Premium

Labour told to 'come clean' about how it obtained leaked government documents after report  links them to Russia

Labour has been told to “come clean” over whether it has helped to spread Russian “disinformation” during the general election campaign.

Jeremy Corbyn last week published a leaked dossier of classified information which he used to attack the Conservatives over the NHS, but refused to say how he got it.

On Monday night, independent researchers said the documents carried “the spectre of foreign influence” as they had been published online using methods that directly mirror an earlier Russian disinformation campaign.

Senior Conservative MPs on Monday night demanded that Mr Corbyn explain how he obtained the documents amid fears that Moscow is trying to influence the election campaign. Graphika, a social media analytics firm, worked with the Atlantic Council think tank to uncover evidence showing that the way the documents came into the public domain mirrored a disinformation campaign called Secondary Infektion, uncovered in June.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would not disclose the source of the leaked UK-US trade talks documents Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Secondary Infektion used fabricated or altered documents to try to spread false narratives online, and stemmed from a network of social media accounts that Facebook said “originated in Russia”. Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at Graphika, said: “It’s on the same set of websites [as Secondary Infektion], it’s using the same types of accounts and making the same language errors. It’s either the Russian operation or someone trying hard to look like it.”

The Graphika report, seen by The Telegraph, states that: “The similarities to Secondary Infektion are not enough to provide conclusive attribution but are too close to be simply a coincidence. They could indicate a return of the actors behind Secondary Infektion or a sophisticated attempt by unknown actors to mimic it.” 

Labour on Monday night refused to say how it had obtained the documents, which originally surfaced on the online discussion site Reddit, and would say only that “releasing these documents was clearly in the public interest”.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said:  “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.”

Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said: “We know that foreign governments have tried to interfere in elections by leaking documents at moments that are convenient to them. Is this part of that pattern of behaviour?”

A Labour spokesman said of the documents: “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.”

Mr Corbyn cited the documents in a letter to Donald Trump, quoting from them as he demanded the US president leaves the NHS out of any future trade talks with the UK.

Lisa-Maria Neudert, a researcher at Oxford University’s Project on Computational Propaganda, said that if Russia was behind the leak, its aim may not have been to help any particular side in the election. She said: “We know from the Russian playbook that often it is not for or against anything, it’s about sowing confusion, and destroying the field of political trust.”

A Reddit spokesman said: “The integrity of our site is of paramount importance and we are investigating these findings.”

Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, said: “Whoever did this ... was absolutely trying to keep it a  secret. It carries the spectre of foreign influence.”