Presented as an independent voice for “unbiased” scientific advice, iSAGE provided a channel for media spinmeisters, spies and psy-op specialists to influence Britain’s pandemic policy without accountability. Leaked internal emails show members fretting over its unethical methods.
Throughout Britain’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, a lobbying group known as the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (“iSAGE”) served as a key driving force behind the government’s most draconian lockdown policies.
While it presented itself as a non-governmental organisation composed of forward-thinking health experts, The Grayzone reveals iSAGE not only maintains an array of ties to the British security state, while relying largely on political, rather than scientific, considerations when crafting policy recommendations. The outfit’s endeavours provide a disturbing look at the role of the security state and mainstream media in corrupting British public health policy.
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Below are excerpts from ‘The journalist-run, intelligence-linked operation that warped British pandemic policy’ by Kit Klarenberg published by The Grayzone on 21 November 2022. For convenience, we have used the same subtitles as the original article.
Behind some of the most socially destructive pandemic policies implemented by the British government was iSAGE, a shady organisation founded by a Russia-obsessed Guardian pundit and advised by spies, behavioural psychologists and media influencers without backgrounds in science or medicine.
Founded in May 2020 by David King, former chief scientific adviser to Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, iSAGE initially set out to agitate for greater transparency around state health policy, while providing “robust, unbiased advice” to the public and government. Yet it rapidly transformed into a powerful, wholly unaccountable lobbying group, aggressively pushing for “Zero Covid” measures.
For almost two years, iSAGE members were a fixture in both British and international media. Senior politicians and pundits effusively endorsed the group’s pronouncements on the pandemic, and its weekly YouTube briefings racked up tens of thousands of views. Its representatives used their popular platforms to call for extensive control and suppression measures, including contact tracing, mass testing, border quarantines, lockdowns, and the implementation of mitigation software in order to stop the transmission of Covid-19.
Confusion regarding iSAGE’s name, given its obvious similarity to the British government’s official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (“SAGE”), only increased the group’s prominence. Very quickly after its launch, iSAGE began to not only work in parallel with its government namesake but supplant it in the public mind.
Despite its enormous influence, iSAGE and its members have largely avoided public scrutiny. Little is known about the forces guiding and shaping its activities, or whether its representatives are advancing an ulterior agenda at odds with their stated commitment to providing “unbiased” scientific advice.
iSAGE pushes lockdowns “without sufficient scientific expertise or scientific evidence to inform it”
Previous to iSAGE’s official launch date in May 2020, the body’s composition and the evidence underpinning its decisions was entirely hidden from public view.
Former iSAGE member Allyson Pollock claims the group “rapidly moved away” from its initial transparency agenda “to wanting to make policy” itself. Unknown to the public at the time, iSAGE’s transformation from a government watchdog project into premier public health policy-making activist group prompted an internal revolt.
“Often, [iSAGE] ended up advocating things when it hadn’t sufficiently thought through the uncertainties in the evidence and the potential for harm,” Pollock, who worked as a clinical professor of public health at Newcastle University, alleges. She cites “prolonged lockdowns, school closures, and mass testing,” as examples of iSAGE’s misguided recommendations.
According to Pollock, the group offered policy advice “sometimes without sufficient scientific expertise or scientific evidence to inform it.” She expressed vehement opposition when the group officially adopted its “Zero Covid” position in July 2020, believing it lacked any basis in science. Two months later, the group declined to renew her membership.
In theory, as iSAGE was an entirely separate entity from SAGE, it was free to advocate for whatever mitigation strategies it deemed appropriate. In practice though, an overlap in the membership of both bodies as well as their virtually identical names blurred lines between the two groups.
iSAGE gathers influence by fuelling confusion
As predicted, the two groups’ duplicate names muddied the waters on public and government messaging around Covid-19, leading to numerous troubling — if not outright dangerous — blunders on the part of journalists, pundits, and elected lawmakers alike. SAGE member Ian Boyd claims such chaos was intentional.
Public disorientation was compounded by the fact that several members of SAGE also moonlighted as iSAGE experts. Take the example of Susan Michie, a left-wing political activist and self-styled “behavioural change” expert who served with both iSAGE and SAGE, advising the secretive governmental SPI-B council of behavioural psychologists that fear-mongered the public into compliance with official pandemic policy. Media reports on Michie almost universally referred to her simply as a “SAGE scientist,” creating the impression that her comments represented the British government’s official position. Michie became a symbol of iSAGE’s advocacy for a permanent biomedical security state.
At no point did the mainstream British media acknowledge that Michie’s background did not necessarily qualify her to recommend policy for a public health crisis. Rather, a clinical psychologist represented precisely the type of character who could be called upon to manipulate the public into accepting extreme lockdowns.
The press also erroneously presented iSAGE recommendations as official SAGE advice more than once.
In May 2020, Labour party deputy leader Angela Rayner mistakenly declared that SAGE had warned against the planned 1st June reopening of schools as “too soon,” implying the British government was recklessly discounting recommendations from its own in-house scientific advisors. She was in fact referring to a report produced by iSAGE, not SAGE.
Conversely, SAGE’s own research cautioned that blanket school closures would result in children experiencing “a shock to their education which will persist and affect their educational and work outcomes for the rest of their lives.” It predicted that extended periods of home learning would gravely deepen inequalities between pupils and leave early-stage learning and behavioural disorders undetected.
In October of that year, a United Nations (“UN”) report concluded countless children worldwide had been harshly impacted emotionally and psychologically by school closures. A total confirmation of SAGE’s initial warnings against blanket school closures. The UN’s withering judgement may explain why iSAGE representatives have since deleted social media posts in which they aggressively advocated for keeping children out of classrooms until Covid-19 was completely eradicated.
Not-so-Independent SAGE riddled with conflicts of interest
It was not until July 2021 the British media began probing into the scientific collective with any critical scrutiny. That month, The Daily Telegraph revealed a shadowy outfit called The Citizens was responsible for establishing iSAGE.
The Citizens was itself led by Carole Cadwalladr, the Russia-obsessed Guardian columnist who won a series of high-profile awards for reporting claiming the data firm SCL-Cambridge Analytica served as a channel for Russian meddling in the Brexit vote. As Alex Rubinstein reported for The Grayzone, Cadwalladr’s reporting was comprehensively discredited by a 2020 British parliamentary report that found no evidence whatsoever of Russian involvement in Brexit. In response to the revelation that The Citizens had spawned iSAGE.
Official records of a June 2020 meeting of iSAGE’s ‘Behavioural Advisory Group’ show the organisation received significant direction and assistance from another unacknowledged source. Zack King, representative of PR firm Firstlight Group, took a lead role in proceedings, introducing “the work of Independent SAGE to date,” and leading a dedicated discussion on press relations.
Along the way, King stressed that he and Cadwalladr “handled press issues,” and iSAGE “can use both of them” if the organisation’s behavioural scientists wanted to “involve” the media in its activities.
In January of the next year, a blog titled, “Holding the government to account” was published on Firstlight’s website, laying out the “ambitious media plan” the company pursued in order to “build the group’s profile as quickly as possible” and “grow the group’s influence” upon launch. The proposal called for 36 weekly media and public briefings and “countless one-to-one interviews and by-lines.”
Within six months, iSAGE was “agenda-setting,” Firstlight boasted, “and this publicity empowered them to drive change,” including its “Zero Covid” approach “being adopted by parts of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish devolved governments.” At no point was it disclosed that Zack King is the son of iSAGE chief David King, a fact the former is keen to conceal.
Leaked iSAGE communications reviewed by The Grayzone indicate Firstlight was rewarded handsomely for its media manipulation.
The Citizens rakes in donations from regime change cut-out Omidyar
The Citizens has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Luminate. As Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal documented in an investigation with Alex Rubinstein, Luminate is an integral component of intelligence-linked US oligarch Pierre Omidyar’s global propaganda and regime change network.
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In 2020, Luminate gifted The Citizens $150,000 to develop the “Real Facebook Oversight Board,” and $300,000 ostensibly to produce “impact journalism to hold government and big tech to account.” Cadwalladr also claims the CIA-connected Ford Foundation provided some support, although no record of the donation is recorded on the Foundation’s website.
It’s difficult to identify how The Citizens put its lavish Luminate grants to work. Omidyar was clearly happy with the results, however, giving the organisation another $300,000 in 2021.
Discredited former MI6 agent Christopher Steele advises iSAGE
The Citizens’ website, which has been “under construction” for most of its existence, once featured a dedicated profile of disgraced former MI6 spy and former FBI contractor Christopher Steele. And The Citizens founder Cadwalladr has been a fervent promoter of the intelligence huckster, lionising him despite his ‘Trump-Russia’ dossier having been comprehensively exposed as a fraud compiled with rumours and tall tales fed to him by a single dubious source for cash.
Steele’s intimate but mysterious involvement with an influential outfit that shaped government policy and public perceptions on Covid-19 is troubling, given the power grab that British security and intelligence services carried out under cover of pandemic prevention.
Britain’s security state merges with the public health sector under cover of tracking Covid
In May 2020, the same month iSAGE was launched, London rolled out an initiative called the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC). Purportedly tracking the virus’ spread in real-time, its coronavirus “alert level” was directly modelled on the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre’s “traffic light” system, established in 2003.
JBC was first led by Tom Hurd, a veteran intelligence official who months earlier had been put forward as the likely next MI6 chief. Hurd soon returned to running counter-terrorism for the Home Office, however, and was replaced by senior GCHQ operative Clare Gardiner.
At the time, concerns were rising about the growing role of intelligence service personnel in managing the pandemic. But any resistance to the integration of the security state with the public health sector was comprehensively shunted aside when the British government replaced Public Health England with the Health Security Agency, of which the JBC became a subdivision.
Despite the body’s enormous and constantly expanding power, the opaque JBC has entirely eluded scrutiny from British media since its launch. Given that the veteran GCHQ spy Clare Gardiner was merely referred to as a “senior civil servant” in an official press release announcing her appointment to lead JBC, the question must be asked: is the centre “largely staffed” by intelligence operatives?
Gardiner left her post in mid-June 2021 without any official announcement, and the position has been vacant ever since. At least, no replacement has been publicly mentioned, and no one has asked officials for clarity. Given the enormous clout exerted by the body to this day, it is staggering that not one single journalist or campaigner has demanded answers.
Read the full article HERE.
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