Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster, the fake Brexit email and the Russian spy plot revealed

Arlene Foster with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels in March 2018. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
Arlene Foster with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels in March 2018. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)

The Russian Government said claims its intelligence service was involved in spreading disinformation about Arlene Foster, her position on Brexit and blaming the Real IRA for being involved in plot to kill a double agent were "completely fake and having nothing to do with reality".

It comes after a report in The Irish Times based on an investigation by the US-based Digital Forensic Research Laboratory of the Atlantic Council think tank.

The investigation claimed a Russian operation sought to "fan divisions, stoke racial, religious, or political hatred" between and within certain countries, particularly Northern Ireland in what appeared to be an attempt to disrupt Brexit talks.

The report said the campaign was "persistent, sophisticated and well-run" with the likelihood it was organised by Russian intelligence.

In one example a fake email from Arlene Foster to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier posted online by a supposedly Irish user appears to suggest the two were holding behind-the-scenes talks. It states the DUP found the EU position "more favourable than the one we received from the UK Cabinet".

However, it goes on to suggest the Assembly will meet in a private session to discuss the matter. However, this is dated July 2018 at a time the institutions had been mothballed for over 18 months.

The sentiment was also at odds with the DUP position and at a time when Arlene Foster was reportedly describing Mr Barnier as "hostile and difficult" in his approach.

The investigation claims the strategy was for fake social media claims to be posted online and then followed up in obscure blog posts and shared again on Facebook in the hope of amplifying content to larger numbers of people.

Its claimed the activity stretched far beyond Facebook and included many other websites and social network platforms.

In one such instance in Germany a fake post on immigration was picked up by a far-right website which gained substantial traction.

The Irish Times reports a number of Facebook profiles have been removed and the posts deleted. It's thought to be the first time Northern Ireland has been singled out in such a manner.

In another post concerning Northern Ireland a fake post by the then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson claimed the Real IRA was suspected of supplying the deadly nerve agent used in the Sergei Skripal poisoning case in Salisbury.

And in another it was claimed dissidents had reached out to Islamist extramists to "join the RIRA and fight on Irish soil".

Investigators found the way sentences were put together suggested a translation from another language would have been used hinting at a Russian influence.

Researchers told The Irish Times it would come as no surprise Russia wanted to interfere in the Brexit process.

The Russian embassy in Dublin told The Irish Times the investigation was “absolutely false”, “a complete fake” and has “nothing to do with reality”.

"As such it does not deserve serious comment,” said a spokeswoman.

“At the same time the ‘story’ might be enlightening in a sense that it shows to what lengths Western disinformation operatives would go to discredit Russia.”

The revelations come as Sir Nick Clegg - Facebook's global affairs head - said there was "absolutely no evidence" Russia influenced the EU referendum result using the social media site.

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