The Pentagon gave a controversial UK PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda programme in Iraq, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.

Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.

The agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking US military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside.

Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which worked with the Bureau on this story, that his firm had worked on a “covert” military operation “covered by various secrecy agreements.”

Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, he said.

Bell, one of Britain’s most successful public relations executives, is credited with honing Margaret Thatcher’s steely image and helping the Conservative party win three elections. The agency he co-founded has had a roster of clients including repressive regimes and Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president.

In the first media interview any Bell Pottinger employee has given about the work for the US military in Iraq, video editor Martin Wells – who no longer works for the company – told the Bureau his time in Camp Victory was “shocking, eye-opening, life-changing.”

The firm’s output was signed off by former General David Petraeus – then commander of the coalition forces in Iraq – and on occasion by the White House, Wells said.

Bell Pottinger produced reams of material for the Pentagon, some of it going far beyond standard communications work.

The Bureau traced the firm’s Iraq work through US army contracting censuses, federal procurement transaction records and reports by the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General, as well as Bell Pottinger’s corporate filings and specialist publications on military propaganda. We interviewed half a dozen former officials and contractors involved in information operations in Iraq.

There were three types of media operations commonly used in Iraq at the time, said a military contractor familiar with Bell Pottinger’s work there.

“White is attributed, it says who produced it on the label,” the contractor said. “Grey is unattributed and black is falsely attributed. These types of black ops, used for tracking who is watching a certain thing, were a pretty standard part of the industry toolkit.”

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Bell Pottinger changed ownership after a management buyout in 2012 and its current structure has no connections with the unit that operated in Iraq, which closed in 2011. It is understood the key people who worked in that unit deny any involvement with tracking software as described by Wells.

Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq was a huge media operation which cost over a hundred million dollars a year on average. A document unearthed by the Bureau shows the company was employing almost 300 British and Iraqi staff at one point.

The London-based PR agency was brought into Iraq soon after the US invasion. In March 2004 it was tasked by the country’s temporary administration with the “promotion of democratic elections” – a “high-profile activity” which it trumpeted in its annual report.

The firm soon switched to less high-profile activities, however. The Bureau has identified transactions worth $540 million between the Pentagon and Bell Pottinger for information operations and psychological operations on a series of contracts issued from May 2007 to December 2011. A similar contract at around the same annual rate – $120 million – was in force in 2006, we have been told.

The bulk of the money was for costs such as production and distribution, Lord Bell told the Sunday Times, but the firm would have made around £15 million a year in fees.

Martin Wells, the ex-employee, told the Bureau he had no idea what he was getting into when he was interviewed for the Bell Pottinger job in May 2006.

He had been working as a freelance video editor and got a call from his agency suggesting he go to London for an interview for a potential new gig. “You’ll be doing new stuff that’ll be coming out of the Middle East,” he was told.

“I thought ‘That sounds interesting’,” Wells recalled. “So I go along and go into this building, get escorted up to the sixth floor in a lift, come out and there’s guards up there. I thought what on earth is going on here? And it turns out it was a Navy post, basically. So from what I could work out it was a media intelligence gathering unit.”

After a brief chat Wells asked when he would find out about the job, and was surprised by the response.

“You’ve already got it,” he was told. “We’ve already done our background checks into you.”

He would be flying out on Monday, Wells learned. It was Friday afternoon. He asked where he would be going and got a surprising answer: Baghdad.

“So I literally had 48 hours to gather everything I needed to live in a desert,” Wells said.

Arrival in Baghdad

Days later, Wells’s plane executed a corkscrew landing to avoid insurgent fire at Baghdad airport. He assumed he would be taken to somewhere in the Green Zone, from which coalition officials were administering Iraq. Instead he found himself in Camp Victory, a military base.

It turned out that the British PR firm which had hired him was working at the heart of a US military intelligence operation.

A tide of violence was engulfing the Iraqi capital as Wells began his contract. The same month he arrived there were five suicide bomb attacks in the city, including a suicide car bomb attack near Camp Victory which killed 14 people and wounded six others.

Describing his first impressions, Wells said he was struck by a working environment very unlike what he was used to. “It was a very secure building,” he recalled, with “signs outside saying ‘Do not come in, it’s a classified area, if you’re not cleared, you can’t come in.’”

Inside were two or three rooms with lots of desks in, said Wells, with one section for Bell Pottinger staff and the other for the US military.

“I made the mistake of walking into one of the [US military] areas, and having a very stern American military guy basically drag me out saying you are not allowed in here under any circumstances, this is highly classified, get out – whilst his hand was on his gun, which was a nice introduction,” said Wells.

It soon became apparent he would be doing much more than just editing news footage.

Grey Ops

The work consisted of three types of products. The first was television commercials portraying al Qaeda in a negative light. The second was news items which were made to look as if they had been “created by Arabic TV”, Wells said. Bell Pottinger would send teams out to film low-definition video of al Qaeda bombings and then edit it like a piece of news footage. It would be voiced in Arabic and distributed to TV stations across the region, according to Wells.

The American origins of the news items were sometimes kept hidden. In 2005, revelations that PR contractor the Lincoln Group had helped the Pentagon place articles in Iraqi newspapers – sometimes presented as unbiased news – led to a DoD investigation.

Black Ops

The third and most sensitive programme described by Wells was the production of fake al Qaeda propaganda films. He told the Bureau how the videos were made. He was given precise instructions: “We need to make this style of video and we’ve got to use al Qaeda’s footage,” he was told. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.”

US marines would take the CDs on patrol and drop them in the chaos when they raided targets. Wells said: “If they’re raiding a house and they’re going to make a mess of it looking for stuff anyway, they’d just drop an odd CD there.”

The CDs were set up to use Real Player, a popular media streaming application which connects to the internet to run. Wells explained how the team embedded a code into the CDs which linked to a Google Analytics account, giving a list of IP addresses where the CDs had been played.

The tracking account had a very restricted circulation list, according to Wells: the data went to him, a senior member of the Bell Pottinger management team, and one of the US military commanders.

Wells explained their intelligence value. “If one is looked at in the middle of Baghdad…you know there’s a hit there,” he said. “If one, 48 hours or a week later shows up in another part of the world, then that’s the more interesting one, and that’s what they’re looking for more, because that gives you a trail.”

The CDs turned up in some interesting places, Wells recalled, including Iran, Syria, and even America.

“I would do a print-out for the day and, if anything interesting popped up, hand it over to the bosses and then it would be dealt with from there,” he said.

The Pentagon confirmed that Bell Pottinger did work for them as a contractor in Iraq under the Information Operations Task Force (IOTF), producing some material that was openly sourced to coalition forces, and some which was not. They insisted that all material put out by IOTF was “truthful”.

IOTF was not the only mission Bell Pottinger worked on however. Wells said some Bell Pottinger work was carried out under the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force (JPOTF), which a US defence official confirmed.

The official said he could not comment in detail on JPOTF activities, adding: “We do not discuss intelligence gathering methods for operations past and present.”

Lord Bell, who stood down as chairman of Bell Pottinger earlier this year, told the Sunday Times that the deployment of tracking devices described by Wells was “perfectly possible”, but he was personally unaware of it.

Bell Pottinger’s output was signed off by the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, according to Wells. “We’d get the two colonels in to look at the things we’d done that day, they’d be fine with it, it would then go to General Petraeus,” he said.

Some of the projects went even higher up the chain of command. “If [Petraeus] couldn’t sign off on it, it would go on up the line to the White House, and it was signed off up there, and the answer would come back down the line’.”

Petraeus went on to become director of the CIA in 2011 before resigning in the wake of an affair with a journalist.

Watch the Bureau’s interview with Martin Wells below:

A firsthand account of Bell Pottinger’s top secret work in Iraq from The Bureau on Vimeo.

The awarding of such a large contract to a British company created resentment among the American communications firms jostling for Iraq work, according to a former employee of one of Bell Pottinger’s rivals.

“Nobody could work out how a British company could get hundreds of millions of dollars of US funding when there were equally capable US companies who could have done it,” said Andrew Garfield, an ex-employee of the Lincoln Group who is now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “The American companies were pissed.”

Ian Tunnicliffe, a former British soldier, was the head of a three person panel from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) – the transitional government in Iraq following the 2003 invasion – which awarded Bell Pottinger their 2004 contract to promote democratic elections.

According to Tunnicliffe, the contract, which totalled $5.8m, was awarded after the CPA realised its own in-house efforts to make people aware of the transitional legal framework ahead of elections were not working.

“We held a relatively hasty but still competitive bid for communications companies to come in,” recalls Tunnicliffe.

Tunnicliffe said that Bell Pottinger’s consortium was one of three bidders for the contract, and simply put in a more convincing proposal than their rivals.

Iraq was a lucrative opportunity for many communications firms. The Bureau has discovered that between 2006 and 2008 more than 40 companies were being paid for services such as TV and radio placement, video production, billboards, advertising and opinion polls. These included US companies like Lincoln Group, Leonie Industries and SOS International as well as Iraq-based firms such as Cradle of New Civilization Media, Babylon Media and Iraqi Dream.

But the largest sums the Bureau was able to trace went to Bell Pottinger.

According to Glen Segell, who worked in an information operations task force in Iraq in 2006, contractors were used partly because the military didn’t have the in-house expertise, and partly because they were operating in a legal “grey area”.

In his 2011 article Covert Intelligence Provision in Iraq, Segell notes that US law prevented the government from using propaganda on the domestic population of the US. In a globalised media environment, the Iraq operations could theoretically have been seen back home, therefore “it was prudent legally for the military not to undertake all the…activities,” Segell wrote.

Segell maintains that information operations programmes did make a difference on the ground in Iraq. Some experts question this however.
A 2015 study by the Rand Corporation, a military think tank, concluded that “generating assessments of efforts to inform, influence, and persuade has proven to be challenging across the government and DoD.”

Bell Pottinger’s operations on behalf of the US government stopped in 2011 as American troops withdrew from Iraq, and its unit that worked there no longer exists.

Wells left Iraq after less than two years, having had enough of the stress of working in a war zone and having to watch graphic videos of atrocities day after day.

Looking back at his time creating propaganda for the US military, Wells is ambivalent. The aim of Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq was to highlight al Qaeda’s senseless violence, he said – publicity which at the time he thought must be doing some good. “But then, somewhere in my conscience I wondered whether this was the right thing to do,” he added.

Lord Bell told the Sunday Times he was “proud” of Bell Pottinger’s work in Iraq. “We did a lot to help resolve the situation,” he said. “Not enough. We did not stop the mess which emerged, but it was part of the American propaganda machinery.”

Whether the material achieved its goals, no one would ever really know, said Wells. “I mean if you look at the situation now, it wouldn’t appear to have worked. But at the time, who knows, if it saved one life it [was] a good thing to do.”

This investigation was published in collaboration with The Sunday Times, and a version was also published by The Daily Beast. It is part of a series by the Bureau looking at the use of military contractors worldwide. If you have any stories or tips please email croftonblack@tbij.com or abigailfielding-smith@tbij.com

Dodgy regime? Unruly protesters? Bell Pottinger can help

From the ousted Thai PM to fracking company Cuadrilla and Asma al-Assad, the PR firm Bell Pottinger represents some of the world’s most notorious clients. Tim Bell, who masterminded Margaret Thatcher’s election campaigns, explains why he thinks his business is a force for good

At first sight, the Curzon Street offices of Bell Pottinger Private are everything a conspiracy theorist could hope for. Next door, guarded by uniformed police officers with machine guns, squats the immense embassy of Saudi Arabia, a country with which the controversial PR firm’s even more controversial chairman, Tim Bell, has had decades of opaque, often defence-related dealings. Beyond the embassy is the rest of Mayfair, where businesses are discreet, ethics are flexible, and rich people with reputations to upgrade are in increasingly plentiful supply.

In the lobby of Bell Pottinger, there are cream leather benches for visitors. The day’s newspapers hang from clips on the wall. The implication is that Bell, who has worked in PR or advertising since 1959, can get you or your company or government into them – or quietly arrange the opposite. “We keep a lot of people out of the media,” says James Henderson, the firm’s chief executive.

From the lobby, a tiny lift whisks you up to Bell’s top-floor office. It is a long corner room, with a row of windows looking out over Mayfair’s wine-red and bone-white rooftops. In the centre of the room is a large desk, almost in the shape of a quotation mark. Along its outer curve are a few chairs for clients. On the inner, there is an oldish computer, two telephones, two used coffee cups, a half-full ashtray and Bell himself.

Lord Bell of Belgravia, who was knighted by his longstanding client and political soulmate Margaret Thatcher in 1990, is 72. But he is still working full-time, and still looks like an old-fashioned PR man from central casting: slicked-back hair, assertive tie, tailored shirt, quick smile. He talks in a half-gravelly, half-chocolatey voice, and instantly drops your first name into his quick sentences. “He is an icon in the business,” says Mark Borkowski, another British PR veteran and a historian of the industry. “A lot of people have tried to write his obituary, but they underestimate his steely determination. He has a very powerful network, contacts all over the world. Bell Pottinger are a formidable multinational. For many, many years they have operated in the shadows, as agents of influence.”

‘Labour Isn’t Working’ campaign poster, which helped discredit the Callaghan government in the late 70s.

Bell grants interviews rarely, and then usually to rightwing newspapers, his preferred journalistic conduits. But sometimes he wants to reach a wider audience. Today, sitting back from his desk in a shaft of cigarette-fogged sunlight, he is in expansive, self-deprecating mode

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“The Thatcher legacy – of course I live off it to some extent,” he says. “What I did for her has been grossly exaggerated by some, and grossly underestimated by others.” According to Mark Hollingsworth’s biography of Bell, The Ultimate Spin Doctor, he advised her on everything from how to relax on television – “to melt her almost frozen expression, Bell would sit behind the camera and pull faces” – to how to attack Labour, including the famous “Labour Isn’t Working” poster campaign, featuring an endless queue of the unemployed (actually Young Conservatives borrowed for the shoot), that helped discredit the Callaghan government in the late 70s – shortly before the Thatcher government sent unemployment much higher. “My profound belief,” Bell continues, “is that a small number of words, a strong visual image, can change the way people think.” At Bell Pottinger, which he co-founded in 1998, “We tell stories – I don’t mean lies. We work for people who want to tell their side of the story.”

The government of Sri Lanka; FW de Klerk, when he ran against Nelson Mandela for president of South Africa; Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted Thai premier, whom protesters claim still controls the country; Asma al-Assad, the wife of the president of Syria; Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus; Rebekah Brooks after the phone-hacking scandal broke; the repressive governments of Bahrain and Egypt; the American occupying administration in Iraq; the polluting oil company Trafigura; the fracking company Cuadrilla; the athlete Oscar Pistorius after he was charged with murder; the Pinochet Foundation during its campaign against the former Chilean dictator’s British detention; the much-criticised arms conglomerate BAE Systems – Bell or Bell Pottinger has represented all of them. “They get involved in lots of ‘special situations’, in reputational and crisis PR,” says Alec Mattinson, the deputy editor of PR Week. “The reputation they have is as an agency that goes where other agencies would fear to tread.”

A Buddhist monk puts on a gas mask during clashes in Bangkok. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

This notoriety has had consequences. In 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Independent published a Bell Pottinger exposé, including covertly filmed company executives (though not Bell or Henderson) bragging about their influence over the Sri Lankan government and the British Conservative party, and about the firm’s expertise in “all sorts of dark arts”. This August, anti-fracking protesters superglued themselves to the doors of Bell Pottinger’s other London office, on a busy street in Holborn, during the morning rush hour. Last month, the BBC3 satirical show The Revolution Will Be Televised broadcast its attempt to gatecrash this year’s Bell Pottinger summer party – a Whitehall gathering of dark-suited men with worldly auras – by a comedian dressed as the Devil and then as Hitler.

Bell and the company have a range of responses to such frontal attacks. One is to claim victimhood: “The left is extremely strong, and very active, and very keen on demonstrating its point of view by shouting at people,” he says, with a world-weary shrug. “It’s become very fashionable to shoot the messenger.”

Another approach is to affect casualness. When I ask if Bell Pottinger is still working for the Sri Lankan government – citing commercial confidentiality or official secrecy, the firm does not publish a full list of clients – Bell says airily: “We stopped in … 2009? Or 2010? I might have got the dates wrong.”

Then he switches seamlessly to a sterner, man-of-the-world tone: “It’s a fashionable thing to criticise the way the Sri Lankan government has behaved. David Cameron had one meeting in the north of the country with 200 people who have lost relatives. You have to remember there was a 30-year civil war. The Tamil Tigers weren’t exactly gentle, nice people. And for Britain to ponce around the world talking about human rights after what we did in Afghanistan … It’s what Winston Churchill called ‘our usual export’: hypocrisy.”

Finally, and most ambitiously, Bell claims that his company is in fact a force for good. “We are actually decent people,” he says. “We do know right from wrong. The reason we worked for Lukashenko in Belarus was because he told me: ‘We want to go along the path to democracy.’ We actually got six political prisoners released.”

Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus. Photograph: Pool/Reuters/Corbis

The shameless incompatability of all these arguments is typical Bell: always slippery, always trying a new line on you, and, deep down, probably trying to persuade himself. “He’s mercurial, quite emotional,” says Hollingsworth. “He can suddenly turn.”

Yet the question that hovers over Bell Pottinger is whether this theatrical, highly personalised approach exactly meets the needs of a modern PR multinational. After 20 highly quotable minutes in Bell’s office, we are joined by Henderson. The chief executive, who only came to the company three years ago, is a quarter of a century younger than Bell, and has a much more sober background in financial and corporate PR. Unlike Bell, he keeps his suit jacket on.

At first, while Bell talks and talks, Henderson stays quiet, rolling a pen between his fingers. Then, just as Bell is concluding a long, involved anecdote about why he turned down a chance to work for the authoritarian president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, Henderson interjects: “We have a very, very non-controversial client base now,” he says. “Our client base doesn’t reflect what you read about in the press.”

The Bell Pottinger website mentions work for dozens of less-than-sinister entities such as Kurt Geiger, Daylesford Organic and the London Chamber Orchestra. Yet many of the commercial sectors the company lists as focuses for its PR activities – “oil and gas”, “mining”, “financial institutions”, “Russia” – suggest a readiness to work at the more rugged end of international capitalism. Your attitude to the company doing such work, says Bell, flashing a wide smile, “does depend on your definition of controversial”.

Henderson argues that Bell Pottinger is disproportionately targeted by critics of London’s hard-nosed PR world. “These ‘controversial’ clients – we do pitch for them against other PR companies,” he points out.

PR Week’s Mattinson agrees: “The idea that they’re the only company prepared to work for controversial clients is a [mistake].” In the magazine’s league table of PR firms operating in Britain, Bell Pottinger is at number five; Hill & Knowlton, a bigger American rival, controversial since the 30s, which has also promoted repressive governments and fracking, is just behind at number seven. Portland PR, a newer British firm set up by Tony Blair’s former aide Tim Allan, has already achieved some notoriety for its work for authoritarian Kazakhstan and Russia.

One reason, perhaps, why Bell Pottinger is singled out for special criticism is its lingering air of rightwing tribalism. When I ask Henderson why they haven’t ever worked for controversial leftwing governments, such as the many currently in South America, he looks at me slightly uncomprehendingly, then says: “We’ve never been approached by a leftwing government, that I’m aware of.” Bell adds: “You don’t want an adviser that doesn’t agree with you.”

Tim Bell and James Henderson of Bell Pottinger. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Bell grew up in the aspiring, often politically conservative, outer suburbs of north London. His background was entrepreneurial and middle class: his Irish father was a gifted salesman and his Australian mother came from a shop-owning family, like Thatcher. As a young man during the 60s, Bell was less interested in politics than in his advertising career, and the flash clothes and cars it paid for, but he found time to canvass for several north London Tory MPs, including Thatcher. When she hired Bell and his then employers Saatchi & Saatchi to work for her party in 1978, he and she immediately established a rapport. He became one of the closest in her inner circle of clever, often slightly roguish informal advisers, partly because they had a similar worldview: us-against-them, fiercely anti-communist, unquestioningly pro-market. “If anyone inspired me, it’s Ayn Rand,” says Bell, namechecking the famously confrontational American rightwing author. Long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bell still privately referred to journalists he disliked as “commies” and “pinkos”.

Henderson is less of a crusader. Privately educated, unlike Bell, more smartly spoken, more quietly dressed, he could be a Mayfair hedge-fund trader. “We are all supportive of Tim and his politics,” he says with a slightly fixed smile. Bell Pottinger’s partisan and more straightforwardly corporate impulses, he goes on, “can work well side by side”. In a sense, this is right. Bell’s work for the Conservatives in the 70s and 80s helped create a world – of London as a hub for the international rich, of the privatised utilities, of a post-communist, status-hungry eastern Europe – that has produced clients for Bell Pottinger, and Bell’s previous PR enterprises, ever since.

Much of what Bell Pottinger does for these clients is commercially confidential, but the company also needs to promote itself, and its website offers surprisingly detailed case studies. “Katrin Radmacher is a German heiress,” begins one. “She asked Bell Pottinger to help uphold her reputation and manage the media during a legal marathon with her former husband … After each ruling, Bell Pottinger issued a highly quotable statement on her behalf to the world’s media … When misconceptions arose, Bell Pottinger quietly briefed the press. A Tatler interview, establishing her as a privileged, yes, but unassuming mother of two who’d tried to save her marriage, was syndicated in the Sunday Times. Evening Standard and FT interviews, and a Times leader, were sympathetic …”

A General Pinochet supporter. Photograph: Santiago Llanquin/AP

Bell Pottinger likes to portray itself as a dexterous media manipulator, yet sometimes the process is more fraught. In 1998, the campaign it helped orchestrate for the release of General Pinochet had a clever slogan – “reconciliation not retribution” – but also internal tensions. In 2000 Charles Alexander, a pro-Pinochet figure in the City of London, told me: “I said on the first day after he [Pinochet] was arrested [in Britain], ‘He’s got to get very ill, very quickly.’ But Tim Bell disagreed with me. He said: ‘Pinochet got rid of the commies, and that’s our argument.'” In the end, the campaigners settled for an awkward mixture of both approaches, apolitically playing up Pinochet’s frail health while also producing and distributing crude rightwing propaganda pamphlets and articles about the elected leftwing leader he had overthrown, Salvador Allende. The general eventually flew back to Chile, but with his international reputation even lower.

Nowadays, Henderson’s strategy for Bell Pottinger sometimes seems more safety-first. Last year, he, Bell, and the firm’s co-founder, Piers Pottinger, a City of London PR veteran, organised a management buyout of the company, extricating it from the bigger communications conglomerate Chime. Since then, Henderson has emphasised “rebuilding the Bell Pottinger brand”, getting the firm “up the league tables”, and winning a greater “number of mandates [contracts]”. Much of this strategy is being enacted not in Mayfair, but in the Holborn office, which houses Henderson and nine-tenths of the firm’s 250 staff. The Bell Pottinger premises there have a security guard in the lobby – perhaps on the lookout for more protesters with superglue – but otherwise seem a little more prosaic: a single floor of a heavy postwar office block, above a Sports Direct and an M&S.

In some ways, the PR business is getting harder and less glamorous. The internet and particularly social media are making Bell Pottinger’s traditional publicity channel – the newspapers hung up in its Mayfair office, long susceptible to Bell’s smooth phonecalls – less central to the making and unmaking of reputations. And the sour mood in many countries towards politicians, big business and the wealthy is making the public less ready to accept that such interest groups are not, as Bell Pottinger would put it, really such bad guys after all. “The most difficult thing now in our business is having an impact,” Bell acknowledges. “You have to operate in more and more areas of distribution.”

Bell is a professional optimist, but occasionally seems gloomy about the modern world. “I hate the internet,” he told the authors Charles Vallance and David Hopper in a recent book on British entrepreneurs, The Branded Gentry. David Cameron does not enthuse him: “I don’t know him, and I don’t understand him. He’s obviously stuck in the Lynton Crosby strategy: be vile, and that’ll do.” Of course, this may be a piece of pragmatic positioning, as Cameron’s chances of re-election begin to diminish. When I ask about Ed Miliband, Bell says brightly: “He’s obviously very clever, and has done some smart things.” But he goes on to praise George Osborne for his “clear” free-market thinking. For all Bell’s gut political feelings, Hollingsworth’s biography shows he has long been willing to play situations both ways. In 1985 he told Media Week magazine: “I want the BBC to fail”; a month later, he took on the contract to do their advertising.

At Bell Pottinger, clients with opposing interests are assigned separate PR teams, and the situation is kept manageable and ethical – at least by Bell Pottinger’s standards – by internal “Chinese walls”. Clients are always informed when the firm is representing a rival, says Henderson, but few walk away. Bell Pottinger’s ease with conflicts of interest, like its readiness to represent dubious clients, is easy to find chilling; but to detail and condemn it can act as a form of free advertising: there will always be people in the world who want an unsqueamish PR firm. Likewise any article that portrays Bell Pottinger as having tentacles everywhere: “I’m delighted to have people think we have a finger in every pie,” says Henderson, finally smiling. “Because that’s our objective!”

In truth, both Bell Pottinger and their critics often overstate the firm’s power. Henderson claims its work for Cuadrilla has “completely changed the whole debate” about fracking. It doesn’t quite feel like that. Nor does it feel like world opinion has softened much over the decades towards Bell Pottinger’s contentious government clients. In April, PR Week reported that the firm had “annual revenues [in] the mid/high £30m mark” – high for a company with 250 employees, but modest compared with other rightwing media players such as Rupert Murdoch.

Yet for Bell at least, precisely measuring the effect of Bell Pottinger’s work – even if that were possible in the infinitely subjective world of PR – is probably not the point. “I don’t think he’s ever been interested in being [part of] a big PR conglomerate,” says biographer Hollingsworth. “His life is about the buzz.”

Outside his top-floor office, the sun has gone in and a grey winter afternoon is settling over Mayfair. Our interview is past the hour and a half mark, yet Bell is still spinning tirelessly. “My interest is in high-profile news,” he says, unleashing another smile. “It’s nice to be part of what’s going on.” On the pavement below, the police officers outside the Saudi embassy pace up and down with their machine guns.

Tim Bell -Clinton Rothschild Goldman Connection.

tim-bell_edited

Tim Bell (full name Timothy John Leigh Bell) is founder of the British PR firm Bell Pottinger Public Affairs and a member of the British Parliament’s upper chamber.

In 1970, Bell was one of the founders of the advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi. He played a critical role in the career of conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Bell directed the advertising campaigns for the Conservative Party in the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections. In 1990, Margaret Thatacher awarded Bell a knighthood.

Bell has also consulted for media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, Russian president Boris Yeltsin, the Sultan of Brunei, British media mogul Conrad Black and Margaret’s son Mark Thatcher. [3]

Bell assisted Mark Thatcher when he stood accused of assisting a coup plot in Equatorial Guinea, facing a possible 15 year jail sentence in South Africa. Explaining that he helped “because he’s Margaret’s son and I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do for Mrs T.,” Bell fielded media calls on the case and gave Mark Thatcher media and PR advice. “My advice was very simple: it isn’t the media that’s deciding your fate; it’s the judicial process in South Africa. So, ignore the media and pay attention to your lawyers,” said Bell. [4]

Bell’s also been referred to as “the propagandist who helped to crush the resistance of the striking coal miners.” [5]

In 2004, Bell Pottinger Public Affairs was awarded a contract by the to promote democracy in Iraq. Bell described his role as “masterminding the campaign in London.” [6].

In an interview published days before the British General Election 2005, Bell called the TV coverage of the campaign “trivial rubbish,” adding, “Is it any wonder that nobody is very interested, if that’s what they’re fed? It’s very sad that the whole political process has been dumbed down.” Bell went on to express frustration with how the candidates were being marketed, saying, “There’s no great ad – there’s no great slogan.” Bell also dismissed get-out-the-youth-vote efforts: “I think they need to leave young people alone. There’s only ever been a low turnout among young people. Why should they be interested in politics? There are so many more exciting things for them to do.” [7]
Tim Bell has a conviction for ‘wilfuly, openly and obscenely’ exposing himself ‘with intent to insult a female’ under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act. [1]

Inner Circle

Accessed February 2015: [2] The Circle is the same as it was in 2011.

Inner Circle (2011) Accessed January 2011: [3]

  • PatronFortune Forum
  • “Former US President Bill Clinton, actor, UN Messenger for Peace Michael Douglas and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra all participated with Yusuf Islam (Formerly Cat Stevens) who performed his first major live piece in our over 28 years, to mark the launch of Fortune Forum. International awareness, advocacy and funding was raised by showcasing the work of The British Red Cross, Wateraid, African Renaissance and Alliance for a New Humanity all on a shared platform. ” [1]

    Renu Mehta notes: “Fortune Forum was founded in 2006 upon being motivated after learning of the brutal statistics and the horrifying conditions prevalent in the developing world. I first realised the importance of the global water problem when I had seen a WaterAid TV commercial which blatantly stated that 1.1 billion people live without access to safe clean drinking water and 2.6 billion people live without adequate sanitation around the globe.

    “At the event, clean water had been purchased for 7,000 people – for a lifetime, providing both sanitation and hygiene education. These measurable project lots had been generously sponsored by some of the participating donors there. So when Paul Hetherington, Communications Director of WaterAid called me to ask if I wanted to join him on a trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to see the type of work that Fortune Forum is helping to address by way of supporting WaterAid’s global efforts, I immediately grabbed a visa.” [2]

    Renu Mehta – Founder

  • Sir James Mirrlees – Policy Adviso
  • Jonathan Granoff – Senior Advisor

.Patrons

3. Lord Bell: Conservative – Chairman of Chime Communications Group, whose companies include Bell Pottinger, and whose lobbying clients include Southern Cross, BT Health and AstraZeneca. Tim Bell has a conviction for ‘wilfuly, openly and obscenely’ exposing himself ‘with intent to insult a female’ under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act. For more on this delightful personality, which bears little relevance to the NHS but says so much about the character click here. If that isn’t enough then please click here to see their attempts to work with the Ubekistan dictatorship.

These are the following health-related companies within Chime Communications Group:

Open Health: PR for the healthcare sector.

Open LEC: Healthcare Advertising and Marketing Services, the creative, advertising & brand communication practice within OPEN Health. Campaigns for Lipitor, Losec, Vioxx, Aricept, Symbicort, Atripla and Prozac. Healthcare brand development, advertising, promotional materials, brand revitalisation and digital.

Open Minds: Advertising and Marketing Services in the healthcare sector.

Open Plan: Global Healthcare market research and brand planning.

Reynolds Mackenzie: Advertising and Marketing Services Division who’s clients include the pharmaceutical industry.

VCCP Health: Advertising and Marketing Services

Donations: Bell Pottinger has given £56,980 to the Conservative party between 2008 and 2012 and £2,500 to the Labour party to Rhondda CLP. In 2001, Lord Timothy Bell gave £2,500 to Michael Portillo. Chime Communications PLC gave £15,000 to Nick Herbert in 2008.

Quote: ”As a diversified communications group we see healthcare as an attractive sector in which we wish to compete strongly. The acquisition of SCL strengthens our recently established healthcare practice OPEN Health still further.” – on the acquistion of the Succint Communications Ltd company

Quote: “My message to the Labour Government is: stop accusing the Conservatives of wanting to privatise the NHS–we do not” – House of Lords debate on the NHS Feb 2000

Piers Pottinger

“Following three years at J Henry Schroder Wagg Co Limited, Piers Pottinger spent three years as an analyst with stockbrokers Laurence Prust. In 1978, he joined Charles Barker. He spent two years as Director of Media Relations at Manufacturers Hanover Trust in New York before returning to London as Managing Director of Sterling Financial Public Relations in 1982. He joined Good Relations City (later Bell Pottinger Corporate and Financial) as Managing Director in 1985 and was also a Director of Good Relations Group plc. He is a trustee of Racing Welfare, Vice President of the National Society for Epilepsy and Chairman of The Foundation for Liver Research.”[1]

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