A massive operation to serve Indian interests by targeting international institutions, through a systematic disinformation campaign against Pakistan and China has been uncovered by a EU based organisation.
“The operation’s mission is to discredit nations in conflict with India in Asia, in particular Pakistan but also China to a lesser extent,” a study conducted by EU DisinfoLab, an independent NGO said. The operation was a follow up to a preliminary investigation published in 2019.
Eds Note: Owing to the huge amount of information related to the clandestine disinformation operation the post has been reviewed with additional information. More information will be added soon.
This network is active in Brussels and Geneva in producing and amplifying content to undermine – primarily – Pakistan. The operation codenamed “Indian Chronicles” resurrected dead media, dead think-tanks and NGOs. It even resurrected dead people, the report revealed.
The network is part of the sinister propaganda campaign, part of its Fifth Generation Hybrid Warfare – 5GW, against Pakistan with an objective to create chaos in the country.
According to the EU DisinfoLab – the Indian Chronicles is a 15 year-long operation running since 2005; under which over ten UN Human Rights Council accredited NGOs, were resurrected including the resurrection of Prof. Louis B. Sohn, a prominent figure in human rights, who died in 2006. The report has been dedicated in his name.
“Louis B. Sohn, who passed away in 2006, seemingly attended a UN Human Rights Council
meeting in 2007 …”
The study discovered several identity thefts, including the names of Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament or the photo of James Purnell, a former UK Government minister. It also included over 750 fake media outlets, covering 119 countries; and over 550 domain names registered.
The NGO – EU DisinfoLab focuses on researching and tackling sophisticated disinformation campaigns targeting the EU, its member states, core institutions, and core values, said the operation began in 2005 and was still ongoing till this date.
The study, of the 15-year influence operation, was conducted through open-source investigation and shows that the operation led by the Srivastava Group was amplified by Indian news media outlet – Asian News International – ANI.
Other long-term objectives of the plan included reinforcement of pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan, and anti-Chinese, feelings, within India. While internationally it aimed at consolidating the power and improve perception of India, to damage reputation of other countries and ultimately benefit from more support from international institutions such as the EU and the UN.
To achieve this objective the operation focused on the support to minority and human rights NGOs and think-tanks, use of Members of the European Parliament to create a mirage of institutional support from European institutions to these minority groups, in favour of Indian interests and against Pakistan and China.
It also had an active presence in Geneva and the United Nations’ Human Rights Council through: side-events and demonstrations in support of minority rights; impersonation of extinguished UN-accredited NGOs or use speaking slots reserved to various NGOs whose original missions seem totally unrelated.
The creation of fake media in Brussels, Geneva and across the world and repackaging and dissemination via ANI and obscure local media networks in at least 97 countries – to multiply the repetition of online negative content about countries in conflict with India, in particular Pakistan.
According to the details provided by the EU DisinfoLab, last year, a network of 265 fake media in 65 countries reproducing negative content against Pakistan online was uncovered.
The network was created by malicious actors who were behind “EP Today”, a fake European Parliament magazine active in Brussels since 2006.
One of the characteristics of Indian Chronicle is its propensity to create and maintain a high number of fake
media outlets: EP Today, EU Chronicle, Times of Geneva, 4 News Agency.
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 that serve Indian interests and undermine Pakistan.
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.
The organisations created by the Srivastava Group in Brussels organised trips for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to Kashmir, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
“Delegations of MEPs were often presented as
official EU delegations when they were in fact not
travelling on behalf of the Parliament”
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 travelling 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 hold press conferences and events within and in front of the European Parliament.
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. 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.
EU Chronicle – the new “EP Today”
A new fake media with fake journalists supposedly covering European affairs, yet 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.
The role of ANI: Repackaging and amplifying the content produced in Brussels & Geneva
Back to EU Chronicle. The only valuable coverage these op-eds receive, comes from an immediate repackaging by an Indian press agency – 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 our 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
While following the coverage – and often distortion – by ANI of its content produced in Brussels and Geneva, the DisinfoLab discovered the Big News Network and the World News Network – an entire network of 500+ fake local media in 95 countries that helped reproduce negative iterations about Pakistan and or China.
The content produced was primarily targeted at Indian nationals, with an extensive coverage of these barely known “media”, MEPs and “NGOs” in Europe.
The investigation revealed 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.
How it happens – Step 1
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 note 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”.
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”.
Part of Indian Chronicles’ dissemination operations 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.
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).
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.
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 investigation led to the finding of 10 UN-accredited NGOs directly controlled by the Srivastava Group, which the full report introduces at length. Their common trait?
The fact that they all rose from the ashes of real NGOs. Indian Chronicles effectively benefited from the track record of these organisations while pursuing their own agenda:
discrediting Pakistan and promoting Indian interests at UN conferences and hearings.
A look at the history of these NGOs clearly showed that the topics and issues at their very heart were 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, the report said.
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.
Centre for environmental and management studies (CEMS)
The year CEMS was created is unknown, but what is known is that it was created in New-Delhi and was already active in the 1980s to promote seminars for industrialists and educationalists on environmental issues.
Traces of an address in New-Delhi have been found, but the current address given to the UN is in Canada and leads to a Regus office.
The domain name linked to the organisation was registered on January 20, 2016 – on the same day as the registration of other accredited NGOs domain names. It is also hosted on the same IP address than several other Srivastava-owned websites. It can be confidently assumed that this organisation had long become inactive and was in fact resurrected by Indian Chronicles.
At the UNHRC, the organisation is also represented either by Geneva-based students or by Pakistan minorities representatives, conveying pro-Indian and anti-Pakistan messages.
The CEMS also organized side events on “human rights in South-Asia” and “Democracy and secularism” at the UN.
Interestingly, ANI and the network of fake local media outlets disseminating ANI’s articles present the Centre for Environmental and Management Studies as a “UK-based rights group” headed by Amjad Ayub Mirza, who is said to be as an “activist from PoK” (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir). Amjad Ayub Mirza presents himself as the Executive Director of the NGO and as a Consultant for the “Jammu Kashmir Peace and Development Institute.” He is also featured in many articles of the ANI News agency.
The core theme of the original NGO – environment – was hijacked by Indian Chronicles to undermine Pakistan.
A solid example: “Under CPEC our rivers are being diverted for hydropower projects and these projects are causing water shortages. The projects would forever destroy the ecology of our region. Scores of young men from Gilgit-Baltistan are serving 70-90 years of imprisonment for protesting against the plunder of our national resources.”
The ABCD of Indian Chronicles – Ever heard of the disinformation ABC?
In a paper released in September 2019, Camille François, Graphika’s Chief Innovation Officer, pointed to three key vectors for viral deception: manipulative Actors, deceptive Behaviour, and harmful Content. To these the EU DisinfoLab added the D, standing for information Distribution.
The Indian Chronicles network is a perfect illustration of the ABCD disinformation framework.
The EU DisinfoLab concluded its report by expressing concern over “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 to reinvent itself.”
The current study reopens and builds upon the previous work, which was documented in a report “Influencing policymakers with fake media outlets, an investigation into a pro-Indian influence network”.
Report Compilation: Shafek Koreshe