Reddit Links The Leak of US-UK Trade Document to Russian Influence Campaign

Reddit Links The Leak of US-UK Trade Document to Russian Influence Campaign

Reddit said that account activity involving the leak and amplification of sensitive UK-US trade talks happened in its platform was the work of Russian operatives part of a long-running political influence campaign. 

Or in a simple way, the platform suspects that Russian operatives are behind the leak of sensitive trade data. The leak occurred in late October when a Reddit user, Gregoratior published multiple files. These files include the contents of the ongoing US-UK trade talks taking place in the Trade and Investment Working Group (TIWG). 

Reddit has written in a post discussing the “Suspected campaign from Russia”:

We were recently made aware of a post on Reddit that included leaked documents from the UK. 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.

Earlier this year Facebook discovered a Russian campaign on its platform, which was further analyzed by the Atlantic Council and dubbed “Secondary Infektion.” Suspect accounts on Reddit were recently reported to us, along with indicators from law enforcement, and we were able to confirm that they did indeed show a pattern of coordination. We were then able to use these accounts to identify additional suspect accounts that were part of the campaign on Reddit. This group provides us with important attribution for the recent posting of the leaked UK documents, as well as insights into how adversaries are adapting their tactics.

The UK’s General Election

It is proven that the leaked documents are authentic after the UK Labour Party used excerpts from the 451-page release in its campaign for the UK general elections.

According to AFP, there are more than 400 polling stations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They were simultaneously opened at 7 am, amid the freezing winter weather. This is the first time in nearly a century that the UK held the general elections in December. The freezing temperature with rain and snow may affect the number of voters voting. 

The UK has been in the political deadlock situation since the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union. The minority Conservative government has struggled to negotiate a Brexit deal that parliament backs. 

With more 9 seats, Boris Johnson and the Conservative party can impulse the Brexit agreement with Brussels. Johnson said that the December 12 election is an opportunity to end more than 3 years of deadlock and political uncertainty. 

The Effects of The Leaked Documents 

The leaked document has revealed that the UK Conservative Party has the intention to sell the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) to US private health insurance firms and drug companies. That is a huge advantage for the opposing Labour party, who leverage the leak to boost its pre-vote standings. 

After holding the leak, Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, showed a heavily redacted version of the document during a TV leaders debate. Then, he called a press conference to reveal a fully unredacted version of the data. Leveraging the document, Corbyn tries to prove that the NHS is in grave danger if the Conservatives are re-elected.

Even though the Conservative party leader Johnson has denied Labour’s accusation, the leaked document itself is genuine. It gives the details of preliminary meetings between UK and US trade negotiators, which took place between July 2017 and July 2019. In the files, the information about the discussion of the NHS does take place, as well as other issues such as food standards.

However, it seems that the leaked documents can not change the results of the UK general election. Post-election poll results show that the Conservative party of Boris Johnson will win overwhelmingly in the election in England. 

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The Reactions of Reddit

Reddit says that an account, called Gregoratior, originally posted the leaked trade talks document. Then, a second account, Ostermaxnn, reposted it. The company also found a “pocket of accounts” that worked together to manipulate votes on the original post in an attempt to amplify it. 

Reddit Links The Leak of US-UK Trade Document to Russian Influence Campaign
The post of a Reddit user, Gregoratior

“As a result of this investigation, we are banning 1 subreddit and 61 accounts under our policies against vote manipulation and misuse of the platform,” the company said.

In addition, the platform said Gregoratior and the other 60 banned accounts link to a Russian influence operation. That is “Secondary Infektion”, which involved the leak of fake documents on multiple online platforms. Facebook identified and banned that operation in May.

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