LONDON — If you have not heard of Combating Jihadist Terrorism and Extremism (CoJiT), you are probably not alone. The London-based think tank does not go out of its way to advertise itself. Yet it appears to be having an outsized effect on domestic British policy towards terrorism and surveillance, pushing for more all-encompassing measures against Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism both at home and worldwide.
Yet a closer look at its connections to the notorious Maxwell family — headed by “Israeli superspy” Robert Maxwell and including his daughter Ghislaine and Jeffrey Epstein — as well as its ties to the infamous Department of War Studies at King’s College, London, suggests that something else might be afoot.
Espionage: a family affair
CoJiT was started by Ian and Kevin Maxwell, sons of disgraced media tycoon Robert, former owner of The Daily Mirror newspaper. Ian is still a director of the think tank, although Kevin’s name is now nowhere to be found on its website. Apart from his publishing empire, Robert Maxwell is well-known to have been an Israeli intelligence asset before his mysterious death aboard his luxury yacht in 1991. First recruited by the intelligence services in the 1960s, he began buying up Israeli tech companies in the 1980s, some of which were official service providers for the Mossad, according to his biographers Gordon Thomas and Martin Dillon. The Israeli spying agency used these computer firms to provide cover to its agents worldwide, helping them carry out clandestine activities around the globe.
Maxwell is also suspected of providing a wide range of services to the national security state, so much so that when he died, his body was flown to Israel for a full state funeral fit for a “national hero,” as The Washington Post reported at the time. This surprised many casual onlookers, as Maxwell had no formal public connection whatsoever to the Jewish state until three years previously. He was honored with a funeral at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the spot from which Jesus is said to have ascended to heaven. His interment was attended by many government and intelligence officials, including then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who eulogized him as a hero of Israel.
In the United Kingdom, however, he is undoubtedly remembered less fondly, known mostly for his gigantic financial embezzlement scandal that left his workforce’s retirement plans in tatters. As the newspaper The Scotsman remarked ten years later in 2001,
If [Maxwell] was despised in life, he was hated in death when it emerged he had stolen 440 million [pounds] from the pension fund of Mirror Group Newspapers. He was, officially, the biggest thief in British criminal history.
The government inquest into the scandal was damning for Maxwell’s son, too. “The extent of Mr. Robert Maxwell’s activity was known to Mr. Kevin Maxwell and some of those closely associated with Mr. Robert Maxwell,” it noted, adding that “[t]he primary responsibility rests with Mr. Robert Maxwell. In addition Mr. Kevin Maxwell bears a heavy responsibility in respect of many of the events.” Left with a business empire in tatters, his sons were unable to cope, with Kevin becoming the largest bankruptcy case in U.K. history.
Most accounts of the family present Ian and Kevin as relentlessly browbeaten and dominated by their father. Largely spurned in life, reports state that Kevin in particular is consumed by an overwhelming desire to be “his dad reincorporated,” of whom he is still in awe. Certainly, Ian and Kevin appear to have similar, eyebrow-raising business ties. At one point Ian was a director of 31 companies, Kevin 24, despite some of them hemorrhaging money.
If Ian and Kevin took over Robert’s business mantle, others have already gone into the other family business. Isabel, another of the nine Maxwell siblings, continued her father’s exploits in tech — and in Israel. Described by investigative journalist Whitney Webb as “Israel’s back door into Silicon Valley,” Isabel used Robert’s connections to strike deals with some of the tech world’s biggest players, including Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. She told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that she saw her work in tech as an opportunity to “continue her father’s commitment to the country. In 2001, Isabel vowed to “work only on things involving Israel.” In a more overtly political move, she also accepted a position as the governor of the Peres Centre for Peace.
MintPress spoke with Webb about the Maxwell/Epstein clan. “Isabel says that she took over the Israel portfolio of her father. And I would say that Kevin and Ian took over the business side of what their father was doing,” Webb said. “Not only was Robert Maxwell conducting espionage activities, he was also involved in a lot of fraud and a shady web of front companies and businesses.”
Also of note is Isabel’s son (and Robert’s grandson) Alex Djerassi. Almost straight out of college, Djerassi was employed by Hillary Clinton (an individual with ties to Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell) in her ultimately unsuccessful presidential bid of 2008. Nevertheless, he was given a job in her State Department, at first as a “Special Assistant” but quickly rising to become Chief of Staff at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. In this role, he was a strategic advisor and oversaw U.S. relations with Israel, Arabia and Iran. In his biography at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, he notes that he “worked on matters relating to democratization and civil society in the Arab world, the Arab uprisings, and Israeli-Palestinian peace.” That someone whose immediate family, including his mother, are more-or-less openly working as agents of a foreign country he is overseeing is of some concern.
The irony over how the Maxwell dynasty presents itself mounts, as Isabel was also CEO of an Israeli tech company that “protects children online” at the same time as her sister Ghislaine was allegedly actively abusing children. Ghislaine is currently being held at a detention center in Brooklyn, awaiting trial for her role in sex trafficking minors. Her brothers maintain her innocence, with Ian in particular leading a campaign to prove it. Together, Ian and Kevin have reportedly come up with millions of dollars worth of collateral and guarantees to get her out of her cell — and conditions that Ian has described as “torture.” Where they have found this money if they indeed lost their fortune is a question of some debate, reigniting old rumors that perhaps Robert’s fortune was not lost entirely.
Ghislaine’s partner Jeffrey Epstein also reportedly had ties to Israeli intelligence. Four separate sources told Rolling Stone magazine that Epstein had directly worked for Israel. The New Yorker had long kept his identity a mystery. As The Sunday Times wrote in 2000, “He’s Mr. Enigmatic. Nobody knows whether he’s a concert pianist, property developer, a CIA agent, a math teacher or a member of Mossad.” There appears to be at least a kernel of truth in many of these identities. Alexander Acosta, former secretary of labor, testified that, while an attorney in South Florida, he was instructed to cut an extremely lenient deal for Epstein’s sex crimes case, as he “belonged to intelligence” and that the matter was “above his pay grade.” Epstein and Robert Maxwell had close ties going back to the 1980s, when the former allegedly began helping the tycoon to hide his fortune in various offshore accounts.
Barely 700 followers, all kinds of influence
These profound and manifold connections to the Israeli security state call into question the Maxwell brothers’ motives for founding Combating Jihadist Terrorism and Extremism, considering how an anti-Muslim extremism agenda could dovetail so easily with a pro-Israeli state one.
CoJiT’s stated goal is to “eliminate jihadist terrorism,” and to “discuss openly and without fear or favour what should be done to counter it.” Arriving on its website, viewers are greeted with a picture of and words from former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, who said “We need to become far more robust in identifying extremism and stamping it out across society.” In his organization’s book, “Jihadist Terror: New Threats, New Responses,” Ian Maxwell states that “CoJiT is an initiative designed to make a rapid, direct and high-profile contribution in responding to these difficult questions and to play a catalysing role in the ‘national conversation’ called for by the prime minister.”
A measure of how little known CoJiT is to the general public is the organization’s Twitter account, which has barely 700 followers. But that is not to say their influence is negligible; far from it. CoJiT’s audience is the British government (and other allied nations). At its inaugural conference in 2018, held at the prestigious Royal Institution, the keynote speech was given by Sara Khan, the government’s Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism. Also taking part was Jonathan Evans, former Director General of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency.
A one-eyed board
CoJiT’s editorial board and gallery of contributors is a who’s who of high state officials, from police to intelligence, as well as academics from prestigious universities, most of whom seem to be united in pushing for extensive surveillance of Muslim communities.
For instance, on CoJiT’s most recent podcast, Richard Walton, ex-Head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terrorism Command (and CoJiT board member) said that his country was too “tolerant of extremist narratives.” He condemned those in Britain who were presenting the threat from the far-right as equal to that of Muslims, maintaining that Islamist extremism is ten times or more the threat of far-right terror.
In 2016, a far-right terrorist killed pro-immigration, pro-Europe Labour MP Jo Cox in broad daylight, stabbing and shooting her. A year later, Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in London. Osborne reportedly believed that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would be in attendance. Both individuals were associated with the extreme right-wing English Defence League
Nevertheless, Walton insisted that the current Conservative government is talking “too much” about the threat from Neo-Nazi groups and suggested that one big problem is that Muslims are simply not patriotic enough.
Another key member of CoJiT is Ed Husain, co-founder of the controversial think tank Quilliam. At CoJiT’s launch day, Husain laid out his position on Islam in the U.K., claiming that radical Islamism is “thriving on our university campuses” and that we have not stood up to it because we are afraid of being called bigots or Islamophobes.
Husain, who has forcefully argued that spying on Muslims is morally right, also went into a diatribe against Islamic terror, insisting that its causes are not poverty, unemployment, racism or grievances. Jews are the most aggrieved and persecuted people in the world, he claims. Yet Jewish people are not committing terrorism, he says, overlooking the many and well-documented crimes of the Israeli state against its indigenous population and its neighbors.
At one point, Husain even appeared to almost encourage Muslim radicals to carry out violence against China: “We don’t need Sharia in Britain because Muslims and others are free to observe their religious duties. But we are not in China. So, if you want to go and fight Jihad, go to China,” a remarkable statement, considering the huge problem with Islamist terror in China’s western regions.
The message of his talk was that Judeo-Christian civilization is superior and that we should stop self-flagellating about slavery and empire. Quoting John McCain, he concludes that the West is “the last, best hope for humanity” and asserts that Muslim-majority countries like Turkey were responsible for “equal amounts of slavery and castrating black people” as Western nations like the U.S. and U.K.
On CoJiT’s podcast, Husain also claimed that across Britain, “little communal caliphates are emerging” and that British Muslims have far too little loyalty towards their home country, “putting Palestine before [English towns] Preston or Peterborough.”
The ‘terrorism’ of fighting climate change?
CoJiT members have been strong supporters of the controversial U.K. government counter-radicalization strategy, “Prevent.” Critics have argued that the tactic has, in effect, demonized and almost criminalized an entire race of people. Prevent has encouraged government employees to snoop on Asians, looking out for signs of radicalization. Many have argued that this has had a chilling effect on British Asians and limited their freedom of speech.
In one infamous case, police detained and interrogated two Asian boys aged five and seven, keeping the pair away from their parents. The reason for the police involvement was that one of them had mentioned to a teacher that they were given a toy gun as a present. The local council later admitted in court that they had racially discriminated against the children and paid the family damages. This sort of over-policing is one reason why the National Union of Teachers has strongly opposed Prevent, claiming it turns educators into bigoted government spies. Despite this, Walton insisted that Prevent was “a tremendous success,” that the “vast majority” of British Muslims supported it, and that only “a small band of extremist organizations” oppose it. Husain, meanwhile, valorized the security services, describing them as “our blessed intelligence services and police forces who protect us every day and every night.”
Unfortunately, the government has used Prevent to attack other anti-establishment groups, such as Extinction Rebellion. Domestic terror police labeled the climate action group — which is supported by the likes of activist Greta Thunberg, public intellectual Noam Chomsky and actress Emma Thompson — an “extremist organization,” thereby using legislation passed to stop terrorism to go after activists challenging the government’s inaction on climate change.
Driving down the ‘right’ side of the road
CoJiT does not publish details about its finances, stating only that Ian Maxwell and Co-Director and Conservative Party donor Mohamed Amersi were sources of funding, along with “a number of private individual donors in the U.K.”
The Maxwell brothers have led a quiet life since their father’s business empire imploded. Webb was highly suspicious of this apparent newfound concern with radical Islamic extremism, suggesting that CoJiT could be a project with a similar function to Isabel Maxwell’s activities; she told MintPress:
One of the reasons they stayed out of the limelight for so long was that they were so closely associated with their father’s business affairs. Now it seems like this think tank is one of their ways to get involved in some of the same circles that people like Isabel — or Ghislaine, prior to all the Epstein scandals coming out —were involved in…
This is a way for them to come out into the public with rebranded reputations and to be able to influence public policy circles and connections with intelligence figures like Jonathan Evans of MI5.”
While acknowledging its existence, in its books and seminars, CoJiT has expressed its non-interest in scrutinizing other forms of terrorism, such as that coming from the far-right. This is a useful position to take, given some of their members’ roles in mainstreaming reactionary ideas into public discourse. Some CoJiT contributors have also written for The Spectator magazine, a publication that blends rampant Islamophobia with a right-wing, sometimes openly pro-fascist ideology.
On the one hand, the magazine publishes articles claiming that “there is not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Tory [P]arty” and that leftists and Muslims are driven by a “visceral” “self-loathing” and “envy at Jewish success,” and that “[i]f you handed over Israel to the Palestinians they would turn it into Somalia before you could say Yom Kippur.” At the same time, it publishes articles with titles such as “In Praise of the Wehrmacht,” and “A fascist takeover of Greece? We should be so lucky.” Despite this, the magazine is about as relentlessly pro-Israel as they come, explicitly stating that “Hamas, not Israel, is to blame” for the recent bombardment of Gaza that left hundreds dead, thousands injured, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes. Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson is a former editor of The Spectator.
More ties to the establishment right
CoJiT boasts an impressive roster of individuals who have also held powerful positions in governmental and non-governmental organizations. Peter Clarke was Head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch at New Scotland Yard and National Coordinator of Terrorist Investigations from 2002 to 2008, later serving as non-executive Director of the U.K. Serious Organised Crime Agency. Clive Walker was a Senior Advisor to the Home Office on terror and is also a Queen’s Counsel. Meanwhile, John Gearson was Principal Defence Policy Adviser to the Defense Select Committee at the House of Commons, a senior adviser to the Ministry of Defense, and taught terrorism and asymmetric warfare to military officers at the U.K. Defense Academy.
A second point of serious crossover is with Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), a hawkish London-based think tank funded by a number of Western and Middle Eastern states, as well as weapons contractors like BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. RUSI is about as establishment as it comes; its senior vice president is retired American general David Petraeus and its president is Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. CoJiT contributors such as Richard Barrett, Michael Clarke and Richard Walton are all RUSI men as well.
Clarke and Husain are among those CoJiT individuals who have also worked at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), an organization set up by former British Prime Minister and Iraq War architect Tony Blair. The TBI hopes to promote globalization, counter extremism and encourage peace in the Middle East. CoJiT contributor Emman El-Badawy is currently the Director of Extremism and Middle East Policy. How the TBI can claim to counter radical Muslim extremism while accepting millions of dollars from the government of Saudi Arabia is not clear.
The King’s College connection
Without a doubt, however, the organization that has the most overlap with CoJiT is the Department of War Studies, King’s College, London. For such a small think tank, an extraordinary number of people — close to half of those listed on its website — work or have previously worked as academics at King’s College, London, the majority in the Department of War Studies. These include David Anderson, Katherine Brown, Michael Clarke, Emman El-Badawy, John Gearson, Jytte Klausen, Shiraz Maher, Carl Miller, Peter Neumann, Raffaello Pantucci, and advisory board member Brooke Rogers.
This is concerning. As previously detailed by MintPress, the Department of War Studies is a U.K. government-funded organization notorious for training many of the West’s top spies and intelligence operatives.
A 2009 study written by two King’s College academics and published by the CIA itself spoke approvingly of how beneficial “exposure to an academic environment, such as the Department of War Studies” can be in “add[ing] several elements that may be harder to provide within the government system.” The study concludes that the CIA should continue to “use universities as a means of intelligence training,” noting how the Department of War Studies staff have “extensive and well-rounded intelligence experience” and how their programs “offer a containing space in which analysts from every part of the community can explore with each other the interplay of ideas about their profession.”
In 2013, former CIA Director and then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited the department, expressing his gratitude for all it did for his organizations. “I deeply appreciate the work that you do to train and to educate our future national-security leaders, many of whom are in this audience,” he said in a speech.
That the Maxwell brothers’ think tank is working so closely with Western intelligence agency operatives and institutions such as this one is certainly worthy of note.
Perhaps more concerningly, the same organization — the Department of War Studies — is also responsible for producing many of the world’s most influential reporters and journalists, particularly on Middle Eastern affairs.
For example, Andrew Carey, CNN’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief, completed a master’s there in 2012. Carey himself recently made the news, as a private memo he sent to all CNN staff was leaked online. During the Israeli bombardment of Gaza earlier this summer, Carey instructed employees that “We need to be transparent about the fact that the Ministry of Health in Gaza is run by Hamas. Consequently, when we cite latest casualty numbers and attribute to the health ministry in Gaza, we need to include the fact that it is Hamas run.” This had the effect of dramatically lessening the credibility of all casualty numbers in the minds of readers and viewers, given that Hamas is consistently portrayed as a terrorist organization hellbent on Israel’s complete destruction.
Once publicized, his comments elicited considerable pushback. “This is a page straight out of Israel’s playbook. It serves to justify the attack on civilians and medical facilities,” commented Al-Jazeera Senior Presenter and Producer Dena Takruri.
A stifling learning environment
Students at the Department of War Studies have long complained about a stifling learning environment at an institution fundamentally intertwined with the British military and national security state, where academics’ wages and research are being funded by weapons companies. Muslims, in particular, expressed their dismay when the university announced that it would be reading and sharing students’ communications as part of a counter-extremism campaign. “Knowing that our emails are being monitored creates a climate of fear and intimidation, especially for those involved in political activism on campus,” said one student. “Rather than keep us safe it will create more concern and paranoia for students and force many like myself, who are politically active and Muslim, to censor themselves,” she added.
University authorities reportedly floated the idea of blocking students whose “appearance” marked them as likely having pro-Palestine views from asking questions at public events. An ex-Israeli Defense Force officer taught courses on Palestine, encouraging students not to call Palestinians “Arabs,” but to refer to them as “the non-Jewish community” — something considered by one student an attempt to directly erase a people’s identity.
Certainly, being taught by former Spectator contributors who praise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bombing his neighbors and declare that calling Israel an Apartheid state (as the United Nations, a former U.S. president, and international human rights groups have done) is a “palpable falsity” might not be an ideal environment for many to study in.
Why and whence CoJiT?
In reality, the number of people dying in terrorist incidents in Britain and Western Europe has dropped precipitously in the last few decades. As an official Parliament document notes, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 20th century, more than 200 people were dying yearly in the U.K. But since the year 2000, there have been barely more than 100 terrorist fatalities in all years combined.
So, what to make of the Maxwell brothers’ newfound concern with terrorism, setting up a counter-extremism think tank 17 years after 9/11 (and one focussing exclusively on Islamist terrorism, at that)? Whitney Webb gave this answer to MintPress:
I think the idea that Robert Maxwell’s children and Isabel Maxwell’s brothers have set up a think tank to supposedly counter radical Islamic terrorism is suspect. If my thesis [is correct] that Kevin and Ian took over their father’s business portfolio only, then this, to me, indicates a shift, because this is not them making money; this is them influencing policy.”
Far from neutral experts, CoJiT seems to be consistently advocating many of the most controversial and reactionary policies, measures that sometimes come close to assuming the a priori guilt of an entire community.
That this is all coming from a family with such close ties to Israeli and other intelligence services is distinctly suspect and deserves considerably more scrutiny than it has already received, which appears to be essentially zero.
Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.