Since June, some entity has been releasing e-mails and electronic documents obtained via network intrusions and credential thefts of politicians and political party employees. Some of the releases have appeared on sites believed to be associated with Russian intelligence operations; others have appeared on Wikileaks. On occasion, the leaker has also engaged journalists directly, trying to have them publish information drawn from these documents—sometimes successfully, other times not.
The US government has pinned at least some of the blame for these leaks on Russia. This has led some observers to argue that WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence agencies are "weaponizing" the media. This is what national security circles refer to as an "influence operation," using reporters as tools to give credibility and cover to a narrative driven by another nation-state. The argument is that by willingly accepting leaked data, journalists have (wittingly or not) aided the leaker's cause. As such, they have become an "agent of influence."
The Grugq, a veteran information security researcher who has specialized in counterintelligence research and a former employee of the computer security consulting company @stake, penned an article about the topic yesterday. "The primary role for an agent of influence," he wrote, "is to add credibility to the narrative/data that the agency is attempting to get out and help influence the public." Such agents might friendly with or controlled by the agency trying to spread the information, but they can also be unwitting accomplices "sometimes called a 'useful idiot,' unaware of their role as conduits of data for an agency."