Ministers were accused of a cover-up last night after it was revealed that soldiers did secretly spy on British critics of the Government's response to Covid.
The release of new documents contradict official assertions that a shadowy Army unit had only been monitoring foreign powers.The Mail on Sunday
revealed earlier this year that military operatives in the UK's 'information warfare' brigade were part of a sinister scheme to keep a close eye on politicians and high-profile journalists who raised doubts about the pandemic response.
They compiled dossiers on public figures - such as ex-Minister David Davis, who questioned the modelling behind alarming death toll predictions, and The Mail on Sunday
columnist Peter Hitchens - and reported their dissenting views back to No 10.
Ex-Minister David Davis
Documents obtained by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch revealed the Government cells included the MoD's 77th Brigade, which deploys 'non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of adversaries'.
When the reports appeared, Ben Wallace
, then the Defence Secretary, told the Commons the unit unearthed information on extremist alliances based outside the UK and that 'its role is not to monitor or counter opinion'.But new information unearthed by Big Brother Watch showed the 77th Brigade did produce reports on those who 'questioned Government decision-making' and even compiled notes on BBC's Question Time.
Soldiers also filed newspaper articles and tweets made by politicians regarding No 10's rejection of an international ventilator scheme in March 2020 under the label 'disinformation which could have a negative effect on the UK's reputation'.
Obtained after a months-long Freedom of Information battle with the Cabinet Office, the documents appear to show personnel from the information warfare unit dedicated time to managing the Government's reputation rather than tackling foreign threats - such as analysing the response to fines for breaching lockdown on social media.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, last night said: 'The MoD's claims that the information warfare unit's secretive work was focused solely on overseas threats are now, ironically, clearly disinformation acting as a cover-up for their political surveillance.
The Mail on Sunday revealed earlier this year that military operatives in the UK's 'information warfare' brigade were part of a sinister scheme to keep a close eye on politicians and high-profile journalists who raised doubts about the pandemic response
'Free Press and free speech are the foundations of any democracy, yet journalists and politicians appear to be treated like the enemy within.'
A Government spokesperson said: 'Online disinformation is a serious threat to the UK, which is why during the pandemic we brought together expertise from across government to monitor disinformation about Covid.
'These units used publicly available data, including material shared on social media platforms, to assess UK disinformation trends and narratives.
'They did not target individuals or take any action that could impact anyone's ability to discuss and debate issues freely.'