The British government is probing a hack carried out on computer systems belonging to the British Foreign Ministry, which resulted in hundreds of files exposing its propaganda operations in Syria being stolen.
In the massive security breach reported by the UK-based news outlet Middle East Eye, hackers sought out files focusing specifically on the government’s operations within Syria which were conducted through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Those 200-300 files reveal that the FCDO ran the operations by hiring private-sector contractors who set up media outlets and platforms throughout Syria during the ongoing nine-year-long conflict.
Those British contractors then recruited and utilised a vast network of unknowing Syrian civilian journalists who reported on the development of the war, many of whom started from the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, and provided them with training and equipment to carry out their tasks.
Apparently known in government circles as “strategic communications”, the programmes developed by the contractors helped set up radio stations, newspapers, comic books, magazines and books in both Arabic and English, and posters which all propagated sentiments against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
The aim of the entire operation was reportedly to promote secular values amongst the Syrian population in order to build up a moderate opposition, with the goal of achieving it through “attitudinal and behavioural change”.
The revelation of the hacking of government computer systems comes months after MEE revealed the propaganda operations undertaken by the government which were engineered to conceal its involvement in the programmes.
Despite the origins of the hackers having not yet been identified, many at the FCDO reportedly believe that the efficiency of the cyberattack points to a state actor such as Russia being responsible, particularly with the Russian government supporting and militarily backing the Assad regime throughout the conflict.
If the involvement of Russia in the hacking is true, it comes two years after a British diplomat accused it of attempting to hack the Foreign Office, and ties in with Russia’s consistent attempts to defame the Syrian revolution as a foreign-instigated operation and to frame the Syrian opposition of having perpetrated infamous chemical weapons attacks during the conflict.