The opposition Labour Party said on Nov. 27 the classified documents, which first appeared online on Oct. 21, showed the ruling Conservatives were plotting to offer up the state-run National Health Service for sale in trade talks with Washington.
The NHS is much loved by Britons and has become an important issue in the Dec. 12 election, in which Labour trails the Conservatives despite cutting its lead in some opinion polls.
Researchers at Britain’s Oxford and Cardiff universities, the Atlantic Council thinktank and social media analytics firm Graphika said the way the documents were first shared online mirrored a campaign called Secondary Infektion.
Secondary Infektion uncovered by the Atlantic Council in June, used fabricated or altered documents to try to spread false narratives across at least 30 online platforms, and stemmed from a network of social media accounts which Facebook said "originated in Russia."
“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,” said Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at Graphika.
Reuters has been unable to verify whether the documents are genuine. Labour and the British government declined immediate comment. In Washington, the U.S. Trade Representative did not respond to requests for comment.
It is not clear who was behind either operation and cyber experts say it is hard to attribute malicious actions online with certainty.
Moscow has denied allegations of election meddling and the Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Whoever did this ... was absolutely trying to keep it a secret,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “It carries the spectre of foreign influence.”
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