale (the  Home Office de-radicalisation [4] program is an example of demoralising potential terrorists to dissuade them from participating in terrorism) disinformation, legal action, detention, hacking, virus attacks and direct action. The airstrikes in Afghanistan that killed the IS Head of Media and destroyed an internet control centre, and a radio station, are examples of media suppression by direct action. BBC report here and report here). (My emphasis in bold).

Information Warfare Operations by Local Government Organisations

Whilst many of the above terms are only relevant to armed military conflict and have no relevance to this article, the actions of some Councils have been so aggressive that they have in my opinion routinely strayed into the realms of Information Operations.

Councils have always had Press Offices, Public Relations Departments, and Tourist Information Departments, for the commendable purpose of assisting the public with information on public services and improving prosperity through encouraging tourism. However in recent years there has been an increasing trend of public bodies have also adopted an aggressive policy towards the media and those that criticise Councils and Councillors. This has gone beyond the accepted public relations, press and public information activities that all Councils traditionally undertook.

I submit that Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) is one of these. It has featured regularly in the local and national media for conducting failed information operations. Please see below a list of some of the information operations that the SBC Legal Department, SBC Press Office and SBC Councillors have conducted, using the Information Operations definitions above (indicated in bold). 

  • Mrs Lisa Dixon, the Scarborough Borough Solicitor, wrote threatening legal action against the Real Whitby ISP to try and take down its internet site, effectively trying to close it down. When challenged and asked to justify her allegations of falsehood and harassment by the journalists concerned, she was unable to do so. (Direct action using disinformation and the threat of legal action to supress critical media comment)

  • Mrs Lisa Dixon, the Scarborough Borough Solicitor threatened all the citizen journalists that wrote for Real Whitby with legal action for harassment by anonymous Councillors and Council Officers. When asked to justify this allegation of a criminal offence, she was again unable to do so. (Direct action using disinformation and the threat of legal action to supress critical media comment).
  • When Whitby Town Council debated the actions of Scarborough Borough Council in trying to close down the town’s only local alternative media outlet, Scarborough Council issued the same falsehood to Whitby Town Council, denying that it had not tried to terminate the website. Although in fact it was clear from the correspondence that it had. (Disinformation to supress critical comment and conceal an information warfare operation)
  • When the BBC investigated the allegation that Scarborough Borough Council had tried to close down Whitby’s only local media outlet, Scarborough Council issued the same falsehood that it had issued to Whitby Town Council denying that it had not tried to terminate the website. Although in fact it was clear from the correspondence that it had and was publicly exposed on the BBC. (Disinformation to supress critical comment and conceal an information warfare operation).

The allegations of benefits fraud made against NYE citizen journalist Nigel Ward, which allegedly originated in SBC and were then passed to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for formal investigation and potentially prosecution. (Direct action to harass journalists with threats of legal action and supress critical comment, run as a black operation to ensure the DWP appeared responsible, not SBC)

  • The attempt by Councillor Harry Smith of Seamer Parish Council to have NYE citizen journalists arrested for the entirely lawful act of openly attending and filming a public meeting of the Council. (Use of the Police to harass journalists and supress information)
  • The treatment brave Mr Ben Marriott received from Scarborough Borough Council for raising his concerns over corruption. (Suppression of information and media comment)

  • The misleading circular issued by Mrs Lisa Dixon to all Councillors about the Ben Marriott case, his comments are here. (Disinformation to supress information and critical comment)
  • The refusal of Scarborough Conservatives to issue an apology for the sexual offices committed by Conservative Councillor Peter Jaconelli. (Media manipulation to supress information and prevent further media comment)
  • The initial failure by Council Officers to respond to the evidence of sexual abuse by Conservative Councillor and Mayor Peter Jaconelli provided by brave Jaconelli victim and NYE reader Trevor Harrington. Which eventually led to the exposure of the Peter Jaconelli and Jimmy Savile paedophile-ring that had operated in Scarborough openly for years, with the full knowledge of the police. (Media manipulation to supress information and prevent further media comment)
  • The amazing rant that the NYE should be subject to “threat or retaliation” (Video here) (i.e. SBC funded legal action) for daring to “say what they like when they like” i.e. criticising the Council, Councillors (mainly Conservative) in general and Councillor Tom Fox in particular. (Media manipulation to supress information and prevent further media comment)

  • Councillor John Nock reported remarks about rapist and child abuser Conservative Councillor and former Mayor of Scarborough Peter Jaconelli: “He [Peter Jaconelli] wasn’t like Savile. He was not a predatory paedophile. He was only handing out money to poor kids for giving him a w**k”. Councillor Nock denies using this wording, but has not issued his version of what was actually said. Full NYE coverage here. (Disinformation to divert attention from the gravity of Jaconelli’s offending)
  • Councillor John Nock’s remarks that the persons that had made the complaint were bringing the council into disrepute. (Disinformation to divert attention)

  • The recent rant in Council by Councillor Bill Chatt about media coverage was a skilful disinformation operation in which he:
  • Tried to obtain sympathy for himself and fellow Councillor his associate “Hebo” (Councillor John Nock, for those that are not familiar with his nickname, or the reasons for it) by asserting that they had been accused of supporting paedophilism and that this was affecting his friends and family.
  • Alleged – falsely – that the NYE (by insinuation) made up stories.
  • Alleged – wrongly – that he and “Hebo” were the subject of criticism by his constituents because of unbalanced coverage by the NYE.
  • Failed to acknowledge any failing in his own conduct, or accept any personal responsibility for alienating his constituents over his views about child abuser Peter Jaconelli. Judge for yourself and see his comments here.

(Disinformation to divert attention and media suppression by damaging its credibility)

  • Recently a council officer responded anonymously to NYE citizen journalist Nigel Ward refusing to provide the information he had requested with an FOI request and was entitled to see, on the grounds that 1) Nigel Ward was “vexatious” and 2) the NYE was a “pressure group”. The definition of a Pressure Group [2] is:

“Advocacy groups (also known as pressure groups, lobby groups, campaign groups, interest groups, or special interest groups) use various forms of advocacy[2]  in order to influence public opinion [2] and/or policy. They have played and continue to play an important part in the development of political and social systems. Groups vary considerably in size, influence, and motive; some have wide-ranging long term social purposes, while others are focused on and are a response to an immediate issue or concern. Motives for action may be based on a shared political, religious, [2]  moral, [2]  health or commercial [2] position. Groups use varied methods to try to achieve their aims including lobbying[2], media campaigns, publicity stunts, polls, research, and policy briefings. Some groups are supported or backed by powerful business or political interests and exert considerable influence on the political process, [2]  while others have few or no such resources.“

The NYE is an internet news magazine covering local news, crime and local politics across several local authorities in North Yorkshire and beyond. Many Councillors and local citizens use it as a vehicle to publish their views on a wide range of local issues. In no way can it be described as a “pressure group”. Private Eye also exposes misconduct locally and nationally and because of the similarity of the NYE’s role locally, has covered many of our stories on Scarborough Borough Council. However, no-one would ever dream of calling Private Eye a “Pressure Group

A list of UK pressure groups can be seen here. Needless to say, the NYE is not on it. The conclusion is inevitable that the council officer was indulging in a subterfuge to evade complying with the Council’s duty to release information in response to an FOI Request. Hence, no doubt ,the reason he or she would not put his name to the FOI response.

(Disinformation to withhold information and supress media comment)

It is unclear if the above catalogue of information operations are unrelated acts by a few isolated individual Councillors and rogue Council Officials, or if it is actually a co-ordinated campaign of information warfare by persons acting in joint enterprise. If the former, then it is contrary to the democratic basis of public accountability that Councils and Council Officers are individually supposed to uphold. There is no way of knowing if it is the latter.

However, someone with a less charitable view than me may conclude that the NYE and Real Whitby citizen journalists have been the subject of a sustained campaign of information warfare and a course of conduct that amounts to harassment. I will leave the reader to come to his own opinion.

Information Warfare Operations conducted by Local Government Organisations, ostensibly in the public interest, but actually on behalf of a political party.

There is another issue concerning in Councils like Scarborough, which have had a single party in control for long periods of time, leading to a lack of scrutiny or effective financial oversight.

Many of the scandals exposed by the NYE have involved Conservative Councillors. To give a few examples:

  • The double dipping councillors, taking the same allowance for broadband from SBC and the North Yorkshire County Council.

  • (Former) Councillor Tim Lawn’s and Councillor Helen Swiers’ conduct over the potash concessions,

  • Councillor Nock’s bizarre views on the prostitution of children by Conservative Councillor Peter Jaconelli.
  • The NYE has also, by extension, criticised the way the ruling Conservative party has managed the affairs of the Council, with its coverage of these matters, the Marriott scandal and the Councillor Donohue-Moncrieff affair.

The NYE has a large readership in the Borough and the recent public comments of Councillor Bill Chatt at a Cabinet meeting verify its coverage is obviously influential with local voters. In local politics, this can have a serious impact on the electorate and on the prospects for Councillors from the ruling party being re-elected. This puts the temptation on the ruling party – which has unrestricted access to Council funds and its Officers – to use them to meet party political objectives on the pretext of acting in the best interests of the Council as a whole. When, in fact, it is abusing Council resources to further its own political best interests by closing down criticism that is politically damaging. It must, therefore, be a concern that the aggressive tactics used against the NYE by SBC may be fuelled by party political factors, not the public interest.

An example may be the attempt by the Council’s solicitor Mrs Lisa Dixon – laughably titled Director of Democratic and Legal Services – to close Real Whitby. Clearly it is not in the public interest for a democratically elected Council in a free country to write demanding the closure of a local news magazine, because it alleges it has issued defamatory and untrue statements, that it is unable to specify or substantiate. Then to deny having done so.

In this context, the comments of Councillor Tom Fox that the North Yorks Enquirer should be subject to a policy of threat and retaliation are deeply concerning. Councillor Fox has been the subject of criticism by the NYE for “double dipping”. He therefore has a conflict of interest. Yet as Leader of the Council at that time, he had power to use the SBC Legal Department and Council funds to close down media that is critical of him, his party and fellow Conservative Councillors.

There appears to be no internal restraint on this power, or resistance to it by Council Officers – who are apparently prepared to obey their Conservative Party orders without question. I believe this has led to the politicisation of some Council Officers, who slavishly following the party political needs of Councillors from the ruling party and ignoring the wider public interest. It appears that SBC operates in the same way as the government of a one party state.

Councillors are connected to Councillors of the same party in other local authorities. This could provide the facility to conduct joint operations. In this context the recent attempt to have East Riding of Yorkshire Councillor (ERYC) and occasional NYE contributor Councillor Andy Strangeway prosecuted for harassment by a Conservative Councillor from ERYC may be an example of this.  NYE report here. (Direct action using disinformation and the police to harass journalists, and supress critical media comment)

I have been asked to identify who it is that is responsible for conducting information operations in SBC. Borough Solicitor Lisa Dixon has been prominent in a number of the above information operations and skilfully used her position as a solicitor to try and close down Real Whitby. However, I suspect that it is more likely that a culture of responding to legitimate criticism with aggressive information operations aimed at attacking or eliminating critics has become ingrained in the culture of some Conservative Councillors and some Council Officers.

Councils are public bodies that are supposed to be overseen by elected officials, are answerable to the public, have a duty to submit to press scrutiny and conduct themselves both openly, lawfully and ethically. It is in the interests of everyone that Scarborough and Whitby have a free and diverse local media that brings to light issues that otherwise would be kept under wraps now that we only have a weekly newspaper in Scarborough. Everyone’s interests except, of course, those of the ruling party.

The conduct of SBC in this area has become notorious, earning them numerous mentions in Private Eye for aggressive attacks on journalists and repressive, authoritarian press policies. I do not believe any Council has featured so often. I hope this article will encourage Councillors and Council Officers alike to re-consider their positions, but also to carefully consider the wider implications of the course of conduct they are jointly pursuing.

Coming next:

Undercover Operations and Information Warfare in Yorkshire (4).

Undercover Operations and Information Warfare in Yorkshire (5).

Please note the fifth article in this series covering surveillance is dependent on outstanding FOI requests with NYP, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and SBC. There will therefore be a delay in publishing it of about four weeks.

Note from the Editor 

The “Undercover Operations and Information Warfare in North Yorkshire” articles have raised serious civil liberties issues in a unique way, unprecedented in British journalism. Because of this and the aggressive “Information Operations” policy of many public bodies in North Yorkshire, we will be periodically re-visiting and updating each article. This is part of the pioneering and innovative journalistic approach to this issue that the NYE has always adopted.

[1] Guardian article.

[2] Wikipedia article.

[3] Daily Mail article.

[4] BBC article or broadcast

[5] Forces TV  broadcast.

[6] Daily Telegraph article.

[7] York Press.


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