One of the closest aides of newly-installed British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been accused of running a massive online disinformation campaign on behalf of controversial clients, including Saudi Arabia.
Lynton Crosby, an Australian political strategist, dubbed the “Wizard of Oz”, is so close to Johnson that he ran his successful London mayoral campaign in 2008. Crosby has reportedly been advising Johnson on his bid to become PM from as early on as June 2016.
Crosby’s lobbying firm, CTF Partners, allegedly ran well-concealed online disinformation campaigns for a wide range of controversial clients, most notably the government of Saudi Arabia.
This activity was so extensive that the Guardian’s investigative report into CTF partners has described it as a business model “that appears to have professionalized online disinformation”.
The Guardian report, published on August 01, alleges that CTF Partners used Facebook to administer professional-looking “news” pages “reaching tens of millions of people on highly contentious topics, without apparently disclosing that they are being overseen by CTF Partners on behalf of paying clients”.
This revelation comes against the backdrop of growing concern over the role and influence of “fake news” in determining the outcome of political contests. The House of Commons has been conducting extensive enquiries into “fake news” since 2017 and released its first detailed report on the subject in July 2018.
The House of Commons, in tandem with the rest of the British political establishment, adopts a selective understanding of “fake news”, often attributing it to state-sponsored activity by Britain’s adversaries, notably the Russian Federation.
The revelation that a trusted member of the British political establishment, and an ally of the new prime minister, has been running arguably the largest Facebook-based disinformation campaign in recent years, shatters the myth spun by the British political elite.
Another aggravating feature of the developing Crosby scandal is CFT Partners close relationship with Saudi Arabia.
According to the Guardian, Crosby’s firm took “millions of pounds” from the Saudi Arabian government to bolster the reputation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been implicated in the murder of dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
The Crosby affair coincides with revelations that former foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, received funding from a close ally of Mohammed bin Salman, in his failed bid to become Tory party leader.
Ken Costa, a South African banker and Christian philanthropist, is reportedly bin Salman’s “point man” in Britain. According to an investigative report on BuzzFeed News on July 04, Costa had donated £10,000 to Hunt’s leadership campaign.
At the very least, these revelations are bound to shatter public confidence in the British government’s approach to fake news and foreign influence in British politics.
The government’s deliberate focus on Russia has apparently obscured the main source of the problem: namely, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.