Under the Influence
29th March 2015
Independently examining the implications of the Tibetan government ban of a religious practice on the Tibetan community in exile and the wider Buddhist community of Dorje Shugden practitioners.
The position of Dialogue Ireland is that this dispute within Tibetan Buddhism and the tendency to view the NKT as the cultist form of TB totally misses the point which is that TB=Lamaism is not Buddhism at all.
In November 2014 I wrote an article examining the Huffington Post’s bias in its coverage of the International Shugden Community (ISC) protests. The article looked at the way the journalists had used a UK religious research charity called Inform to try and undermine the protest movement.
The article revealed that the journalists had misrepresented the views of the charity and had misquoted them to present a highly biased presentation of the protest movement, or so Dr Suzanne Newcombe of Inform claimed.
Following publication of the article I was contacted by an individual claiming to work for the Dalai Lama’s government, the Central Tibetan Authority (CTA). They stated that rather than being duped by the Huffington Post journalists, Inform were actually colluding with the CTA to help them try and undermine the credibility of the protest movement. The CTA strategy was to use academics to lend credence to their claims that the protests were organised by the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and to try and paint them as a rogue Buddhist cult.
The reason the Dalai Lama’s government attack the NKT is because approximately 70% of the protesters are also members of that particular tradition. By trying to discredit the NKT they believe they will undermine the protests against the Dalai Lama’s ban and discrimination towards Shugden Buddhists. More information on the history of conflict between the CTA and NKT is here.
They claimed that Michael Jäckel (aka Tenzin Peljor) was working for the CTA and had spent several years developing a relationship with a particular researcher at Inform, Suzanne Newcombe. It was claimed that Michael often boasted how much influence he had over Suzanne and that she trusted him so much she would believe practically anything he told her.
It is not uncommon for people to contact me from both sides of this controversy variously claiming to have hitherto unknown information or a special understanding of the situation. This contact however was quite different from the usual.
On further questioning, to verify their claims, the person revealed highly specific information about the CTA. For example they explained who their main telecommunications provider is (Cogent Communications), who provides certain online security services for them (Buguroo Offensive Security), and that CTA officials use Silent Circle encryption software.
They further explained that the CTA were given several hundred free licenses for Silent Circle by the manufacturer of the software in a deal brokered in a September 2013 meeting between Mr Kaydor Aukatsang of the US Office of Tibet and Ross Wittenberg and Alex Gladstein from the Human Rights Foundation in New York. They revealed that Mr Aukatsag took all the credit for reaching this agreement despite the fact it had mostly been organised by his predecessor Mr Lobsang Nyandak. It was a move which upset some very influential people within the CTA.
In addition to the above the individual revealed several other specific details about the CTA which left me in no doubt they were well placed within the organisation.
Their reason for contacting me, they explained, was because of a split within the CTA with regards to the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden. It was claimed there is a significant part of the exile leadership who feel that the media attention the ban is generating threatens the very future of the CTA and is exposing them to unwarranted risks.
The Dalai Lama has refused to back down or compromise on his hard line approach to Shugden Buddhists, so there was agreement amongst some members to leak information to try and apply further pressure on him to change his mind. As to whether the claimed reason for the leaks is true or not I can’t say, but every piece of verifiable information that has originated from this source has proved to be reliable.
Personally I feel the reason for the leaks stem more from segments of the CTA who disagree with the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach, but I will expand on that in a future article.
Targeting the Vulnerable
It was claimed that Mr Jäckel was operating as a Buddhist monk called Tenzin Peljor and had developed a special relationship with Suzanne and Inform through the creation of a ‘survivors’ group on Yahoo which consisted largely of ex-members of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).
In 2007 as he scoured online forums such as ‘e-sangha’ Tenzin discovered David Cutshaw, a vulnerable member of the NKT who was having doubts about the tradition. He encouraged David to leave the organisation, blaming it for all of his problems, and to create the ‘survivors’ group to save other people from a similar fate. David said in 2010 that he doesn’t believe he would have left the NKT, “if it wasn’t for Tenzin.”
He also said that he was unable at that time to make simple decisions on his own, citing one example where, “I found myself at an intersection in my car without the ability to figure out if I wanted to turn left or right.” By using David to set up the group Tenzin ensured that he would be able to control it whilst maintaining the pretense that it was solely David’s idea.
However on several occasions David as well as another key member, Carol McQuire, have both admitted that Tenzin was the main instigator. For example on 20th May 2010 Carol said, “For those of you who may be new to the forum, Tenzin Peljor was instrumental in setting up this Yahoo group” with David adding, “This group would be nothing if it wasn’t for Tenzin.”
Tenzin’s method as explained in a previous article was to identify vulnerable individuals who had doubts about the NKT and persuade them to leave. After creating the group with David his next significant recruit was Carol McQuire who he persuaded to officially leave the NKT by disrobing in September 2007. Carol was so devoted to Tenzin that gradually, over time she effectively became his de-facto deputy and was instrumental with assisting his manipulation of Inform.
Carol has been so helpful in Tenzin’s work for the CTA that she was recently rewarded with attendance at the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Basel in February 2015 as a special guest. At one point in the event she had the rare privilege of being seated on stage with the Dalai Lama during one of the sessions as her photograph from the event shows:
In a previous article I raised concerns about the nature of Carol and Tenzin’s relationship with Inform and in a follow up to that I decided to give Suzanne the benefit of the doubt. However after receiving more information from a source within the CTA further investigation was warranted.
Suzanne refused to comment on any aspect of her relationship with Tenzin and Carol hiding behind the veil of confidentiality, “Inform cannot confirm nor deny whether any of the individuals or organisations you enquire about have also made enquiries with Inform.”, so I was left with no other option than to research Inform’s interaction with the ‘survivors’ group.
The Survivors Group and Inform
In response to a prior article Carol had stated, “I will also remind you that the reason for my association with Inform is that they requested more information about my experiences as an ex NKT member after I first wrote to them briefly once I knew their function as academic researchers on New Religious Movements who were already looking at the example of the NKT.”
On the surface this makes it look as if Inform were actively researching the NKT and had simply followed up on Carol’s report to them about her experiences in the tradition. This isn’t true though, unfortunately it’s another example of Carol lying to create a false narrative. It is more truthful to say that both Tenzin and Carol identified Inform as potentially useful and pursued them to develop a relationship they could use against the NKT.
For instance Carol first mentioned Inform in a comment to the ‘survivors’ group on 8th July 2007. She mentioned them again a few times over the following months then on 7th November she asked if any ‘survivors’ could take her place at an Inform seminar she had booked to attend as she could no longer go. She stated, “It would be very appropriate to connect with INFORM.”
It was on 8th November that she first approached Inform stating that she wanted to, “participate in any academic study or research that you may be supporting through INFORM”.
The following day Carol sent another email asking for their help, “There is a group of us thinking at the moment of how we can carefully make information available to protect newcomers from getting into difficulties with the NKT. We would appreciate your advice on how to organise what we wish to say.”
Carol then posted information she had received from Inform explaining how people can send reports to them. Tenzin followed this up by stating:
“This is really great! Thank you very very much Carol. I beg the people who are concerned for the welfare of the possible future victims of the NKT to give reports to INFORM to protect people to find themselve [sic] after years in a disastrous and lost situation. Please be so kind to pass your experiences to them.”
Following this there were repeated requests from both Carol and Tenzin that people contact Inform, make enquiries with them, and share their stories with them.
On 14th November Carol also said, “They literally collect whatever people may send to them and according to what you ask for, the confidentiality is total or you can be as open as you wish. Your voice will be heard.”, adding, “We have a direct entry into the media. The more concerns that are directly expressed in terms of numbers of people writing, phoning, emailing them, the more these concerns will be brought to the eyes of all.”
Every time that someone contacts Inform about a particular group it is recorded as an ‘enquiry’, and the strategy Tenzin and Carol were using was to inflate the number of enquiries that Inform received about the NKT. Their aim was to make the NKT suddenly appear to be of high importance to Inform and thus to make themselves as a group also of importance to them.
The following year Carol revealed the rationale behind this when she explained in July 2008:
“When many questions and complaints have been made about any new religious group, they [Inform] then write a leaflet presenting the case for both ‘sides'”, adding, “However, it should be noted, they only publish on new religious movements that have proved problematic for a number of people. The NKT now comes into that category as they have had so many enquiries and reports.”
It has been a common theme throughout the ‘survivors’ group that they sought to use Inform to bolster their attacks on the NKT. Several times they have tried to use the reputation of Inform, the London School of Economics, and even the UK Home Office to try and lend weight to their claims that the NKT are a cult, or extremists. It is no coincidence that this is the very same rhetoric the Dalai Lama’s CTA have been using to attack the NKT since 1996 when they first became involved in protests.
Now that Tenzin had successfully created a group of ex-NKT members he was utilising them on several fronts to attack the NKT following the agenda he had agreed with senior members of the CTA. Just as David had been instrumental in helping him create the ‘survivors’ group, Carol was now instrumental in legitimising the CTA propaganda through their association with Inform.
As he explained to Carol on 17th May 2009, “Personally I felt always that INFORM is very important but the initiative to have contact and a living exchange with INFORM must come from native British people. So you have done this, and I think this benefits a lot of people.”, adding, “In a way, Carol, I think you are our representative there, and I am proud to have you there, really!”
Pumping up the Numbers
Two of the main ways the CTA have sought to manipulate Inform to promote their political agenda against the NKT are through its statistics and its leaflets.
Each year Inform record the number of enquiries it receives about each minority religious group. An enquiry is classed as any contact with Inform by someone who is outside of their organisational structure.
Through regular contact with Inform Carol and Tenzin have been able to gauge roughly how many enquiries they have received about the NKT. They both regularly encourage ‘survivors’ and visitors to Tenzin’s websites to contact Inform, thus ensuring that the figures remain artificially inflated.
Inform have no way of knowing for definite whether an enquiry is genuine or not. They also have no way of knowing if reports from ex-members are genuine or not. They state, “When using information from an enquirer it is Inform’s policy to try at all times to triangulate, or compare, this information with other sources.”
However visitors to Inform’s offices are able to look through their archive of reports on the NKT and see the general content and trends that are contained within them. Should they wish they could then very easily falsify reports and submit them to Inform. In comparing them with reports in their archive they would then incorrectly believe that they were genuine.
In every annual report where they have explicitly listed visitors to their offices from ex-members of religious organisations they have stated that this includes, “Former members of the New Kadampa Tradition”.
On 18th May 2010 Carol wrote an impassioned plea to the ‘survivors’ group urging people to write to Inform so that they could ,“help us clear this horrible organisation [NKT] from the villages and towns of England and the cities and countryside of the world.”, adding, “If you want to know anything else about Inform, email me offsite.”
The very fact that Carol wanted to keep further details about Inform ‘offsite’ strongly suggests that she was providing people with information to assist in their reports and enquiries that she didn’t want to openly divulge. By this point in time Inform were allowed access to the ‘survivors’ group, so Suzanne would have been aware of any public comments, but would not know the details of ‘offsite’ information.
Furthermore the language Carol uses clearly shows that her motivation is to “remove” the NKT from everywhere, in other words she wants to destroy the existence of the NKT and is obviously using Inform to assist with that aim. The fact that Suzanne would have seen this message should have been a red flag to Inform, but this was ignored as were all other explicit messages showing that the ‘survivors’ intention was to use Inform to attack the NKT.
The strategy of artificially inflating the number of enquiries Inform receive about the NKT had 2 functions. Firstly it was designed to make the NKT appear to be a group of significant concern to Inform and also make the ‘survivors’ appear to be an important group for Inform to work with. It was intended to use Inform’s reputation to manipulate the media and public perception of the NKT.
As Carol stated in November 2007 that through Inform, “We have a direct entry into the media.”
Secondly, knowing that Inform only publish information on specific groups when they have a high number of enquiries about them it was intended the inflated figures would cause them to publish all of the information they had received from ‘survivors’ about the NKT. This would bypass the risk of Carol or Tenzin being prosecuted for libel, it would add credence to any falsified or overstated claims, and also have the appearance of being backed up by the UK Government and the London School of Economics.
In July 2008 it was looking as if they were close to accomplishing this goal when Carol stated, “INFORM however, will be publishing a summary of ALL the information they have received.”, explaining, “…in a context where they can only publish because there are complaints…. ;)”
The ‘winky smile’ at the end of the comment is particularly telling and should have again raised concerns with Inform that the ‘survivors’ were using them. Suzanne had been given access to the ‘survivors’ group as a full member on 16th November 2007, just over a week after Carol’s first official contact with Inform. From the evidence it is apparent that she kept regular tabs on the group and participated in several conversations. Yet despite it being obvious from conversations that Inform were being manipulated she did nothing to stop or reduce this bias.
The graph below shows Inform’s official figures for enquiries they received about the NKT from 1996 to 2012. It is quite clear just how much of an effect Tenzin and Carol’s campaigning had on these figures.
In the 11 years prior to 2007 there were only two occasions where Inform received more than 10 enquiries in a year about the NKT. 1996 is an obvious anomaly and can be understood when you take into account that was the year when the first protests against the Dalai Lama’s ban took place. Also during 1996 a senior western monk within the NKT disrobed which caused some turbulence and no doubt added to the figures.
In 2007 again there was an issue with one of the senior monks within the NKT disrobing, but there were no protests during that year. The other reason for the increase in enquiries in 2007 is due to the effect of Carol and Tenzin, however it is from 2008 onwards that this effect is most pronounced.
In 2011 Tenzin wrote, “It was quite astonishing for me to learn during my INFORM visit that in 2008 and 2010 the most enquiries with respect to groups were with respect to the New Kadampa Tradition. The NKT topped even Scientology.”
Why that surprised Tenzin I don’t know because 2008 and 2010 were two years when both he and Carol were pushing very hard for people to contact Inform. In 2008 they believed that Inform were close to publishing an information leaflet about the NKT and desperately pushed as many people as possible to contact Inform as many times as possible.
In July 2008 Tenzin said, “I think I contacted them about three times on own initiative and then there were some small email-exchanges. I don’t like to push or to bombard them, and I have great confidence that they have the skills and knowledge to understand that issue thoroughly. However, I would like also to encourage those who have experience and didn’t contact INFORM until now to do that.”
In 2010 the ‘survivors’ were looking forward to a book being published that was very critical about the NKT. They hoped that by having the backing of a publisher the NKT would shy away from any legal challenge to its contents, however they were mistaken. Due to the prospect of a lengthy libel trial the book was withdrawn prior to publication which caused the ‘survivors’ to push hard once more with Inform.
Although the push to contact Inform in 2010 was less enthusiastically received than the one in 2008, it nevertheless caused the enquiries again to spike. Given that Tenzin was directly involved with both of these pushes, along with the general trend for them to always encourage people contact Inform I take his words of surprise as another disingenuous lie.
The CTA and the ‘survivors’ routinely refer to these figures in a very dishonest manner by claiming that they provide evidence that the NKT must be a cult. It is a practice synonymous with planting evidence. They have purposefully and systematically manipulated these figures and in so doing have destroyed their validity.
Inform have knowingly played along with this and at no time have they ever clarified the figures in this context, which is highly unethical.
To draw a comparison, if I were to ask all my readers to enquire with Inform about a specific minority religious group it would inflate the figures and give a false representation of that group. If this happened I would quite rightly be accused of acting unethically and if Inform were aware of this they would probably add an explanatory note to their figures.
Following the methods Tenzin used I could create the appearance that any minority religion was a cult. It’s alarming how easy it is to influence Inform’s research to fulfill a political agenda. What’s more alarming though is that Inform were fully aware this was taking place and did nothing to prevent, stop, or curtail it. In fact that were very much a party to it.
The Danger of Extremism
In 2008 it was looking highly likely that Inform were due to publish an information leaflet about the NKT that contained allegations from the ‘survivors’ group. The difficulty they faced with publication stemmed from the systemic vulnerability of their research to abuse.
As outlined above it is very easy to gain access to their archives and gather enough information to create reports that would appear to them to be authentic. The problem for Inform is that they have no accurate or effective mechanism to prevent this from happening, nor any way of proving the claims made in these reports are true. As such their information leaflet was stopped from publication due to the fact it contained libelous accusations against the NKT that could not be proven.
This didn’t stop Suzanne from distributing some copies of it though. On 21st July 2008 Steve Smith wrote, “I contacted INFORM this weekend, giving them my back-ground and asking for any information they could provide on the NKT. They have supplied me with a draft copy of their leaflet, which is currently undergoing legal scrutiny before publishing to avoid any libel issues.”
The fact that Suzanne distributed a copy of the leaflet in response to a request for information about the NKT indicates either a complete disregard for Inform’s own procedures or that Inform sanctioned distribution of the leaflet without legal consent.
In 2011 Inform published a leaflet entitled, “Extremism on Campus”, which as the name suggests dealt with issues of religious extremism in higher education establishments. No sooner had this been published than Tenzin and his ‘survivors’ jumped on it as prima facie evidence that the NKT was an extremist cult because it mentioned them.
In addition to approaching the media stating the number of enquiries Inform received about the NKT, they were now armed with an actual bona fide Inform leaflet.
For example as part of their campaign against the NKT providing chaplains to the health service Carol advised people to use this leaflet to back up their claims, “For any of you who may wish to ‘prove’ to health services that what we say about the NKT as ‘survivors’ is true.”
When everyone was mutually back slapping and self congratulating one another about the leaflet Carol said, “Thank Inform! And all the people who have contacted Inform to give information about their experiences. This is one of the results.”
By now you would be forgiven for thinking that the leaflet must contain some pretty explosive stuff. Scandals, dramas, brainwashing, suicide bombs or mass murder? Not quite.
The leaflet is proudly touted as mentioning the NKT three times, thus proving that they are extremists. However here are the three mentions:
(1) “In some cases, proposed societies may meet protests from existing societies. For example, proposals for a New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) Society have raised criticism from Buddhist and Tibetan Societies who disapproved of the NKT’s members’ vocal protests against the Dalai Lama.”
(2) “Religious groups known to have held relaxation and meditation classes on campuses include the New Kadampa Tradition, Sahaja Yoga and the Brahma Kumaris.”
(3) “Examples of frequently enquired about groups that operate on, or around universities, and about which we have received a significant number of enquiries include, but are not limited to: …[mentions 9 other groups] The New Kadampa Tradition”
As you can see the three mentions of the NKT refer to nothing vaguely extremist. To make the claim that this ‘proves’ they are extremist is absurd, but that hasn’t stopped Carol and Tenzin.
She advised people in May 2013, “INFORM have published a leaflet on Extremism in Universities and the NKT is mentioned 3 times. (Nice easy way to explain things to people + say they are ‘religious extremists’! Fits well, eh?)”
On 2nd October 2013 she repeated the same approach in response to a question someone had about the NKT, “Inform – a research group on New Religious Movements based at the London School of Economics, have published a leaflet on Extremism in Universities which mentions the NKT five times, so you can accurately call them ‘extremists’ for starters!”
She also said, “Inform have been collecting information on the NKT for many years now – they have had more enquiries about the NKT than of any other group in the last four years.”, adding, “An ‘extremist’ could be called a person who creates disturbances of some sort”
On 14th January 2014 she said, “Just so you know, recently complaints were made to a British university which has a ‘Modern Buddhist’ NKT group. This is now being run by other meditation leaders, not the NKT. Most places will take complaints, well written and clear, with links to the Inform document classifying the NKT as ‘religious extremists’, very seriously. I would encourage any of you who have the patience and equanimity to do this”
Carol even referenced this leaflet and called the NKT religious extremists when an elderly lady was asking about the NKT because her daughter and 5 year old granddaughter were connected to them. It is this type of histrionics which is extreme and reckless. Carol showed no concern whatsoever for this person’s feelings and the upset her unsupported allegations would have on her.
This is the type of blatant misinformation and deception that is so common from anyone connected to, or influenced by, Tenzin. It is also a significant facet of the ‘survivors’ group that is impossible to ignore. It is incomprehensible for Inform not to be aware of the way that their name and reputation is being used, which leaves no doubt that they are not only complicit in this deception but also actively approve of it.
The fact that their leaflet is being used in a targeted campaign to stop the NKT from running meditation classes without any valid basis should ring alarm bells but it doesn’t. If the leaflet had said the NKT were extremists then it would be valid, but to use it in such a deliberately misleading way to cause material damage to a minority religious group is highly unethical.
Far from being unaware of such campaigns Suzanne actually advised the ‘survivors’ group that when they write such complaints they should include the following explanation about Inform:
“For independent information about the New Kadampa Tradition, please contact Inform (www.inform.ac or inform@…). Inform is an independent charity based at the London School of Economics and funded by the Department of Communities and Local Governments and the mainstream churches, whose aim is to help people by providing them with information that is as accurate, balanced, and up-to-date as possible about alternative religious, spiritual and esoteric movements.”
Suzanne also explained, “If someone requests information about the NKT (or any other group), we will generally summarise the complaints of former members as well as provide brief information of the founding, beliefs and practices. We will make reference to any relevant legal cases or media reports involving the group and include the group’s response to any controversies where relevant.”
Suzanne has never made any public comment to the ‘survivors’ correcting their claim that the NKT are ‘religious extremists’. She has never asked them to stop misrepresenting Inform’s leaflet in this way, nor has she ever expressed any concern about the way Inform’s data is manipulated and used to attack the NKT.
The Dalai Lama
Another aspect of the ‘survivors’, especially with regards to Tenzin Peljor, is the Dalai Lama’s connection to the group. Whilst there are the many overt references to the Dalai Lama’s teachings, this is understandable within the context of the group, and is not the point being addressed here.
In 2014 there was the very obvious involvement of the Dalai Lama’s government with such things as the ‘survivors declaration’ culminating in its appearance on the CTA’s official website, its inclusion in the Dalai Lama’s official press packs, and Carol’s VIP treatment in Basel, but the signs were there many years beforehand.
At the end of 2007 Tenzin withdrew from the group because he was moving to Italy to study for several years. However when the protests began in April 2008 he suddenly re-appeared and became very active in the group once more.
Tenzin’s activity with the ‘survivors’ coincided with the protests. He remained active until 17th June 2008, 2 days after the final protests in Australia. He then receded from the group and back to his studies. On 9th July he returned as the protests were due to begin on 10th July and remained active on the group once more.
The Dalai Lama’s schedule for 2008 included teachings in Switzerland, planned for October, however on his return to India he became ill and was admitted to hospital. On 11th September Tenzin announced to the group that he would again be withdrawing from involvement and returning to his studies. 2 days later on 13th September the Office of the Dalai Lama released a statement saying that the teachings in Switzerland were canceled.
Was it a coincidence that he withdrew from the group just before the official announcement about the cancellation of the Swiss teachings? Did Tenzin have advance knowledge of this cancellation from the CTA?
His connection with the Office of the Dalai Lama was also mentioned when his email account was targeted by hackers in March 2009. He drew a comparison between his email attack and the Chinese government’s recent hacking of the computer system at the Office of the Dalai Lama. Maybe this was just another coincidence?
On 12th February 2009 David Cutshaw made the following comment about a member of the ‘survivor’ group using the screen name, VJ Kumara, “The fact of the matter is VJ came to the Survivors group for a reason. He was doing research and needed information. He got what he needed, and had stated he was about to leave the group. It should become more clear in the not so near future who VJ is.”
In a further comment he clarified some more details about VJ, “Please know HH the Dalai Lama is aware of who VJ is and the work he is doing. He has given him his blessing.”
When news of this filtered back to the NKT they used it to show that the ‘survivors’ were working with the Dalai Lama and that it was part of a concerted attempt to undermine the protests. This caused some problems for David, not least that it was several months later and the topic had been discussed in depth already. Now in May 2009 he tried awkwardly to back track by claiming that he had been “confused” and “misspoke” when he claimed that the Dalai Lama was connected to VJ.
It was also interesting to note that the whole VJ/Dalai Lama debacle caused the sudden reappearance of Tenzin. He returned to the group on 17th February after having been away from the ‘survivors’ since October 2008. Yet another timely coincidence?
On 9th March 2010 Carol posted some links to the page about Dorje Shugden from the Dalai Lama’s website along with some quotes and the following cryptic comment, “To give a context to our situation – we have a responsibility, if we can, to help people who are leaving, may leave or just have doubts about the NKT.”
In June 2011 she also stated, “The Dalai Lama has promised to take on any negativity that would come to us from leaving the NKT.”
The link between Tenzin’s work and the Dalai Lama was more openly exposed in January 2012 when Carol explained to another member of the group about their work to oppose Dorje Shugden practice, “The Dalai Lama, at all levels, encourages westerners to ‘sort this out’, including persons like Tenzin Peljor, who, although he is fully ordained, can work on his blog and website as part of this process. This is not customary activity for a fully ordained monk.”
This aspect that Tenzin has special permission from the Dalai Lama to engage in activities not customary for a fully ordained monk was also echoed in Carol’s more recent comment in response to an article I published. On 30th December 2014 she wrote, “I also find it odd that Indy Hack would think it to be considered objectionable for someone fully ordained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be involved in looking after the Dalai Lama’s interests in the most profound way…This is what Tenzin Peljor primarily does.”
Again on 14th November 2012 when she was talking about actives to oppose the NKT Carol wrote, “I feel we have to work with the Dalai Lama to uncover and expose the reality of this situation.”
If all of these coincidences and connections to the Dalai Lama weren’t enough to raise concerns that the ‘survivors’ group was promoting the agenda of the CTA then the following comment should have screamed a warning to Inform.
Just over a month later on 18th December Carol posted the following message to the ‘survivors’ group on behalf of Tenzin, “Staying in India with HH the Dalai Lama and 17.000 monks. Met today for the first time Lama Zopa Rinpoche. EVERYTHING very great.”
Obviously you wouldn’t think from that message that Tenzin was in the room next to the Dalai Lama, but the fact that he met with Lama Zopa Rinpoche is out of the ordinary. Lama Zopa is the head of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) and a close personal friend of the Dalai Lama. To have met with him would indicate that Tenzin had some special connections in the CTA.
On top of that there is the mysterious disappearance of Tenzin every December/January from the group where he no longer communicates directly, but sends messages through other members. There was also the special project he was engaged with for several months from January 2010 to work with academics to counter claims that the protest movement was making.
It’s quite obvious that his behaviour is not in accordance with that of a normal fully ordained monk. His drive to establish the ‘survivors’ group 7 years after leaving the NKT should also raise concerns about his motivation. Along with all of the other evidence and his strange, almost possessed, determination to destroy the NKT I can’t see how Inform can possibly continue to justify the myth that he is simply a concerned ex-NKT member.
The Truth About Independence
Inform claim to provide “independent information”, they also claim to be balanced and maintain direct contact with both the religious movements they study as well as critics and former members. It’s a tight line to walk and in order to maintain effective direct contact with the religious groups they need to maintain the appearance of being an independent entity.
However, throughout the course of my own research into Inform I cannot say that they are being truthful in how they present themselves. If Suzanne’s actions are symptomatic of the organisation as a whole then I would conclude that they are far from independent, and any claims they make to be independent are simply lies to assuage the concerns of minority religious groups.
Rather than being impartial researchers Inform are actually closer to an advocacy service for critics and ex-members of religious groups. Inform claims on its website that, “It does not, however, tell enquirers what they should do.”, yet this is untrue. In my research I discovered evidence indicating that they actively advise ex-members how to set up and run groups opposed to their former religions.
For instance Carol commented that, “Inform do offer a lot of support to make our own group up. They have always been helpful in giving information”.
In November 2007 Suzanne emailed Carol advising, “As a group of former NKT members, you may be interested in knowing what kind of networks and websites former members of other groups have produced. The motivations of these groups vary from mutual support and information sharing, to lobbying for change within the movements and attempts to gain the attention of outside authorities.”
On 16th March 2008 Carol posted the following information she had received from Suzanne about publishing a website based on the ‘survivors’ group:
“I have spoken to a solicitor about the legal situation: Each individual would need to decide for themselves what kind of public statements they feel comfortable making and defending if necessary. Some points are worth noting however – UK law requires that the defendant in the libel case be able to prove the truth of the claims. However it also requires that a reputation be substantially damaged by the publication of the claims – something that might be arguable considering allegations already public about the NKT.
“I was also advised that the NKT (several years ago) threatened libel action against an individual publishing a statement about the group on a website and the individual was advised to make an apology with the explanation that they were engaging in a discussion of controversy rather than intending to defame.”
Suzanne also said, “It might also be worth contacting some of the other former-member websites I provided previously about how they have handled any threats of litigation… you might also contact the author of Operation Clambake website (critical of the Church of Scientology) in this regard”.
The above extract is from a private email exchange between Suzanne and Carol which Carol made public on the ‘survivors’ group. It is therefore highly likely that Suzanne continued to offer ongoing advice and support to the ‘survivors’ helping them along the way.
This was alluded to in several comments Carol made such as in December 2012 when she explained, “We go to Inform as survivors and when we are firing on all levels trying and wanting the NKT to be stopped then there is very little Inform can do about that. But in court, behind closed doors, in privacy, off the record, Inform do a lot more than is evident to an observer. And when you have a legal problem with the NKT there is a lot they will do to help.”
The more I researched the more evident it became that Inform function as an advocacy service for ex-members of minority religious movements. I’m sure that there’s a need for such a service, my difficulty is in reconciling an organisation that claims to be impartial and unbiased providing such a service as there are clear conflicts of interest.
For instance would the religious groups that Inform seek to research be so open to them if they knew that they were advising their critics how best to organise themselves? Is it within the remit of Inform to seek legal advice on behalf of groups representing critics of religious movements?
My main issue though is transparency. If an organisation promotes itself as independent and research based, offering impartial information, it should remain impartial. The moment it begins to advise either side then it loses its impartiality and conflicts of interest arise.
Consider the reverse: how may ‘survivors’ would be confident in working with Inform if they knew that Inform were advising the NKT on how best to defend themselves from the ‘survivors’ claims?
Therein lies the problem, if you intend to research both sides to provide accurate impartial information to advise the media, government departments and so forth then you can’t advise either the religious group or its critics.
The extent to which Inform have been assisting the ‘survivors’ is again alluded to in another of Carol’s comments from May 2013, “Their guidelines are quite defined – they aren’t activist but they are the nearest they can get to being this without crossing beyond the academic guidelines. INFORM now have a new director who is an ex-policeman so things are changing…”
If Carol’s comment is accurate then describing Inform as an advocacy group for critics of religious movements is a considerable understatement. To be referred to as being as close to activist as possible within academic guidelines is alarming. It does however explain their complete lack of interest in issues of researcher bias.
Prior to this article, on 13th March 2015, I wrote to all members of Inform’s management committee to alert them to the information I had received which claimed they were colluding with the Dalai Lama’s government. My intention was to allow them sufficient time to investigate the matter internally to help protect their reputation from any damage at the time of publication.
On 16th March 2015 I received a reply from Kevin Haynes, a member of the London School of Economics legal team stating that, “we will not be conducting an internal investigation.”
At the time I was surprised, yet as I researched Inform further I began to understand more clearly why they felt no investigation was required. Inform are obviously aware that they operate with significant bias and no adequate measures in place to mitigate against outside influence.
Using the same techniques as Tenzin anyone can easily manipulate their results. Rather than seeking to provide impartial information it is actually in their interests to stoke conflict. The more groups there are representing ex-members of religious movements, the more subjects they have to study, and they don’t have to go out of their way to find them.
The difficulty is when their funding sources and religious movements discover how deceptive they’ve been. One expects a certain level of academic rigor from an organisation which trades on the reputation of the London School of Economics, sadly Inform don’t deliver.
It is without doubt that Suzanne was fully aware of how Carol and Tenzin were using Inform to campaign against the NKT. Each of the ‘survivors’ campaigns invariable referenced Inform, it’s statistics, or it’s leaflet regarding extremism on campus.
Whether a particular campaign was intended to damage the NKT’s development of chaplains for the NHS, teachings on meditation in Vancouver, bookshop talks in the UK, or the provision of meditation classes in universities, Inform were always helping. It was the go to source that Carol and Tenzin could quote, certain in the knowledge that they would fully support their campaign “behind closed doors” and “off the record”.
In reality Suzanne was as easily manipulated as Inform’s statistics. She was played by Tenzin and became just another weapon in the Dalai Lama’s fight to oppress Shugden Buddhists in the exile community. Families torn apart by religious intolerance were denied the focus of the media in part thanks to Inform and Suzanne who went out of their way not just to assist the development of the ‘survivors’ group but also to misinform the media.
For whatever reason they decided that rather than upholding values of impartiality they would instead take sides and become de facto activists in the Dalai Lama’s campaign against the NKT. Why was Suzanne commenting to journalists on the organisational structure of a protest group? The only logical answer is because she approved of Tenzin’s actions and agreed to assist him with them.
She knowingly mislead multiple news outlets and tried to present the protest movement as being a front for the NKT, despite the fact she knew several different Buddhist groups were involved in them. Suzanne has clearly become convinced that the NKT is harmful and is helping Carol and Tenzin as much as she can.
In some respects I can understand that because researcher bias is nothing new in social science. Yet what I fail to understand is why she feels she has any right to mislead the media and aid in the oppression and persecution of exile Shugden Buddhists.
Maybe if she stopped for a moment to listen to a father trying to explain why his daughter can’t play with her friend anymore she might understand. Maybe if she heard how Shugden Buddhists are compared to bad teeth that need removing from the body she would begin to question some of Tenzin’s vociferous lies and deceits. Maybe for a second if she recognised the language of violence as a monk refers to Shugden Buddhists as a cancer in society she would stop.
But then maybe understanding is too much to expect from an academic activist.