Russia ‘hacked’ British politicians and journalists, minister claims

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Russian agents have been conducting a “cyber interference” campaign against British politicians, civil officials, and journalists for nearly a decade, according to a minister of state in the UK Foreign Office. Leo Docherty did not give evidence, and Moscow has previously disputed similar charges.

Docherty stated in a speech to parliament on Thursday that a group of hackers “almost certainly” connected to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have “selectively leaked and amplified information” since 2015. According to him, the hackers gained this information by impersonating their targets’ contacts and sending them harmful links via email.

Docherty stated that two Russians, allegedly responsible for the 2018 hack and publication of material from the Institute for Statecraft, a research tank affiliated with British intelligence, were arrested.

The 2018 hack revealed that, among other things, the British government supported a network of pro-Western “influencers” across Europe, waged a domestic smear campaign against then-Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and interfered in Balkan elections.

At the time, a group linked with the hacktivist collective ‘Anonymous’ claimed responsibility for the intrusion. The National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom examined the hack and discovered no “forensic proof” of Russian involvement.

Docherty also accused two FSB units of hacking private conversations of politicians from the Labour and Conservative parties since 2015 and leaking secrets of UK-US trade discussions ahead of the 2019 general election in his address on Thursday.

“They have specifically targeted members of this House and the [House of Lords],” Docherty stated. “They have targeted civil servants, journalists, and non-governmental organisations.” They have been targeting high-profile individuals and entities with a definite goal in mind: to interfere in British politics using information obtained.”

Docherty’s charges are similar to those made in a 2020 parliamentary report accusing Russia of conducting “influence campaigns” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the 2016 Brexit referendum. Despite receiving “just six lines of text” as evidence from the UK’s domestic espionage agency, MI5, the report’s writers concluded that they had discovered no hard proof of influence in the Brexit vote.