DISINFORMATION: HOW INDIAN FAKE NETWORKS ATTACKED PAKISTAN AND CHINA
As per the website, EU DisinfoLab is an independent non-profit organisation focused on tackling sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the EU, its member states, core institutions, and core values.
EU DisinfoLab reports published between 9th and 11 Dec have exposed Indian fake news and disinformation network. In 2019, it uncovered 265 fake local media across the world - serving Indian interests. Interestingly no commotion took place in EU or Human Rights organisations and INGOs about Indian state fakery and subterfuge, most probably due to Indian diplomatic and economic clout.
EU DisinfoLab report with the tittle ‘Indian Chronicles: a recipe for how to set up a fake local media with fake journalists’ exposed a colossus of fake networks created over 15 years, through a step by step guide: the step by step guide is summarised below:-
Ist step is to pick the name of a dead newspaper or try to use catchy stuff that would remind people of a real newspaper! In 2019, Indian Chronicles came up with the Times of Los Angeles, Times of Moscow, and MSNBC.UK.
2nd step is to establish your virtual office in REGUS at one of their addresses, ever fancied virtually working from abroad?
3rd step is to set up your website and Twitter, buy a domain name providing false pieces of information.
4th step is to take as much content as you can from legitimate sources. For instance, here is the Times of Los Angeles (not as famous as its brother organisation The Los Angeles Times).In fact, copy-paste everything you possibly can, beyond content, there are many other things you can copy-paste: privacy policies, legal mentions, advertisements, etc.
5th step and a word of caution is to remember, you’re not a real organisation, so don’t worry about regulations like the GDPR! Contact policymakers and make them believe you’re a big independent media platform!
Lastly,with a bit of luck, big news agencies such as ANI might cover your new media within days of your creation.
The report cannot be brushed aside by Indian state as it has diplomatic, legal and informational fallout for Modi’s goverment.
For ease of understanding we have coined the name Indian Disinformation Apparatus (INDA) to describe the operation. Let’s analyse it one by one:
Informational domain: The fake network, INDA operated a vast informational network,most probably with back up from India’s prime news agency, the ANI(Asian News International).Before moving on, it may be important to discuss the meteoric rise of ANI in Indian Media. From a rag tag news agency set up by established by Prem Prakash in 1971, it became the first agency in India to syndicate video news and as of 2019, is the biggest television news agency in India. Both Congress and BJP have supported and fed ANI to drive their political agendas and this commonality indicates that ANI is supported and steered by Indian establishment and most probably RAW.
EU DisinfoLab goes on to highlight how Indian fake information operations affected the media landscape. It found that EU Chronicle’s articles travelled all over the world thanks to 500+ fake local media outlets. Among other sources, these outlets regularly syndicate content from the ANI news agency.
Human Rights Domain: The most alarming part of INDA unearthed by EU DisinfoLab is do with abuse of Human Rights organisation. The report published under the title ‘Indian Chronicles: a total abuse of the UN Human Rights Council, published on 10 Dec 2020, states how Indian state hijacked the human rights NGOs and groups. Extracts form the website are posted below:
Several Members of the European Parliament’s genuine positions on human rights were abused by Indian Chronicles. We will focus exclusively on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Our investigation was able to show that the Srivastava Group – a New Delhi based conglomerate – controls 10 UN-accredited NGOs, most of them “resurrected”, and currently 9 of whom speak regularly before the UNHRC
One of these NGOs is the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace (CSOP), the first organization resurrected by the Srivastava-backed network. The CSOP was created “during World War II to promote the formation of a United Nations as successor to the failed League of Nations”. Even beyond hijacking the notion of peace, the network resurrected a man considered as the “Grandfather of International Human Rights Law in the US” and former chairman of the CSOP, Professor Louis B. Sohn. Louis Sohn passed away in 2006. After his death, his name is used to register a web domain, and he is listed as participating at a session of the UNHRC in 2007, and as attending an event organized by the Institute of Gilgit-Baltistan Studies in 2011 in Washington DC.
Another NGO we found appropriating the subject of peace and human rights is the International Club for Peace Research (ICPR). This African organisation was resurrected in 2009 and impersonated by Indian Chronicles until 2012. It was used to speak about Pakistan at the UNHRC and to organize events and demonstrations. The name of the founder of the real ICPR, who has worked at the United Nations since 2000, was hijacked to register the domain name.
World Environment and Resources Council (WERC), again an extinguished NGO was resurrected by the network. Besides “speaking” at the UNHRC, this organisation’s name is now used in the media to oppose the construction of a dam in Pakistan. Here, the name of the organisation offers the mirage of global support from the environmentalist civil society to the World Sindhi Congress, which – in fact – delivers a speech at the UN.
These NGOs are mostly represented by students at the UNHRC. Luis Lema in Le Temps reveals that these students were paid 200 CHF (186 EUR) in cash to speak at the UNHRC, and that they were given the text they had to read only a few minutes before their interventions.
Legal and ethical Domain: The last but not the least is the repercussions of INDA in legal and ethical domains:
The global media operates under some basic ethical and legal parameters, where authenticity and veracity of news and media content remains under the radar of international community. If a fake network, deliberately structured to spread disinformation, is allowed to hijack identities of diseased persons, resurrect fake media houses and involve members of parliament, NGOs, human rights platforms and think tanks of repute to drive a fake agenda to tarnish image of another state, there has to be a legal and ethical cost.
Were these NGOs, political figures, members of parliament and media houses in knowledge of their being misused, after all, the events, visits, conferences and campaigns don’t run on hot air, there is a cost in terms of international travelling, lodging and attending events. Who was paying them and for what purpose.
Diplomatic Domain: INDA created structures and formal networks of diplomats and think tanks which included Members of Parliament/representatives of the EU, other western countries and even North America. These became Indian mouth pieces and proponents on various campaigns against Pakistan.
One such groups is the right wing EU MPs who were paraded by Modi government in IIOJ&K just after 5th August 2019, when India locked down entire IIOJ&K and 8 million Kashmiris. In Modi’s jargon, such visits were to display, ‘Sab Changa See’ or ‘All is Well’ and tell the world that an EU delegation had visited IIOJ&K without any apprehension, thus putting a legitimate seal on RSS’ Hindutva policy.
EU DisinfoLab explains how it stole the picture of James Purnell, a former UK Secretary of State and BBC Director to create a Facebook account. It used letterhead of @europarl_en, stole the name of a current @UN staff and even copy-pasted entire sections of @EUobs , @TheEconomist and @VOANews.
There is also the question of Pakistani dissidents and activists who were sponsored and utilised for running anti Pakistan campaigns, more research is required to be done by Pakistani state and international community on making them accountable.
How China was targeted:
An article in major Chinese Newspaper, Global Times highlighted on how the Indian Disinformation campaign was used against Pakistan and China, it states that Indian company backed by right-wing European forces churned out propaganda against Pakistan and China for 15 years. Revelations about an Indian company which has consistently slandered Pakistan and China for years with steady misinformation shocked members of the international public. Many Chinese and Pakistani readers of a related investigation report, revealing how the company creates and spreads disinformation against the two “neighbors and rivals” of India, told the Global Times they believe the Indian government and its European allies are behind this appalling scandal.
Since 2005, SG has published fake news and prejudiced opinion pieces on its several hundred fake media outlets, misleading worldwide readers through intensive propaganda, according to the report. It is far sure that such misinformation was being spread with the supervision of Indian official institutions or by the government, said Muhammad Zamir Assadi, a journalist from Independent News Pakistan.
“The purpose of such ugly Indian tactics is just to malign China and Pakistan,” Assadi told the Global Times. “The report actually has exposed that Indian stakeholders have continuously been involved in violating the international norms and values of mature diplomacy and friendly neighboring attitudes.”
Chinese scholar Qian Feng also said India’s political interests, and the Indian government’s cybersecurity and intelligence services organs, are highly likely playing a role behind the scenes. “Some far-right political forces in the West may have also got involved and provided support and cooperation,” said Qian, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University.
“The fake news sites created by SG have a long history with expertise, invisibility, deception, and flexibility and thus unlikely to be spontaneous civilian activity,” Qian told the Global Times.
While India has tried to deflect attention away from the reports, one thing is certain, such an operation could not have been possible without connivance, financial back up and sponsorship of Indian state and intelligence agencies, especially if the operation has been going on for past 15 years. Pakistan needs to pursue this case with diplomatic and legal means so that Indian machinations are thoroughly exposed.
To conclude, he report by Eu DisinfoLab is a can of worms which needs to be studied in detail to make India accountable for its diplomatic, informational, legal and ethical exploitation of international community, especially when public figures from Western Europe and North America became their surrogates. China, Pakistan and International community need to make a joint effort to stop this Disinformation Mill.