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British spooks plotted to use the internet to help promote two separate messages to the Muslim world - one of the engagement which we hear openly from politicians and diplomats and a darker, secret, message to groups of "more radicalised constituencies".

A letter from William Ehrman, director-general of defence and intelligence, to the government's security adviser David Omand in April was leaked to Sunday's Observer. It warns that "the potential for intelligence operations backfiring on us is even greater that during the Cold War". The letter, headed "Hearts and Minds and Muslims", also notes that actions in the region are likely to have more impact than messages.

It says some in the region will not be impressed by talk of peace and prosperity, although they would be impressed if it actually happened.

To address such groups the letter suggests taking a more radical stance. It says such groups "might, however, listen to religious arguments about the nature of jihad that, while anti-Western, eschew terrorism." It suggests borrowing tactics from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The letter also warns latter-day Lawrence of Arabias of the dangers of trolling: "The McColl paper also mentions Cyberspace. I presume there are opportunities for engaging in debate on Islamist websites, unattributably. But whoever was doing would need a carefully worked-out script. There may also be ways to disrupt or impede extremist websites. I hope some proposals on all this will emerge from ongoing cross-government work on setting up better systems for monitoring websites."

The letter says "too many Middle Eastern governments are sticking with the wrong answer: suppression and gerrymandering of superficial bits of democratic furniture, instead of bringing moderate Islamist tendencies into the power structure while they are still moderate, and confronting them with the realities of power and responsibility."

The Observer story, which links to the documents, is available here.

So, has Whitehall indeed created a cadre of desk-bound James Bonds dedicated to de-grooming radical Islamists in internet chatrooms? The powers-that-be appear to be have kept that a secret. For now.®

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