Declassified UK: Secretive US embassy-backed group cultivating UK left
The British-American Project (BAP), founded in the 1980s with US embassy funding in response to CIA concerns about 'anti-American' drift in the Labor Party, has recently added senior Labor politicians to its secret membership rolls, according to Declassified.
It has come to light that three top Labor lawmakers have lately joined a secretive lobbying organization that was founded to foster the British left in collaboration with the US embassy in London.
While serving in the UK government, four prominent members of Boris Johnson's administration were also made fellows this year. "A transatlantic fellowship of over 1,200 leaders, rising stars, and opinion formers from a broad spectrum of occupations, backgrounds, and political views," according to the British-American Project (BAP). However, neither the group's funders nor its members are officially disclosed.
The BAP started in the early 1980s, when Michael Foot, the first non-Atlanticist Labor leader to emerge since World War Two, was in charge of Labor. When the CIA was concerned about the power of the Labor left and its 'anti-American' views, the BAP sought to influence British progressives to adopt a pro-American political stance.
The Guardian wrote that the BAP was the “brainchild” of US President Ronald Reagan and “the political equivalent of the Freemasons” and that “even its supporters joke that it’s funded by the CIA”.
Investigative journalist Paul Foot, writing in Private Eye, compared the BAP to “CIA front organisations” set up in the 1960s “to promote ‘sensible’ elements in British Labor”.
50 members are added every year, half of whom are from the UK and US, who are paid expenses to be delegates at the BAP's annual conference.
The BAP has made it a priority to enlist participants from many racial and sexual backgrounds ever since it was founded. People from the liberal progressive end of the political spectrum have also traditionally been added.
Declassified UK has seen a host of recent documents from the BAP showing that efforts to recruit senior Labor figures continue.
Labor’s shadow Employment Minister Alison McGovern joined the group this year, the documents show. She resigned from her position with shadow Chancellor John McDonnell's team in 2016 and is the former chair of the Blairite advocacy group Progress.
McGovern's trip was funded by the BAP with a £1,776 payment, but when Declassified asked her about her involvement with the group and for more information, she did not comment on it. She doesn't seem to have made any public mention of it either.
Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar is another BAP member. He joined the organization in 2018 and helped plan its annual conference in Glasgow the previous year. The BAP spent £2,000 on a four-day trip for Sarwar to attend its annual conference in Seattle in 2018, which is listed in Sarwar's register of interests.
In June, Sarwar praised Tony Blair and called on Jeremy Corbyn to apologise for the “antisemitism crisis” that rocked Labor under his leadership.
‘Influence public opinion’
Labor’s shadow Minister for the Environment, James McMahon, declared he was a member of the BAP in 2015, listing it under organisations whose “principal purposes includes the influence of public opinion”.
From 2011 to 2016, McMahon presided over the council in Oldham. He claimed that the BAP had paid for him to attend their convention in Philadelphia in 2010 when he was a 30-year-old Labor councilor in his submission to the council.
Rushanara Ali, a Labor MP for Benthal Green and Bow who worked on community cohesion at the Home Office when she was 29 years old, joined the BAP in 2004. Ali supported the overthrow of Corbyn's leadership in 2016, arguing that he should "do the decent thing" and step down as Labor leader. She supported Owen Smith during the ensuing leadership election.
Ali received £595 to attend the BAP conference in Manchester the year after from UpRising Leadership, a mentoring organization that supports "leaders better reflect and represent the communities they serve."
Recruitement of senior local government Labor officials
The BAP has focused on hiring senior Labor officials for local government.
Joanne Anderson, the Labor mayor of Liverpool, where the BAP conference for the following year, with the theme "You'll Never Walk Alone," will be held, also joined the group this year.
She became Labor’s candidate for Liverpool Mayor under controversial circumstances last year. The party, which was then led by Starmer, abruptly rejected a selection of three candidates chosen by the local party and imposed two local council members, among whom was Anderson.
The locally-selected shortlist included socialist candidate and the city’s Lord Mayor Anna Rothery, who was backed by leading figures on Labor’s left, including Corbyn.
The Labor leader of Haringey Council, Claire Kober, is another person connected to the BAP. She received £2,000 from the organization to attend their conference in Houston, Texas, in November 2016.
Recruitment of Johnson's government officials
Several senior officials working inside Boris Johnson’s government also joined the group this year.
After Oliver Christian received his BAP fellowship, he was No. 10's deputy director. When chosen, Cass Horowitz served as Rishi Sunak's special advisor. He is currently No. 10's head of strategic communications. When chosen, Samuel Coates was Sajid Javid's chief of staff, who was the health secretary at the time.
Additionally, former soldier Coates is currently a Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI, a foreign policy think tank with offices in London and the US State Department as its second-largest donor.
A senior strategy advisor for the Department of International Trade, Benjamin Bilski, has also joined BAP this year. In the recent past, some powerful government figures had ties to the BAP.
The controversial government program Prevent's director at the time, Debbie Gupta, served as the chair of the group's UK executive committee in 2009. “Oliver Christian was deputy director of No. 10 when awarded his BAP fellowship.”
Gupta oversaw the Security Service's (MI5) and police counterterrorism operations in the UK from the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, a division of the Home Office.
Houston was the subject of a "flying visit" for the British American Project in November 2016, according to Matthew Rycroft, then-Britain's permanent representative to the UN. This was probably done so that Claire Kober, the president of the Labor Council, and others could attend the conference there.
In 2005, shortly after taking over as the Conservative Party's leader, David Cameron addressed the BAP with his first big foreign policy speech. Speaking to the group, which he described as "one of the most illustrious of the countless ties that connect our two countries," was an "honor," according to Cameron.
The group was aware of his support for the US-UK invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the subsequent occupations.
Recruitment of senior British military figures
Senior members of the British military have continued to be hired by the BAP. Two Portsmouth-based Royal Navy officers, Lt. Michael Golden and Lt. Oliver Rupert-Pelendrides, are joining the group this year.
Golden, who was an Air Engineer when awarded the BAP fellowship, has been deployed on UK military operations to the Middle East and the Arctic. He sits on the board of the In & Out Naval and Military Club, which has been described as “a much-loved haunt of the new generation of British army and intelligence officers”.
Meanwhile, Rupert-Pelendrides is a Warfare Officer who also appears to be a Freemason. It appears, however, that neither of these officers has declared their BAP fellowships to the Ministry of Defense. The department recently told parliament that it is “not aware of any links to the British American Project or personnel who have been selected for its Fellowships.”
“Senior UK military figures have been key figures in the BAP since its inception.”
Despite this, the head of the British army from 2006-9, General Lord Richard Dannatt, joined the BAP as long ago as 1986, the year after it was founded, and has been an active member ever since.
Many other senior UK military figures have been key figures in the BAP since its inception.
One long-time supporter of the BAP is BAE Systems, the largest arms exporter in the United Kingdom, which has sold Saudi Arabia more than £17.6 billion worth of weapons since it began its bloody war in Yemen in 2015. Benjamin Grainger, the head of strategy at BAE, joined the organization this year.
The BAP is also home to Sir John Sawers, former chief of MI6 from 2009 to 2014. He joined the group in 1995 and is a contributing member; most recently, he spoke on Russia at a BAP-only gathering.
A national security expert for two House of Commons committees and a fellow at the Atlantic Council, Ashlee Godwin, whose funders include BAE Systems and Nato's public diplomacy division, is also joining the BAP this year.
This year, senior US military figures have also joined BAP. These people include Patrick Darcey, a Judge Advocate for the US Navy when he received his BAP fellowship, and Julian Gluck, a US Air Force major and B-52 pilot who has flown bombing missions in Iraq and Syria.
Senior US officials who have been BAP fellows include Matt Pottinger, who served as President Trump's deputy national security adviser from 2019 to 2021 and joined in 2011, and Barbara Stephenson, who served as acting US ambassador in Britain and joined in 2015.
Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush's deputy secretary of defense and a key architect of the illegal invasion of Iraq, served on the BAP's advisory board from 2006 to 2007, though the full extent of his involvement is unclear because the group no longer discloses such information on its website. Wolfowitz was Bush's choice for World Bank President at the time.
It is worth highlighting that, “Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the illegal invasion of Iraq, sat on the BAP’s advisory board.”
Emma Dent Coad is another Labor figure who has worked with the BAP. She was the party's first-ever MP for Kensington, serving from 2017 to 2019, and is now the leader of the Labor Group on the borough council.
She told Declassified that in the 1980s, a friend who was a senior official in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) attempted to recruit her for the BAP. Coad later discovered that this individual "worked with the CIA."
According to an official memo leaked to the Washington Post, the United States initiated a “propaganda exercise in Britain, aimed at neutralizing the efforts of CND”. “In the late 80s, I was a journalist working in design and architecture and very busy at the time, travelling around a lot and writing for various magazines,” Coad told us. “At the time, a local friend who was senior in CND started talking to me about this project that she was involved in.”
“I found out a couple of years later that this friend worked with the CIA.”
“She basically said that if I was able to go to Washington and give a talk about the work I was doing, I’d have a lovely dinner, it would all be paid for, and then I’d be part of this international group who were just trying to improve life,” Coad added. “Then I would be part of that group forever and I’d be invited to things periodically, and it would give me a really good profile.”
Targeting the left
After Coad was told about the CIA connection “it began to drop into place,” she says. Coad then looked up the recruiter who had moved on from CND to PR firm Saatchi & Saatchi, which has funded the BAP.
“I thought, ‘that’s interesting, a bit of a leap from what they were doing before’. I thought it was very strange that they would go from CND to working for a right-wing advertising agency, so it rang true, and I believed it.”
Coad claims she hasn't given the BAP a second thought in years. "But obviously they've been working very hard behind the scenes, and of course they'd be very concerned about Jeremy Corbyn." However, she says Labor shadow ministers like Alison McGovern probably don’t know what they are getting themselves involved in.
“I’m sure they are joining in good faith and think they are doing something good, I’m just a cynic and always have been, so if I don’t understand something I don’t trust it. But I’m sure they are in good faith getting involved in something bigger than they imagine.”
‘Threat to US interests’
The British-American Project began in the early 1980s during Michael Foot’s leadership of the Labor Party. Declassified files from the CIA show how concerned the intelligence agency then was by the left turn in Labor.
The BBC notes “the deep level of concern inside the CIA about the strength of the Left within Labor in the early 1980s, a political force which the agency regarded as anti-American.”
The CIA was concerned about Foot winning the 1983 general election, with an internal report stating that “a Labor majority government would represent the greatest threat to US interests”. Its 1983 election manifesto questioned “the programme for establishing American-controlled Cruise missiles on our soil” and noted that a new European security pact should end with the “phasing out” of NATO.
The BAP’s own official history notes that “the traditional British left-wing remained deeply suspicious of the United States, particularly on foreign policy and security issues” in the period, adding “this was the era of Michael Foot’s leadership of a Labor Party committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament.”
“A Labor majority government would represent the greatest threat to US interests.”
The US neutralisation campaign, leaked to The Washington Post, “would take three forms”, Dorrill continued: mobilising public opinion, working within the churches, and a “dirty tricks” operation against the peace groups. The CIA's then-head, William Casey, met with the US Information Agency to plan the propaganda campaign in Europe.
However, in 1985, with Foot defeated and the BAP established, the CIA expressed concern that the Labor Party was still “in the hands of urban leftists given to ideological extremes”.
The British-American Project promotes pro-American political positions among the British left, and it includes many figures who are critical of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. The diversity of the party varies from Labor party members, CIA officials, and many senior UK military officers.