Reddit says UK election document leak points to Russia

Reddit says UK election document leak points to Russia
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Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn holds up redacted documents from the government's UK-US trade talks during a press conference in London on Nov. 27. (TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

The distribution of a leaked UK trade agreement with the United States, currently the subject of heated debate ahead of the United Kingdom’s general elections, is likely the work of an established information operation with suspected ties to Russian intelligence, Reddit said Friday.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK’s opposition Labour Party, has argued that the leaks show Prime Minister Boris Johnson has discussed the UK’s National Health Service with the US government. It’s unclear how the documents were originally leaked, but they were first posted to Reddit in October. The Labour Party didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The accounts that originally shared and promoted the agreement mimicked the behavior, account names and obscure hosting sites of a Russian operation on Facebook that the company took down earlier this year. Researchers at the Atlantic Council, given those accounts’ details and histories, dubbed the operation “Secondary Infektion” after its resemblance to a Soviet-era propaganda campaign, and determined it was likely the work of Russian intelligence.

“Attribution is always the hardest part of any investigation into information operations. Reddit’s statement strengthens the link between the trade leaks and the earlier Russian operation,” Ben Nimmo, who led that research, told CNN.

News that the leaks on Reddit appeared tied to Secondary Infektion was first reported by Reuters.

Reddit, like all major tech companies that periodically remove content that appears to be part of coordinated information campaigns, declined to share more specific details about how it identifies those operations.

Russian state-linked hackers are widely believed to have released genuine documents to influence several high-profile Western elections in recent years, including emails from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 and French president Emmanuel Macron in 2017.

The Russian government consistently denies claims of state interference in foreign election processes.

In its announcement, Reddit said it was banning one forum, called a subreddit, and 61 accounts it found sharing the leaks, but that it would temporarily make them accessible for the public for research purposes.