Gavin Williamson has said Russian propaganda bots pumping out fake news on Salisbury are like the notorious Nazi defector ‘Lord Haw Haw’.
He said around 2,800 robotic accounts have been churning out messages to foster doubt over official accounts that the Kremlin is to blame for the poison attack.
The Defence Secretary said these trolls are trying to exploit the debate allowed in free and democratic societies to sew division and discord in Britain.
And he said the tactic was straight out of the Nazi playbook when Hitler enlisted Lord Haw Haw – the nickname of William Joyce – to read out propaganda during the war.
Gavin Williamson (pictured in Estonia on Sunday) has said Russian propaganda bots pumping out fake news on Salisbury are like the notorious Nazi defector ‘Lord Haw Haw’.
Defence Secretary said around 2,800 robotic accounts have been churning out messages to foster doubt over official accounts that the Kremlin is to blame for the poison attack.
Joyce would take to the radio airwaves to broadcast propaganda in his affected upper class English accent, beginning each with the words ‘Germany calling, Germany calling’.
What is the Novichok nerve agent used against the Skripals?
The Novichok nerve agent used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is among the most deadly poisons ever created.
They were secretly developed by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold war in the 1970s and 1980s.
Communist scientists developed the poison so it would not be able to be detected by Nato’s chemical detection equipment.
They come in the form of a ultra-fine powder, Novichok is up to eight times more potent than the deadly VX gas.
Victims who are poisoned by the powder suffer muscle spasms, breathing problems and then cardiac arrest.
There is a known antidote to the nerve agent – atropine can block the poison.
But doctors find it very tricky to administer the antidote because the dose would have to be so high it could prove fatal for the person.
Novichok poisons are highly dangerous to handle, requiring the expertise of skilled scientists in a sophisticated lab.
Dr Vil Mirzayanov, former Chief of the Foreign Technical Counterintelligence Department at Russia’s premiere, was among the team of scientists who helped develop the agent.
In an article about the lethal weapon, he wrote: ‘They are extremely dangerous – most likely lethal – for people who would try to synthesise or manipulate them without the help of highly experienced scientists and engineers in special laboratory installations observing extreme safety measures.
‘Without exception, Novichok weapons cannot be used for any reason without specially trained military personnel under medical supervision.’
His broadcasts from Berlin were prized by Hitler’s notorious propaganda chief Goebbels.
Speaking on a visit to Nato troops in Estonia, Mr Williamson said the disinformation war was being backed by the Kremlin through channels like Sputnik and RT.
‘What actually happens is it completely distorts the narrative of what people think about things’, he told The Times.
‘We have to make sure that that narrative is countered … It is effectively the Lord Haw-Haws of the modern era.
He said Britain’s investigation of the disinformation campaign being waged in the wake of the nerve agent attack had exposed ‘shocking’ levels of Russian meddling.
Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are both fighting for their lives in hospital after being poisoned by Novichok.
Britain and the country’s allies have blamed the Kremlin for the attack and over 100 Russian diplomats from 20 countries around the word has expelled Russian diplomats.
The US has announced the expulsion of 60 Russians, including including 12 intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to UN headquarters in New York.
Mr Williamson said that Vladimir Putin may seek to attack the UK and its allies again if given the chance.
He said the West’s patience is wearing ‘very, very, very thin’ and stressed the need for Nato to stand united to see off the threat posed by the Kremlin.
The Government may try to work with social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to tackle the state-backed disinformation in the same way they are being pressed to take down terror content, he said.
He told the newspaper: ‘You maybe do need to look at … if you have to deal with this in a slightly different way and that is maybe working with some of those providers.’
The warning comes just days after news broke that Britain’s anti-doping agency was the target of a cyber attack.
Gavin Williamson said that Vladimir Putin (pictured today) may seek to attack the UK and its allies again if given the chance
The Kremlin-linked hacking group Fancy Bears has been linked to the attempted hack.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Theresa May said the united response showed Mr Putin’s attempt to use the Salisbury attack to split the West had ‘spectacularly backfired’.
She told MPs: ‘This is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.
‘If the Kremlin’s goal is to intimidate and divide the Western alliance then their efforts have spectacularly backfired.
‘Today’s actions by our allies clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to the Kremlin that Russia cannot continue to flout international law and threaten our security.’