Red­dit bans ac­counts, sus­pects UK in­ter­fer­ence

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Business -

LON­DON (AP) — The prospect of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in Bri­tain’s elec­tion flared anew Satur­day af­ter the so­cial me­dia plat­form Red­dit con­cluded that peo­ple from Rus­sia leaked con­fi­den­tial Bri­tish gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments on Brexit trade talks just days be­fore the gen­eral U.K. vote.

Red­dit said in a state­ment that it has banned 61 ac­counts sus­pected of vi­o­lat­ing poli­cies against vote ma­nip­u­la­tion. It said the sus­pect ac­counts shared the same pat­tern of ac­tiv­ity as a Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence op­er­a­tion dubbed “Sec­ondary In­fek­tion” that was un­cov­ered ear­lier this year.

Red­dit in­ves­ti­gated the leak af­ter the doc­u­ments be­came pub­lic dur­ing the cam­paign for Thurs­day’s elec­tion, which will de­ter­mine the coun­try’s fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the Euro­pean Union. All 650 seats in the House of Com­mons are up for grabs.

Red­dit said it be­lieved the doc­u­ments were leaked as “part of a cam­paign that has been re­ported as orig­i­nat­ing from Rus­sia.”

“We were able to con­firm that they did in­deed show a pat­tern of co­or­di­na­tion,’’ Red­dit said.

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has not chal­lenged the au­then­tic­ity of the doc­u­ments.

Bri­tain’s main op­po­si­tion party has ar­gued the doc­u­ments prove that Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son’s Con­ser­va­tive Party is seek­ing a deal with the United States af­ter Brexit that would drive up the cost of drugs and im­peril the state-funded Na­tional Health Ser­vice. The is­sue has been a cen­tral elec­tion theme, largely be­cause the coun­try deeply cher­ishes the health ser­vice, which has suf­fered un­der years of aus­ter­ity.

Op­po­si­tion Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn said the 451 pages of doc­u­ments, which cov­ered six rounds of pre­lim­i­nary talks be­tween U.S. and U.K. ne­go­tia­tors, proved that John­son was plan­ning to put the NHS “up for sale” in trade talks. John­son — who was not prime min­is­ter for most of the two-year pe­riod when the trade talks took place — has re­jected Cor­byn’s anal­y­sis.

Bri­tain is cur­rently sched­uled to leave the 28-na­tion EU on Jan. 31.

When asked about Red­dit’s ac­tions while on a cam­paign stop in Wales,

Cor­byn sug­gested the news was an “ad­vanced stage of rather be­lated con­spir­acy the­o­ries by the prime min­is­ter.’’

“When we re­leased the doc­u­ments, at no stage did the prime min­is­ter or any­body deny that those doc­u­ments were real, deny the ar­gu­ments that we put for­ward. And if there has been no dis­cus­sion with the USA about ac­cess to our health mar­kets, if all that is wrong, how come af­ter a week they still haven’t said that?” he said.

Cul­ture Sec­re­tary Nicky Mor­gan told the BBC that the gov­ern­ment is “look­ing for and mon­i­tor­ing” any­thing that might sug­gest in­ter­fer­ence in the Bri­tish elec­tion.

“From what was be­ing put on that (Red­dit) web­site, those who seem to know about these things say that it seems to have all the hall­marks of some form of in­ter­fer­ence,’’ Mor­gan said. “And if that is the case, that ob­vi­ously is ex­tremely se­ri­ous.’’

The spec­tre that Rus­sia has med­dled in Bri­tain’s elec­toral process has been raised be­fore. Crit­ics are also ques­tion­ing the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to re­lease a Par­lia­ment in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee re­port on pre­vi­ous Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the coun­try’s pol­i­tics. They say it should have been made pub­lic be­fore Thurs­day’s vote.

The Times of Lon­don re­ported, with­out say­ing how it got the in­for­ma­tion, that the in­tel­li­gence re­port con­cluded that Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence may have af­fected the 2016 ref­er­en­dum on Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the EU, though the im­pact is “un­quan­tifi­able.”

The com­mit­tee said Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence ser­vices failed to de­vote enough re­sources to coun­ter­ing the threat and high­lighted the im­pact of ar­ti­cles posted by Rus­sian news sites that were widely dis­sem­i­nated on so­cial me­dia, the news­pa­per re­ported.

Lib­eral Democrat leader Jo Swin­son ex­pressed con­cern about the new Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence claims.

“All of us should be con­cerned if a for­eign coun­try is try­ing to in­ter­fere in our democ­racy,’’ she said.

“And that is why it is so ap­palling that the prime min­is­ter is sit­ting on a re­port that was writ­ten weeks be­fore the gen­eral elec­tion, that the Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee say should be pub­lished, into in­ter­fer­ence in U.K. democ­racy by for­eign coun­tries like Rus­sia.”

Jeff Overs/BBC via AP

Op­po­si­tion Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn (left) and Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son par­tic­i­pate in a head-to-head live Elec­tion De­bate on Fri­day at the BBC TV stu­dios in Maidstone, Eng­land.

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