The Daily Telegraph has published a story alleging that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have “helped to spread Russian disinformation”, just four months after publishing a story based on a leak of the very same documents.
Today’s Telegraph splashed on the headline “Corbyn’s dossier ‘points to Russians’”. The story features questions from senior Conservative MPs about how Corbyn acquired documents related to UK-US trade talks, “amid fears that Moscow is trying to influence the election campaign.”
But Scram News has found a story published in the business pages of the Telegraph on 11th July 2019, which appears to be based on the same documents as those publicised by Corbyn. The story, headlined “Chronic lack of progress in US-UK trade talks laid bare”, is based upon “leaked documents”, part of “a cache of documents seen by the Daily Telegraph”, containing “details of meetings spanning two years.”
The July 2019 story directly quotes excerpts from one of the Corbyn documents – a readout of the US-UK trade group meeting on 24-25 July 2017. The story states: “British negotiators said Washington had repeatedly ‘painted the EU Commission as the bad guys’ as they sought to influence the post-Brexit legal system.”
In a copy of the leaked documents publicised by Corbyn last week, almost exactly the same phrasing is used. The UK’s lead negotiator writes: “There was much talk which painted the EU Commission as the bad guys.”
The Telegraph’s July 2019 story also states: “American officials said ‘it was easier to change a regulation before it is finalised’.”
One of Corbyn’s leaked documents says: “The US (Shub) set out typical objectives around good regulatory practice (GRP). This exists to identify domestic administrative requirements in a more seamless way. It is easier to change a regulation before it is finalised.”
Corbyn’s sixth document is dated 12th July 2019, and it concerns meetings which occurred on 10-11 July 2019. It references the Telegraph‘s story and notes that the “meetings took place against the media backdrop of Kim Darroch’s resignation and a Daily Telegraph story on the – allegedly poor – status of preparations for a UK-U.S. FTA sourced from a separate leak of documents.”
Today’s Telegraph story quotes former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who says: “If they [Labour] 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.”
The story also quotes Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, saying: “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?”
The US and UK governments have not denied the authenticity of Corbyn’s documents. The Telegraph’s July 2019 story, which directly quotes excerpts from one of the six documents publicised by Corbyn, lends further credence to their authenticity.
Given the Telegraph’s claim to have possessed “details of meetings spanning two years”, it is possible they themselves were leaked the first five out of six documents, in additions to “emails” and other internal civil service correspondence. It is definite that they were leaked at least one of the documents.
It is, therefore, difficult to comprehend how they can claim or publish claims by others that the documents could be Russian disinformation, given the likelihood that sources had passed them the very same documents, which they judged to be of sufficient quality for publication.
There is a legitimate argument to be made that the dissemination of the documents, starting on 21st October, mirrors a previous Russian campaign. But, if the documents are disinformation, they would have to be deliberately deceptive material (i.e. they would have to be wholly or partially falsified).
It follows that if that were to be true, then not only did Corbyn publicise deliberately deceptive material, but so did the Telegraph, four months prior.
It does, also, raise the possibility that the Telegraph’s source is the same source as Labour’s, or is the same source who uploaded the files online.
In response to the Telegraph’s story, Jeremy Corbyn said: “I held a dossier up because it had been released, and I’d seen it, and at no stage until today when this new conspiracy theory arose, has anyone challenged the veracity of that document.
“If the document is not accurate then why is it it’s been out there all this time, no minister has claimed it’s inaccurate, no government has, and in reality the minutes are there of meetings.”
24th-25th July 2017: First meeting of US/UK trade group
13th-14th July 2017: Second meeting
21st-22nd March 2018: Third meeting
10th-11th July 2018: Fourth meeting
2nd-7th November 2018: Fifth meeting
10th-11th July 2019: Sixth meeting is held
11th July 2019: The Telegraph publish a story directly quoting the first meeting, claiming to have a “cache of documents” containing “details of meetings spanning two years”.
12th July 2019: A civil servant notes in the minutes for the sixth meeting that it was held amidst “a Daily Telegraph story on the – allegedly poor – status of preparations for a UK-U.S. FTA sourced from a separate leak of documents”.
18th July 2019: The six documents are last modified, according to the internal PDF metadata.
29th July 2019: The six documents are last modified, according to the file metadata.
18th October 2019: Screenshots of key excerpts from the documents are uploaded to image-sharing website Imgur. It is unknown if the link to the leak download is posted alongside the images.
21st October 2019: A link to the documents is posted on reddit’s /r/worldpolitics by users going by the names of Gregoratior, Ostermannx, and variations of those names. It includes links to the screenshots uploaded to imgur three days prior.
23rd October 2019: The reddit link is disseminated via a Twitter account gregoratior, through four posts on 4chan’s /pol/ board, and three German websites including the German subreddit /r/de.
11th November 2019: The Gregoratior Twitter account makes its final tweet, sent to the authors of the July 2019 Telegraph piece, after posting the reddit link in the comments of the Telegraph story.
27th November 2019: Jeremy Corbyn reveals the documents. As he does so, the Guido Fawkes blog is the first to widely publish the documents, which appear to come from the reddit source. The reddit post is swiftly discovered and investigations commence.
2nd December 2019: A Reuters story reveals the Graphika report.
3rd December 2019: The Telegraph splashes on the Graphika report, claiming Corbyn has spread “Russian ‘disinformation’”.
Today’s Telegraph article stems from a report by social media research firm Graphika, which says that the dissemination of the UK-US trade documents mirrors a previous Russian campaign.
Ironically, Scram News can reveal that the Telegraph itself was one site targeted in the amplification and dissemination campaign discussed in Graphika’s report. The leaked documents were posted on the comments section of the Telegraph’s July article, by a user using the same name as that behind the original Twitter and reddit posts, Wilbur Gregoratior.
Three comments, timestamped from 09:07 to 09:10, were left on 11th November 2019, 16 days before Corbyn revealed the documents, and four months after the story’s original publication.
They are identical, with two left as replies to other users, and one as a top-level comment:
Two minutes after the final comment on the Telegraph website, the final tweet was made from the @Gregoratior Twitter account. It was sent to Anna Isaac, James Rothwell, and Asa Bennett: the journalists who wrote the Telegraph‘s July 2019 story.
Graphika’s report, authored by Ben Nimmo, suggests that the amplification and dissemination of the leaked documents mirrors a Russian disinformation campaign, Secondary Infektion.
In that campaign, the information was wholly false. The similarities are based upon the nature of websites and forums used to publicise the leak after its publication on reddit.
Graphika states: “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.”
There are several additional points to raise in the wake of the Graphika report, which has been the source for stories in the Guardian, Daily Beast, Reuters, Financial Times, The Times, as well as other publications.
They concern the timeline of the documents starting from August 2017 going through to October 2019.
In contradiction to widespread reporting, including by Scram News, we can now reveal that the first leak of the documents into the public domain did not occur via reddit or any other websites on 21st October. Screenshots of key excerpts of the document, linked in the original reddit post, were first uploaded to Imgur on 18 October at around 09:17, three days prior.
Analysis of the metadata of the PDF files, which can be faked, suggests that the six documents were originally created from August 2017 through to July 2019. The most recent four of them include three authors, all civil servants at the Department for International Trade (i.e. not Russian agents) – information which can be found in the metadata.
The Graphika report also omitted the attempted dissemination of the reddit link on 4chan’s /pol/ board, as reported by Scram News.
The Private Eye journalist Solomon Hughes has similarly raised concerns about the Graphika report itself. Ben Nimmo, the report’s author, was at one point part of the government-funded Institute for Statecraft. Their “Integrity Initiative”, a registered charity, was highly critical of Corbyn and criticised by the Scottish charity regulator.
[An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Nimmo had claimed a man named Ian Shilling was a “Russian bot”, when Shilling was in fact a prolific tweeter who promotes theories about the Douma chemical attack. The assertion about Shilling being a bot was in fact made by the government and repeated on Sky News, and not by Nimmo. Apologies for the error. – updated 21:45 03/12/19]
All this considered, key questions remain regarding the timeline of the US/UK trade documents.
Five out of six of the reports appear to have been created shortly after the meetings they discuss, with the exception of the fifth report. That report’s metadata places its creation date on 18th July 2019, eight months after the meetings on 2-7 November 2018 that it covers. 18th July 2019 is the same date as that cited in all six PDF documents as the most recent modification date, starting at 15:17 and concluding by 15:30.
The six reports have a file modification date, separate to their PDF metadata modification information, of 29th July 2019, starting at 16:35 and concluding by 16:40.
The question is: why is there the time jump between the 18th July and the 29th July timestamps, and what happened to the documents between 29th July and 18th October, when they were posted online? It is wholly possible that they were passed to Russian or foreign actors who chose to disseminate them, starting in October.
Finally, is the Telegraph‘s source for their early July story the same individual or individuals who acquired the classified documents in late July? It is apparent that allegations of Russian disinformation are groundless, unless the Telegraph is willing to concede that they themselves published Russian disinformation. But, given the sixth document’s reference to the Telegraph story, this seems particularly unlikely.
The Telegraph were contacted for comment, but they had not responded by time of publication.
Scram News reached out to Graphika to discuss the report, but they had not responded by time of publication.