Spinning for the Conservative Party
Chalk has a long-standing association with the Conservative Party. In 1997, he stood as a parliamentary election candidate, reportedly describing himself as fuelled by 'religious conviction' and a 'passionate rejection of the dogma and dangerous idealism of a Socialist agenda'. At this time he was also quoted as saying: 'I’m so dedicated to politics that I’m prepared to spend Valentine’s Day on the hustings'.
In 2001 Chalk reportedly masterminded Ken Clarke’s leadership bid against Iain Duncan Smith. Chalk was later appointed by Duncan Smith as director of planning in 2003, and acted also as deputy to the director of strategic communications, Paul Baverstock. The Sun credits Chalk for the 20 standing ovations Duncan Smith received for his Tory conference speech in the same year. Chalk subsequently worked as a spin doctor under former party leader Michael Howard in 2004, before overseeing press relations for Ken Clarke’s unsuccessful leadership campaign in 2005.
Spinning democracy in Iraq
In 2005-2006 Chalk worked in Baghdad for British public relations firm Bell Pottinger Communications, where he was commissioned to deliver multi-channelled communications campaigns. In a $5.8m (£3.2m) deal, Bell Pottinger had been appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority to promote democracy in Iraq preceding the handover of power to the Iraqi Interim Government on 30 June 2005. Chalk’s work, some of which is confidential, included 'information operations' aimed at undermining the insurgency. Scott Brown, who in 2016 is a director of Breakthrough Media Network - which currently works for RICU - also worked for both the Conservatives and Bell Pottinger’s information operations team in Baghdad.
Chalk returned to the UK in 2006 to fulfil an 18-month contract as chief of staff under the then Conservative Party co-chair Sayeeda Warsi.. In 2008 he became the chief executive of M&C Saatchi’s Middle East operation.
Head of RICU
Chalk was reportedly hired to head RICU in 2012 because of his expertise in counter-terrorism strategic communications. According to The Guardian:
- Under Chalk’s leadership, Ricu began communicating with British Muslims in a manner more reminiscent of counter-insurgency operations than a traditional public information campaign: disseminating messages through the use of subterfuge.
The Guardian also reported that Chalk supervises at least some of the work carried out by RICU’s contractor Breakthrough Media Network. Breakthrough produces films, Twitter feeds, Facebook profiles, YouTube clips and online radio content. One of its objectives is to 'influence online conversations by being embedded within target communities via a network of moderate organisations that are supportive of it’s [sic] goals.' It also seeks to help the British Government 'promote a reconciled British Muslim Identity.' The Guardian states:
- Ricu and Breakthrough focus on 'Prevent priority areas' in the UK, using keywords and paid-for Google and Facebook adverts to target people whose browsing history suggests they are Muslims. Using so-called 'promotion and diversion techniques', Breakthrough promotes Ricu’s messages to browsers who are searching for terms such as Isis, Khalifa and “What does the Qur’an say about jihad?”
Leaked papers acquired by The Guardian suggested that one of Breakthrough’s campaigns created under RICU’s instruction, Help for Syria, has been used secretly as a counter-radicalisation scheme for Britons wanting to assist fellow Muslims in Syria. The campaign funnels aid to Syrian refugees, but allegedly aims to divert British Muslims into UK-based charity aid as opposed to travelling to deliver aid or join the jihad in Syria. RICU’s involvement in Help for Syria is not openly advertised.
A report by CAGE stated that under Chalk’s guidance, RICU has played a central role in delivering campaigns to secretly steer the conversation within Muslim communities on issues such as ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’, and to garner support for the Government’s counter-terrorism policies.
In June 2013 Chalk co-chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s organised UN Conference on 'Best Practice in Communications' in London. The talk concluded that 'practitioners must take a strategic approach to countering violent extremism communications work and articulate the totality of a government’s engagement on a given issue', and that 'policies must be aligned with messages in order to be credible'.
- Inside Ricu, the shadowy propaganda unit inspired by the cold war, The Guardian, 2 May 2016, accessed 10 May 2016
- The cabinet of tomorrow? The Independent, 9 February 1997, accessed 10 May 2016
- IDS hopes to Chalk up success with spin wunderkind; Londoner’s Diary, The Evening Standard, 11 April 2003, accessed 10 May 2016. Nexis Screengrab here
- Baverstock handles Kenneth Clarke's Tory leadership bid, PR Week, 9 September 2005, accessed 10 May 2016
- Tory media chief is ousted by new guard The Telegraph, 31 August 2003, accessed 10 May 2016
- Ken Clarke is banking on well-choreographed media appearances, The Sun, 8 September, 2005, accessed 10 May 2006. Nexis Screengrab here
- Hickey, The Express, 12 August 2005, accessed 10 May 2016. Nexis Screengrab here
- Conservatives refuse to confirm role of London official in racism storm Wales Online, 17 September 2010, accessed 10 May 2016
- Zoominfo, Richard Chalk, accessed 12 May 2016
- Bell Pottinger in Iraq democracy PR drive, PR Week, 11 March 2004, accessed 10 May 2016
- Testy creatives hit back at Saatchi jibes Kip Report, 6 June 2008, accessed 10 May 2016
- Help for Syria aid campaign secretly run by UK Government, The Guardian, 3 May 2016, accessed 10 May 2016
- "We are completely independent": The Home Office, Breakthrough Media and the PREVENT Counter Narrative Industry Ben Hayes and Asim Qureshi, CAGE, 2016, accessed 10 May 2016
- Going global: the UK government’s ‘CVE’ agenda, counter-radicalisation and covert propaganda Ben Hayes and Asim Qureshi, Open Democracy UK 4 May 2016, accessed 10 May 2016
- Session 2: Radicalisation, de-radicalisaiton Security and Counter terror expo, accessed 10 May 2016