Labour MPs are demanding an investigation into alleged irregularities affecting the 2016 EU referendum. The investigation would examine the deployment of Twitter ‘bots’, as alluded to by Prime Minister Theresa May in her Lord Mayor’s Banquet speech last week; in which she accused Russia of “meddling in elections”. But crucially, the investigation would also examine alleged collusion by senior Tories in wider cyber ‘meddling’.
The targeting of political figures
Ben Bradshaw MP has asked the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) to look into:
activities and funding of political organisations such as Conservative Friends of Russia, now renamed as the Westminster Russia Forum.
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A 2012 investigation claimed that the Kremlin had targeted leading Tories via the Conservative Friends of Russia. One of the Russian Embassy’s senior diplomats was Sergey Nalobin, whose father and brother worked for the Russian spy agency, the FSB. Nalobin was subsequently ‘expelled’ from the UK.
The Guardian also claimed that Nalobin had targeted Matthew Elliott. Elliott later joined with Paul Staines (aka ‘Guido Fawkes’) and others to develop a UK voter database. He subsequently went on to head Vote Leave and Brexit Central.
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The use of bots
Bradshaw and Labour MPs Chris Bryant and David Lammy also called on the ISC to investigate pro-Brexit campaigns involved in alleged bot attacks prior to the EU referendum vote.
Indeed, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has told US authorities that thousands of accounts have been run from a St Petersburg-based ‘troll farm’. And one analysis of Twitter accounts prior to the EU referendum showed that, of the 482,000 that could be geo-located, only 30,122 were identified as UK-based. Also, a recent joint study by Swansea University and the University of California, Berkeley identified 150,000 Russian-based accounts that tweeted 45,000 messages at the time of the referendum. Claims by a data analyst also suggest a Russian origin to many of these tweets.
Separately, US prosecutors claim that London professor Joseph Mifsud promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump’s foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Mifsud denies this. Papadopulos is providing evidence as part of the FBI inquiry into alleged links between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. And according to court documents, Mifsud was the main contact between Papadopoulos and the Kremlin.
But Bradshaw told the ISC:
We know that Mr Papadopoulos has had access to British Ministers, and that Professor Mifsud has met the Foreign Secretary…
In fact, Boris Johnson was photographed at a Conservative Party event, standing next to Mifsud. And a ‘high ranking’ person with the Foreign Office met with Papadopoulos. The Foreign Office also confirmed that another minister, Tobias Ellwood, met Papadopoulos at the UN general assembly.
Now, it seems Mifsud has ‘disappeared’.
But the Russian ‘meddling’ claims should not distract from US-Brexit collusion, as summarised by The Guardian:
Indeed, the Electoral Commission is already investigating if Arron Banks was the true source of loans, worth £6m, to Leave.eu; and whether Leave.eu’s Better For The Country Limited acted as an agent when donating £2.3m to five campaigners.
Also, questions remain about the role of “audience persuasion” specialist AggregateIQ. It was paid millions of pounds by Vote Leave, fronted by Johnson and fellow minister Michael Gove. Questions also remain about the role of Voter Consultancy Ltd, headed by Thomas Borwick, a ‘micro-targeting’ consultant to behavioural change specialists Cambridge Analytica and chief technologist for Vote Leave. Voter Consultancy currently appears to be targeting The Telegraph‘s ‘mutineer‘ Tory MPs:
Thomas Borwick – son of ex Kensington Tory MP, worked for Cambridge Analytica then Vote Leave. His company Voter Consultancy now bullying Brexit MPs with Facebook dark posts. Why? Who’s paying? pic.twitter.com/AakIV1jTFU
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) November 18, 2017
Should the 2016 referendum result prove flawed, that could see a second referendum. It could also pave the way for a direct challenge to May’s Brexit-defined government.
Featured image via YouTube
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