Friday, October 05, 2018

Is Vanessa Beeley a reliable source?

This post is part of a series I am calling the Reliable Source Project. It contains no original material, but only extracts from already published materials. Where text is in bold the emphasis is mine. 

Who is Vanessa Beeley?

From Olivia Solon's Guardian article on the White Helmets smear campaign:
[One] of the most vocal sceptics of the UN’s investigation [into the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack of 2017] include the blogger Vanessa Beeley, the daughter of a former British diplomat who visited Syria for the first time in July 2016...


Separately, both Graphika and Menczer’s Hoaxy tool identify Beeley, the British blogger, as among the most influential disseminators of content about the White Helmets. Their findings also correlate with work done by Kate Starbird from the University of Washington in Seattle, who asserts that Beeley and the alternative news site 21st Century Wire have dominated the Twitter conversation about White Helmets over the last few months, along with Sputnik and RT.com.

Beeley frequently criticises the White Helmets in her role as editor of the website 21st Century Wire, set up by Patrick Henningsen, who is also a former editor at Infowars.com. In 2016, Beeley had a two-hour meeting with Assad in Damascus as part of a US Peace Council delegation, which she described on Facebook as her “proudest moment”. She was also invited to Moscow to report on the “dirty war in Syria”; there, she met senior Russian officials including the deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, and Maria Zakharova, director of information and press at Russia’s foreign ministry. 
Vanessa Beeley and disinformation networks

The White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defence) are civilian volunteer first responders operating in non-government territories in Syria. Vanesssa Beeley has focused much of her writing on them. 

From Emran Feroz's Syria’s White Helmets: Stigmatising saviours (2018):
Arguably the most prominent figure in [the campaign to smear the White Helmets] is Vanessa Beeley, another propagandist operating within the Assad sphere of influence. Beeley, a regular contributor to the conspiracy portal "21st Century Wire", is now one of the best-known "critics" of the White Helmets. As she recently opined once again, bomb attacks on the aid workers are legitimate because these people are "terrorists". She regularly accuses journalists and established media outlets of spreading "regime-change propaganda". 
Anyone reading Beeley’s words might almost think that all those Syrians who have been maltreated and tortured in recent years are actually Assad’s most enthusiastic supporters. Instead, all the blame for the conflict lies squarely with the Gulf states, Turkey, Israel and western nations. Assad’s death squads, militias funded by Tehran, Russian bombs – in the confused heads of figures like Beeley, this all appears to be nothing more than a fairy tale consistently lied about, or not spoken about at all. 
Hybrid warfare
Data research carried out by British newspaper The Guardian in late 2017 clearly showed that almost all Internet propaganda against the White Helmets can be traced back to Beeley and Bartlett. In this context, observers are talking about "hybrid warfare" being systematically waged by Russian state media against the aid workers. The fact that the White Helmets, who are persistently accused of being "western agents", have also uncovered war crimes perpetrated by the U.S. military, is deliberately ignored.
From the Atlantic Council's Breaking Ghouta report (2018):
Many of the attacks on the White Helmets were both voiced and amplified by a group of pro-Assad bloggers, of whom the most prominent were British citizen Vanessa Beeley and Canadian citizen Eva Bartlett.[66] These, in turn, were supported online by a group of Twitter users who have repeatedly targeted critics of the Assad regime.[67] Neither Bartlett nor Beeley can be viewed as a credible or impartial commentator. In October 2015, Beeley tweeted that the White Helmets are a “legit target”;[68] in 2016, she described a meeting with Assad as her “proudest moment.”[69] At a lecture in Sweden in June 2018, she called respected human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch a “fake, front organization funded by a Zionist billionaire.”[70] ... 
[Writing] in 2016, Beeley called [the White Helmets] “NATO’s pseudo ‘NGO’ construct” and “NATO’s White Helmets.”[78] While the White Helmets are funded by the British, Danish, Dutch, and German foreign ministries,[79] they grew out of grassroots rescue efforts.[80] To argue, on the basis of their funding, that they are a Western tool for “regime change” defies the rules of evidence-based reporting, while to call them “NATO’s White Helmets” shows sheer ignorance of the difference between NATO and its member states.... 
The sources of these attacks on the White Helmets have been studied by digital researchers, notably a group led by Kate Starbird at the University of Washington,[112] and a group at the Syria Campaign supported by social media intelligence firm Graphika.[113] Both studies concluded that the disinformation was driven by a small core of dedicated users and websites, including official Russian government outlets, apparently independent websites, and hyperpartisan bloggers, most notably Beeley and Bartlett.
According to the University of Washington’s analysis, this core consisted of the websites of RT and Sputnik, together with 9/11 “Truther” site 21stcenturywire.com,[114] for which Beeley writes...[115]
According to the study by The Syria Campaign, and supported by Graphika, Beeley herself was “the second most connected Twitter account in the disinformation campaign identified,” being amplified both by overt Kremlin voices such as RT, and by pro-Kremlin outlets such as 21st Century Wire.[128] Commentators such as Beeley, Bartlett, and 21st Century Wire colleague Patrick Henningsen bridged the gap between the “alt-right” movement in the United States and the Russian state communications network, being cited both on sites such as RT, and alt-right hubs such as Infowars. Beeley and Bartlett contribute to both 21st Century Wire[129] and RT...[130] Their contributions helped to spread pro-Assad and pro-Kremlin messaging into US audiences, very much in the manner described by Simonyan, when she spoke of the need for “English-speaking talking heads” to validate the Kremlin’s view.
On at least one occasion, their messaging broke into the mainstream. On April 13, 2018, rock guitarist Roger Waters told a concert in Barcelona that he thought the White Helmets were a “fake organization that is creating propaganda for jihadists and terrorists”—a very similar misrepresentation to that publicized by the Kremlin disinformation networks.[134] ... Both Beeley and Bartlett began their careers blogging about the Gaza conflict; they thus share an ideological starting point with the guitarist. A video clip of his comments was repeatedly uploaded to YouTube by Kremlin and pro-Kremlin users, including RT UK,[136] Beeley,[137] Hands Off Syria,[138] and Clarity of Signal.[139] Together, these totalled more than 140,000 views by September 19, 2018. This is a striking example of how messaging from such sources can break into mainstream discourse, given a sufficiently high-profile validator.
[See footnotes below]
Beeley's networks

The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media

From Idrees Ahmad on the UK-based “Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media” (SPM) in OpenDemocracy (2018):
SPM lionises Vanessa Beeley, the venerated high priestess of truther cosmology, who cites her selfie with Bashar al Assad as her “proudest moment”... [SPM member] Piers Robinson has repeatedly promoted a radio interview with Vanessa Beeley in which she calls the Syrian White Helmets legitimate targets for killing (a war crime in international law). The group has also weaponised Islamophobia to smear critics of the regime. They have slandered the White Helmets and the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) as “Al Qaeda”. (As a proud supporter of both organisations, I was accused of “support[ing] Al Qaeda” by SPM’s Tara McCormack.) Beeley, with whom the group founders frequently tour, considers Britain a “police state” but encourages her followers to report me, George Monbiot, Professor Scott Lucas, the Guardian, Channel 4 and the BBC to authorities under the Terrorism Act of 2000.
The Syria Solidarity Movement

From Shawn Carrié's Assad's allies in the West (2016):
Some writers in this milieu share ties more significant than their dissenting opinions: Bartlett, Beeley, Larudee and Sterling are all steering committee members of an organisation named the "Syria Solidarity Movement" - an activist group and registered nonprofit which has collected more than $1,545,000 in gross receipts from donors since its founding in 2007. SSM has organised demonstrations "in support of the Syrian government", and two group trips to Syria on official visas arranged by an Iranian NGO. ...


Footnotes:

[66] Their impact on the conversation is detailed in Kate Starbird et al., “Ecosystem or Echo-System? Exploring Content Sharing across Alternative Media Domains,” University of Washington, April 25, 2018, http://faculty.washington.edu/kstarbi/Starbird-et-al-ICWSM-2018-Echosystem-final.pdf.
[67] DFRLab, “#TrollTracker: From Tags to Trolling,” Medium, June 27, 2018, https://medium.com/dfrlab/trolltracker-from-tags-to-trolling-58bb2ef87acd.
[68] Vanessa Beeley (@VanessaBeeley), Twitter post, October 30, 2015, 1:19 p.m., https://twitter.com/VanessaBeeley/status/660159072457637888.
[69] Vanessa Beeley’s Facebook post, August 9, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/vanessa.beeley/posts/10155410477838868#.
[70] “Top University’s Course Turns Out to Be Propaganda,” Postimees, June 28, 2018, https://news.postimees.ee/4511277/top-university-s-course-turns-out-to-be-propaganda. 

[78] Vanessa Beeley, “Exclusive: The Real Syrian Civil Defence Exposes Fake ‘White Helmets’ as Terrorist-Linked Imposters,” 21st Century Wire, September 23, 2016, https://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/23/exclusive-the-real-syria-civil-defence-expose-natos-white-helmets-as-terrorist-linked-imposters/.
[79] “Donors,” Mayday Rescue, http://www.maydayrescue.org/content/donors.
[80] Maria Jan, “Q&A: Syria’s White Helmets,” Al Jazeera, August 21, 2015, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/08/qa-syria-white-helmets-150819142324132.html; Scott Lucas, “Who Are Syria’s White Helmets, and Why Are They So Controversial?” The Conversation, October 7, 2016, http://theconversation.com/who-are-syrias-white-helmets-and-why-are-they-so-controversial-66580.
[112] Starbird et al., “Ecosystem or Echo-System?”
[113] The Syria Campaign, Killing the Truth, December 2017, http://thesyriacampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/KillingtheTruth.pdf.
[114] For an example of its stance on 9/11, see “Naming Names: Here Are the Key Players in the 9/11 False Flag Conspiracy,” 21st Century Wire, September 11, 2015, https://21stcenturywire.com/2015/09/11/naming-names-here-are-the-key-players-in-the-911-false-flag-conspiracy/.
[115] Beeley, “Exclusive: The Real Syria Civil Defence Exposes White Helmets as Terrorist-Linked Imposters.”
[128] The Syria Campaign, Killing the Truth.
[129] “Vanessa Beeley, Author at 21st Century Wire,” 21st Century Wire, https://21stcenturywire.com/author/21vbeeley/; “Eva Bartlett,” 21st Century Wire, https://21stcenturywire.com/category/eva-bartlett/.
[134] “Roger Waters Slams Syria’s White Helmets: ‘A Fake Organization Fronting for Terrorists,’” Haaretz, April 17, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/amp/world-news/europe/roger-waters-slams-fake-white-helmets-as-a-terrorist-front-1.6007488.
[135] Roger Waters, “Tear Down This Israeli Wall,” Guardian, March 11, 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/11/cultural-boycott-west-bank-wall.
[136] “Roger Waters Condemns Syria Strikes and Says White Helmets Lie,” uploaded to YouTube by RT, April 16, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NupaxXozSCE.
[137] “Roger Waters – White Helmets Are Fake Propaganda Construct for Terrorists,” uploaded to YouTube by Vanessa Beeley, April 14, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvVaG10AEI0.
[138] “Roger Waters Denounces ‘Fake’ White Helmets, Don’t Bomb Syria,” uploaded to YouTube by Hands Off Syria, April 14, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FFReCibdMM.
[139] “Roger Waters White Helmet Terrorists Speech – HD Version with Psyop Images,” uploaded to YouTube by Clarity of Signal, April 17, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbHdpAzyxj8.

Further reading:

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