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7 Dec, 2023 18:17

Russia ‘hacked’ British politicians and journalists – UK Foreign Office

Moscow has dismissed similar allegations as “baseless” and “evidence free”
Russia ‘hacked’ British politicians and journalists – UK Foreign Office

Russian spies have run a “cyber interference” campaign on British politicians, civil servants, and journalists for almost a decade, a minister of state in the UK Foreign Office has claimed. Leo Docherty did not provide evidence, while Moscow has denied similar allegations in the past.

In an address to parliament on Thursday, Docherty claimed that a group of hackers “almost certainly” affiliated with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) have “selectively leaked and amplified information” since 2015. The hackers obtained this information by impersonating the contacts of their targets and sending them malicious links by email, he alleged.

Docherty said that two Russians, supposedly responsible for the 2018 hack and release of documents from the Institute for Statecraft – a think tank linked to British intelligence – were affiliated with the FSB, and would be sanctioned in response. He added that the Russia's ambassador to the UK had been summoned to be informed of the sanctions.

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

At the time, a group affiliated with the ‘Anonymous’ hacktivist collective claimed responsibility for the breach. Britain’s National Crime Agency investigated the hack and found no “forensic proof” of Russian involvement.

In his address on Thursday, Docherty also accused two units within the FSB of hacking the private conversations of politicians from the Labour and Conservative parties since 2015, and releasing the details of UK-US trade negotiations ahead of the 2019 general election. 

“They have targeted members of this House and the [House of Lords],” Docherty declared. “They have been targeting civil servants, journalists, and NGOs. They have been targeting high-profile individuals and entities with a clear intent – using information they obtain to meddle in British politics.”

Docherty’s claims echo those in a 2020 parliamentary report that accused Russia of waging “influence campaigns” targeting the 2014 Scottish independence vote and the 2016 Brexit referendum. However, the report’s authors concluded that they had found no hard evidence of interference in the Brexit vote, having received “just six lines of text” as evidence from the UK’s domestic spy agency, MI5.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the 2020 report as “nothing sensational,” while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov wrote it off as “just a new round of evidence-free allegations.” Russia has consistently denied accusations of interference in Western politics, most famously during the ‘Russiagate’ investigation of then-President Donald Trump in the US. The investigation ended with a report finding no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

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