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Monday, April 15, 2024

Resurrected NGOs’, a dead Chairman, fake EU parliamentary statements: 15 year saga of Indian misinformation operations

EU DisinfoLab, a European anti-misinformation organisation has discovered a huge 15 year old Indian propoganda network that still runs today

“This report is dedicated to the memory of Professor Louis B. Sohn, considered as the “grandfather of international human rights law in the United States”, whose name has been hijacked by the malicious actors depicted in this report,” an EU independent disinformation investigating group EU DisinfoLab stated in its report.

The EU based group has found massive operations by Indian groups to spread misinformation and anti-Pakistan and anti-China propaganda.

The report is extensive covering propaganda machinery so large that the investigators continue to be surprised even within the report multiple times.

“It is the largest network we have exposed,” said Alexandre Alaphilippe, executive director of EU DisinfoLab, which undertook the investigation and published an extensive report on Wednesday.

‘EU DisinfoLab’ revealed in a report made public yesterday that Indian group promoting anti-Pakistan narratives

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The vast network of fake media outlets think tanks and NGOs serving Indian interests uncovered by EU DisinfoLab in 2019 took a hit, but still exists albeit very lowkey after the report came out.

In the recently published paper it was revealed that EP Today is gone, but it now lives through the 2020-born EU Chronicle, an new, opaque, self-proclaimed Brussels-based independent media.

Moreover, the investigation uncovered how, for 15 years, the UN Human Rights Council has been abused by a network of coordinated NGOs serving Indian interests. It was thus decided to reopen the investigation into Indian propaganda machinery, and was named it “Indian Chronicles”.

The network of propaganda and fake news discovered was so large and brazen that the report said, “Members of our team all share a common trait: an eye for the fake and a drive to uncover it. But never before in our investigations have we been so astonished at the multiplication of layers of fake. Indian Chronicles resurrected dead media, dead think-tanks and NGOs. It even resurrected dead people.”

Indian propaganda has it all: Identity theft, resurrection of dead NGOs

The actors behind this operation hijacked the names of others and tried to impersonate regular media and press agencies such as the EU Observer, The Economist, and even the Voice of America.

They used the letterhead of the European Parliament; registered websites under avatars with fake phone numbers; and provided fake addresses to the United Nations. Indian Chronicles also organized supposedly multi-stakeholder events wherein essence everyone speaking was tied to them.

They misappropriated the picture of a former UK Government Minister and BBC Director on Facebook, registered the names of deceased persons to attend events five years after their death, and invented dozens of journalist identities. They used layers of fake media that would quote and republish one another.

Read more: Dr. Firdous: Pakistani Media must counter Indian Propaganda on Kashmir

This is clear identity theft and a violation of basic privacy laws around the world. The means to the end are just as sinister as the endgame of this plot; it has been discovered in the report.

They used politicians who genuinely wanted to defend women or minority rights to ultimately serve geopolitical interests, and gave a platform to far-right politicians when their objectives converged. They thus undermined the original activists by dragging them into these fake news circles.

“How could anyone imagine that this is even possible”: EU report

The authors of the report continued to be astonished by the magnitude of the operation, they said, “Even our full report does not mention everything we uncovered, and it is with regret, but for the sake of legibility, that we had to leave many other findings aside. Ironically, this level of fakery may be the very reason why the operation could last for so  long: how could anyone imagine that this is even possible?”

Addressing preemptively the questions of the “one-sidedness” of the report the authors said that, “The fact is, we never intended to work on South-Asia related matters. It all began when we read a publication by the European External Action Service (EEAS) about EP Today syndicating content from RT. And this led us to publish these two investigations.”

Last year, the same investigation agency uncovered a network of 265 fake media in 65 countries reproducing negative content about Pakistan online. This network was created by malicious actors who were behind “EP Today”, a fake European Parliament magazine active in Brussels since 2006.

The self-proclaimed “magazine for the European Parliament in Brussels” was serving as a “honeypot” for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and other politicians who could use it to publish their views – particularly those views that would serve Indian interests and undermine Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan, China slam Indian rhetoric on terror

Some of these MEPs and other politicians attended United Nations side-events, press conferences and demonstrations in Geneva organised by minority-rights NGOs all set-up by the same actors, such as the European Organization for Pakistani Minorities.

Another fake media, the “Times of Geneva” – along with an equally fake, allegedly Geneva-based press agency called 4 News Agency – would then produce written and video content.

This content was reused online by NGOs and disseminated via the global fake media network and/or via an Indian press agency (ANI). This operation was attributed to the New-Delhi based Srivastava Group which – in partnership with the Women’s Economic and Social Think-Tank (WESTT) – sponsored the trip of 27 MEPs to visit Kashmir and met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The trip had been shown to the world as a legitimizing seal of approval from the EU on Indian Occupied Kashmir, by India. It turned out to be one of the more outreaching activities of the Indian propaganda group.

Dead Chairman and resurrected NGO’s

During DisinfoLab’s previous investigation, they had decided to leave some of the websites, domain names and associated email addresses that had deserved a ‘closer look for later.’

Over the last months, they took a deeper dive, with a specific focus on the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace (CSOP). In the report they write that they soon realised that this US-based NGO – accredited to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – had become inactive in the late 1970s before being resurrected in 2005.

The dead NGO’s identity had been hijacked by the same actors depicted in the first investigation in 2019.

Shockingly, the new report read that it was discovered that the organization had not only been revived. Its former Chairman and “grandfather of international law in the US”, Louis B. Sohn, who passed away in 2006, seemingly attended a UN Human Rights Council meeting in 2007 and participated in an event organized by “Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan” in Washington D.C. in 2011.

Indian has long claimed that Gilgit-Baltistan is under ‘Pakistani occupation’, trying to compare it to IOK, but the conditions in both regions are not remotely the same. IOK has been under strict lockdown and curfew ever since Article 370 of the Indian constitution was removed without consulting the Kashmiri people and even before there were reports of grave human rights violations in the IOK valley.

From then on, the European agency uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests and criticizing Pakistan repeatedly. They tied at least 10 of them directly to the Srivastava family, with several other dubious NGOs pushing the same messages. These UN-accredited NGOs work in coordination with non-accredited think-tanks and minority-rights NGOs in Brussels and Geneva. Several of them – like the European Organization for Pakistani Minorities (EOPM), Baluchistan House and the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) – were directly but opaquely created by the Srivastava group.

Read more: How Indian media is exploiting Pakistan’s internal political turmoil

Again these egregious operations undermine original and local movements by dragging them into circles of falsehoods and lies.

In Geneva, these think-tanks and NGOs are in charge of lobbying, organizing demonstrations, and speaking during press conferences and UN side-events. They were repeatedly given the floor at the UN on behalf of the accredited organizations.

Honey-pots for anti-Pakistan narratives: EU DisinfoLab uncovers grave plot

The organizations created by the Srivastava Group in Brussels organized trips for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to Kashmir, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. Some of these trips led to much institutional controversy, as the delegations of MEPs were often presented as official EU delegations when they were in fact not traveling on behalf of the Parliament.

The actors orchestrating Indian Chronicles are directly tied – and again not at all transparently – to the creation of three informal groups in the European Parliament, namely the “South Asia Peace Forum”, the “Baloch Forum” and “Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan”. They have organized press conferences and events within and in front of the European Parliament.

Read more: Watchdog voices deep concern about aggressive, biased reporting by Indian media

“From individual MEP statements on EU chronicle to EU positions…how Indian news coverage has been putting words into theEU’s mouth,” wondered the authors of the report.

Organisations like WESTT, the Women Economic and Social Think-Tank, have drafted and suggested parliamentary questions to the European Commission, along with articles for fake EU magazines such as EP Today.

EU DisinfoLab discover global outreach of Indian propoganda

These served as a honeypot to attract a growing number of MEPs into a pro-India and anti-Pakistan discourse, often using causes such as minorities’ rights and women’s rights as an entry point.

This is how the report claims their team uncovered ‘EU Chronicle,’ the new “EP Today”. A new fake media with fake journalists supposedly covering European affairs are in actuality essentially providing a platform for MEPs to sign pro-Indian articles.

In less than 6 months of existence, already 11 MEPs have written or endorsed op-eds at a remarkably high pace for EU Chronicle.

Read more: MQM received funding from Indian government, reveals Muhammad Anwar

Indian Chronicles also created a number of obscure companies in Canada as well as fake media targeting South-Asian populations, were involved in demonstrations in New York, created fake media in Bangladesh and in the Maldives.

They impersonated a number of African human rights NGOs and created several lobbying agencies targeting EU Institutions. Clearly, this 15-year operation was active on several continents. Back to EU Chronicle. The only valuable coverage these op-eds receive, comes from an immediate repackaging by an Indian press agency named ANI (Asian News International), often quoting these op-eds as genuine articles from “independent media EU Chronicle”.

Without Times of Geneva and 4 News Agency which stopped their activities following EU DisinfoLab’s previous investigation, ANI, which is considered as one of the biggest news agencies in India and the largest television agency of India – remains the only press agency to extensively cover the activities of dubious NGOs in Geneva.

The coverage, and often distortion, by ANI of the content produced in Brussels and Geneva led us to the Big News Network and the World News Network – an entire network of 500+ fake local media in 95 countries that have helped reproduce negative iterations about Pakistan (or China).

The EU DisinfoLab report suggests that the content produced was primarily targeted at Indian nationals, with an extensive coverage of these barely known “media”, MEPs and “NGOs” in Europe. Essentially, our investigation details how the activities of a fake zombie-NGO and that of a fake specialised media can be repackaged, distorted and amplified by malicious actors to influence or disinform globally, using loopholes in international institutions and online search engines.

This huge permeation of an abundantly fake narrative would explain how India was able to manage convincing more than a billion people that it had entered Pakistan and killed ‘300 militants’ last year when they have only as per Pakistani and international sources managed to ‘destroy some trees’ at best.

Part of Indian Chronicles’ dissemination operations now revolve around the Big News Network, a self-proclaimed “news agency” owning more than 450 media outlets. While most sites are basically ‘copy-pastes’ of each other, their content is not remarkably original either. Most of the time, the network syndicates content from newswire companies, some international media outlets, and the ANI press agency.

The steps to great propaganda

On 17 September 2020, an article is published in EU Chronicle about a letter sent by several MEPs. The letter was sent to “the President of the European Council Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and to the President of France Emmanuel Macron. It requests that the European Union meaningfully addresses, through strong action, China’s Human Rights atrocities at the EU-China Summit”.

It is important to keep in mind that this is simply a letter signed by a group of individual MEPs, and this is not an official position of the European Parliament. The article is titled rather in a soft manner: “Meaningful address and strong action needed against China’s human rights atrocities”.

Read more: Coronavirus misinformation causes hostility against Indian Muslims

The article by EU Chronicle is then covered by ANI, and retitled with a slightly harder tone: “Members of the European Parliament urge EU to take strong action on China for Human Rights Violation”

The coverage by ANI is then distorted by the Big News Network in dozens of fake local/regional media and is now titled “EU to take strong action on China”, in Europenews.net for instance.

To summarize, a simple letter by individual MEPs, who are free to send any letter they want to send, is ultimately presented as an official position of the EU on China.

Resurrecting dead NGO’s and people

Finally the EU DisinfoLab investigation led to the finding of 10 UN-accredited NGOs directly controlled by the Srivastava Group, which our full report introduces at length. All of these NGO’s were, as per the report ‘shockingly’ procured from the ashes of already dead NGO’s, in another case of grave identity theft.

Indian Chronicles effectively benefited from the track record of these organizations while pursuing their own agenda: discrediting Pakistan and promoting Indian interests at UN conferences and hearings.

Even as EU DisinfoLab looked into the history of these NGOs, it quickly became clear they say in the report that the topics and issues at their very heart of the original NGO’s are not much of a concern for Indian Chronicles.

The operation takes just about any defunct NGO it can find and revives it to promote Indian interests. Examples include organisations defending peace, protecting the environment or, ‘even… promoting canned food.’

Before it ceased to exist in 2007, the Canners International Permanent Committee (CIPC) was all about the canning industry. Its reincarnation does not seem so concerned with food anymore: It mostly dispatches Geneva-based students to the UN to talk about Pakistan, and even organised side events on human rights at the UN.

Reporters cite alarm at the magnitude of Indian misinformation

The EU DisinfoLab report concludes with a grave sense of alarm by the authors who said that, ”We are alarmed to see the continuation of Indian Chronicles which – despite our first report and wide press coverage – has pursued its 15-year long operation and even recently launched EU Chronicle, a fake EU outlet. This should serve as a call to action for decision-makers to put in place a relevant framework to sanction actors engaging in disinformation and abusing international institutions.

It is possible that the absence of messages from the institutions affected by Indian Chronicles provided the space and opportunity for the operation to reinvent itself and to continue doing “more of the same”. It is also our belief that the possibility for malicious actors to abuse search engines by reproducing the same content hundreds of times should also be challenged. Our investigation relied heavily on the analysis of websites and domain names, rather than on online platforms. Much of what we uncovered could be found thanks to website domain names registration history and because many websites of Indian Chronicles were created at a time when malicious actors were less concerned with privacy.”

The original full report can be found here.

GVS News Desk