Government documents were leaked online using methods like Russian disinformation campaign4 min read


Jeremy Corbyn’s leaked ‘NHS for sale’ dossier ‘bears all the hallmarks of being released by Russian disinformation squad’ say researchers

  • Jeremy Corbyn unveiled unredacted papers which show the US has requested ‘total market access’ after Brexit – which he said showed the NHS was up for sale
  • But analysts yesterday claimed the documents had been leaked online using methods almost identical to a known Russian disinformation campaign
  • Graphika concluded the leaks could be the work of the same group or of ‘mimics’
  • Labour refused to reveal source. There is no suggestion the documents are fakes

Classified government documents which show US-UK trade preparations were leaked online in a manner almost identical to a known Russian disinformation campaign, experts have concluded.

The documents were unveiled last month by Jeremy Corbyn who said the papers disproved Boris Johnson’s claims that the NHS would not be part of any trade talks, – instead revealing the US wanted ‘total market access’ after the UK leaves the EU.

But yesterday a report from disinformation analysts Graphika showed how the unredacted pages were initially disseminated using methods nearly identical to Secondary Infektion, a known Russian operation.

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The experts said the similarity was not proof of Russian origin, concluding: ‘They could indicate a return of the actors behind Secondary Infektion or a sophisticated attempt by unknown actors to mimic it.’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn holding up a redacted copy of the Department for International Trade's UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group readout

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn holding up a redacted copy of the Department for International Trade’s UK-US Trade and Investment Working Group readout

In a 19-page report Graphika said that while it could not conclusively prove a Russian origin to the leak, the early distribution of the cache of files via Reddit, three German-language websites and an anonymous Twitter account reflected a method of operation seen repeatedly over recent years.

There is no suggestion the documents are fake, but the Graphika investigation shows efforts made by unknown actors to publicise the leak in late October. 

Ben Nimmo, the head of investigations at Graphika, said: ‘What we are saying is that the initial efforts to amplify the NHS leak closely resembles techniques used by Secondary Infektion in the past, a known Russian operation.

‘But we do not have all the data that allows us to make a final determination in this case.’

Graphika said that the NHS documents were first posted on Reddit on October 21 by a user called Gregoriator, who made grammatical errors that matched those made by ‘Secondary Infektion’, for example by posting that the document cache showed that ‘Great Britain is practically standing on her knees’ in seeking a US trade deal.

Two days later, a user called Max Ostermann, posted three articles in German summarising the original leak on Reddit and on two small German language sites, and, before disappearing. 

‘This practice of employing single-use burner accounts on exactly the same combination of websites used by Secondary Infektion’s operators is a strong behavioural parallel,’ Graphika’s report concluded.

A Twitter user using a now suspended account called @Gregoriator then tried to disseminate the leak in late October by tweeting a link to the Reddit posting out to a range of public figures, including Labour and LibDem politicians and even to celebrities such Stephen Fry and Bette Midler, but again this did not appear to succeed.

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On Monday night Labour would not say where it had obtained the documents, but stressed nobody had disputed they were genuine.

A party spokesman said: ‘These documents reveal the plot against our NHS. And of course neither the UK nor the US government have denied their authenticity. Given what they reveal, it’s not surprising that there are attempts to muddy the waters to cover up what has been exposed.’

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, told the Telegraph: ‘If they are using disinformation to fabricate their NHS scare stories, which are anyway not true, that speaks volumes about them. ‘If there is any truth in this report, then there are very serious questions that need to be answered by Jeremy Corbyn and his team.’

Graphika’s report concluded: ‘The most pressing question is not who was behind the dissemination operation, but how the unredacted documents ended up in their hands in the first place.’