The Pantomime season is beginning in London. These particularly British stage shows are all-singing, all-dancing, slapstick comedies, mostly based on old fairy tales and peculiar to the British sense of humour, or what nowadays passes for that pleasant but disappearing national characteristic.
On December 8, ‘Snow White’ opened at the London Palladium, ‘Peter Pan’ at Richmond Theatre, and ‘Aladdin’ in Wimbledon. All of them are loud, extravagant, amusing and far-fetched to the point of being grotesque.
Which brings us to the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday and its report that “Russian TV spies are caught at top secret UK army base: How Fake News team tried to infiltrate British psychological warfare unit.”
This was the paper’s front page on December 2
The “exclusive” report told Britons excitedly that “A top-level security alert has been issued at every military base in Britain after a Russian TV crew was caught 'spying' at the UK's secret cyber warfare HQ. Troops have been ordered to urgently contact police if they spot a reporter and cameraman from Russia's main state broadcaster loitering near military installations. The dramatic and unprecedented move came after journalist Timur Siraziev was seen secretly filming close to the 25 ft barbed wire perimeter fence of the 77th Brigade – a top secret Army unit that works alongside MI5, MI6 and the SAS in electronic and psychological warfare.”
So a Russian TV reporter filmed a British army base and was “caught” doing it. But it couldn’t possibly be described as stealthy clandestine activity because, according to the British Army itself, two people “presenting themselves as members of the Russian media” (by showing a media identification card) drove up to the main entrance of the unit (what we used to call ‘the guardroom’) and “attempted to gain entry.” In other words, they identified themselves and asked politely if they could come in and were told — one hopes equally politely — that they couldn’t. Then for eight minutes the cameraman filmed the reporter speaking outside the perimeter fence of the unit and both left the area.
End of non-story.
And the beginning of a grotesque propaganda operation that is quite as hilarious as any London pantomime.
Here is the Army’s official notification of what was said to have happened:
Let us first consider the Army’s “official sensitive” directive that “Details contained in this slide are NOT to be displayed in open sight or where the general public have view of it”.
It was displayed in open sight in the Sunday Mail on December 2, so the “details contained in this slide” have been seen by about 2 million people of the general public. What is the British Army going to do about that?
The most fatuous observation by the Army was that “information would suggest that TIMUR was active in reporting on the Salisbury nerve agent incident in July 18.” Of course he went there — along with about 300 other UK and international reporters and camera crews who “were active in reporting”.
The Mail on Sunday and the British army won’t say another word about that aspect of this farcical charade, because it is, after all, the beginning of the Pantomime Season, and we all like to have a laugh.
Then there entered an amusing trouper. It is the custom that a main character in pantomimes is an entertaining semi-villain who has a catch-phrase that is repeated several times, encouraging the audience to call out in response. He or she usually says something like “Oh no, it isn’t” to which the cackling spectators shout back “Oh yes, it is!” and everyone (including me) falls about laughing. (I warned you that this is British humour.)
So the comic clown in the Pantomime of the Secret Army Base cavorted on stage.
He is none other than Professor Anthony Glees, Director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, a highly intelligent academic who delivers profound pronouncements on national security.
As reported by The Mail on Sunday the Professor declared that “Russian state journalists are surrogate spies for President Putin's regime; this was deliberately targeted spying at a sensitive location and is deeply concerning. Putin is pushing this espionage. I am afraid we are back in the Cold War era when British military personnel and their families must be extremely aware of the threats in their midst.”
Certainly he is a pantomime clown (you can practically see the flicking bells on the multi-coloured cap), but some people pay attention to him, and after all he did say in 2004 in regard to the disastrous invasion of Iraq that “if intelligence is to be used to formulate policy in the future then policy-makers have to be entirely confident that the intelligence is totally accurate.” The depth of this observation is truly impressive, as is his warning that the families of British military personnel must be aware of “the threats in their midst”, which to his mind were exemplified by a television reporter who openly filmed an area that can be seen on open-source imagery sites.
This satellite image of 77 Brigade HQ appeared in the newspapers. The Brigade’s own website shows where it is on a map.
Given a couple of song and dance acts, the story would make an amusing pantomime… and yet… and yet… there is one aspect of this absurd affair, this concocted propaganda non-drama, that is serious ; and that is the matter of 77 Brigade itself.
In 2015 the UK’s Financial Times reported that “the British Army will revive one of the most contentious special forces units of the second world war, the Chindits, as a new generation of ‘Facebook’ warriors who will wage complex and covert information and subversion campaigns. As many as 1,500 troops will make up the reincarnated 77th Brigade”.
During the Second World War the Chindits “operated deep behind enemy lines in North Burma in the war against Japan. For many months they lived in and fought the enemy in the jungles of Japanese occupied Burma.” The Financial Times sneered that “their missions were often of questionable success”, but failed to note that members of this force were awarded four Victoria Crosses, 27 Distinguished Service Orders, 109 Military Crosses and 96 Military Medals for actions involving the utmost gallantry.
And now “the new 77 Brigade's shoulder flash is a design based on the Chindits’ famous Chinthé badge, using the motif of the ‘fabulous lions’ which guard the entrances to Burmese pagodas.”
Those serving in this new brigade will never be required to carry out dangerous raids on a battle-hardened enemy, because it is, according to the Army, a unit whose “aim is to challenge the difficulties of modern warfare using non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of the opposing forces and adversaries.” (Who are the morons who concoct this Newspeak gibberish?)
It would perhaps be going too far to assert that members of the modern-day “Chindits” aren’t fit to sniff the armpits of a real Chindit, but it can be said indisputably that the “Facebook warriors” aren’t going to experience the slightest danger at any time in which they “challenge difficulties”.
It would be understandable if the brave lions of yesteryear were to throw up at the idea of a bunch of desk-bound techno-dweebs assuming the mantle of the Chindits, but, being the sort of soldiers they were, they would most probably have a good belly-laugh about RUSSIAN TV SPIES CAUGHT AT TOP SECRET UK ARMY BASE, which is one of the most puerile and preposterous pieces of inexpert propaganda yet to be mounted by the amateurs of the UK’s psychological operations pantomime.