Reddit: Classified UK-US document leak linked to Russian operation

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By Luke Hurst  with Reuters
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attends a general election campaign event in London, Britain November 27, 2019.
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn attends a general election campaign event in London, Britain November 27, 2019.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Toby Melville

The UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed as “belated conspiracy theories” claims that his party has benefited from a classified UK-US trade document that was leaked online.

Social media site Reddit said the leak and distribution of the document was tied to a Russian disinformation campaign, adding it had identified and suspended 61 accounts which attempted to further promote the leaked papers.

Corbyn’s party seized on information in the leaks on November 27, saying they showed the Conservatives were plotting to offer the state-run National Health Service (NHS) for sale in trade talks with Donald Trump’s US administration.

The development has fueled further fears of Russian interference in the UK’s upcoming general election. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson had already refused to release a report on Russian interference in UK politics until after the election.

Leaked documents

The document, published by the Labour Party, contains 451 pages detailing six meetings between US and British officials to discuss trade and investment since July 2017.

Labour claims it reveals a “plot” to offer up parts of the NHS for sale. The NHS is one of the key battlegrounds in the election, which takes place on December 12.

Corbyn has declined to comment on how the party obtained the leaked document, telling Sky News claims his party appears to have benefited from a misinformation campaign originating from Russia were “such nonsense”.

Campaign ‘originated in Russia’

Researchers told Reuters on Monday that the way the documents were first shared on Reddit and then promoted online closely resembled a disinformation campaign uncovered earlier this year.

That operation — known as Secondary Infektion — attempted to spread false narratives across at least 30 online platforms, and stemmed from a network of social media accounts which Facebook said “originated in Russia.”

“We were recently made aware of a post on Reddit that included leaked documents from the UK,” Reddit said in a statement. “We investigated this account and the accounts connected to it, and today we believe this was part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia.”

“All of these accounts have the same shared pattern as the original Secondary Infektion group detected, causing us to believe that this was indeed tied to the original group,” it said.

The British government said in a statement it was “already looking into the matter” with support from the National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ signals intelligence agency.

“Online platforms should take responsibility for content posted on them, and we welcome the action Reddit have taken today,” it said.

More: All the latest on the UK general election campaign

Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News: “This is such an advanced state of rather belated conspiracy theories by the Prime Minister.

“When we released the documents at no stage did he or anybody else deny the documents were real, deny the arguments we put forward. And if there's been no discussion with the US about access to our health markets, how come after a week they haven't said that?

He added the “documents show exactly what the British government was doing with discussions with Donald Trump’s administration”, as he accused Johnson of having answers to give over Russian donations to the Tory party, as well as the report on Russian interference.

Britons go to the polls next week in an election called by Johnson to try to break the Brexit deadlock in parliament more than three years since the country voted to leave the European Union.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied allegations of election meddling.