Seven Russian spies accused of hacking various databases owned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have been indicted by a federal grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania on October 4, 2018. The Russian spies were behind the Fancy Bears Hack Team that released stolen medical data and prescription records of numerous American and international Olympic athletes in 2016.
United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions decried the state-sponsored hacking attacks on WADA and USADA. Sessions promised that the Department of Justice was committed to protecting athletes, anti-doping agencies and other victims against such attacks.
“State-sponsored hacking and disinformation campaigns pose serious threats to our security and to our open society, but the Department of Justice is defending against them,” Attorney General Sessions said. “Today we are indicting seven GRU officers for multiple felonies each, including the use of hacking to spread the personal information of hundreds of anti-doping officials and athletes as part of an effort to distract from Russia’s state-sponsored doping program.”
The seven indicted Russian spies were all officers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). The GRU is one of the two Russian spy agencies involved in intelligence and espionage activities outside of Russia. The other spy agency is the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), which succeeded the notorious the USSR’s KGB. The GRU is a foreign military intelligence agency that reports directly to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The SVR reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian GRU officers, posing as the Fancy Bears Hack Group, was responsible for hacking the WiFi network of a Rio de Janeiro hotel where most of the WADA and USADA officials were staying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in August 2016. The hacking efforts allowed Russian agents to gain access to the confidential medical data for athletes listed in the WADA Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) database.
The Russian GRU officers subsequently revealed that dozens of American and international athletes had actually tested positive for prohibited substances but the results were never revealed. The failed drug tests were not published because the athletes were explicitly permitted to use the otherwise banned drugs after being approved for therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs). In other words, the athletes complied with anti-doping rules and did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, Russia did its best to create the perception of an American-led conspiracy and cover-up of doping violations.
The GRU hacking efforts were allegedly an act of retaliation against WADA for its successfully efforts to ban the entire Russian team from the 2016 Summer Olympics. USADA was the most outspoken supporter of the blanket Russian ban. Russia had hoped the hacking efforts would help discredit the Independent McLaren Investigation Reports (“The McLaren Reports”) as a politically-motivated attack orchestrated by agents working for the United States government.
The seven GRU officers were specifically charged with one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Three of the seven GRU officers were previously named in a separate indictment resulting from the ongoing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government. The three GRU officers were indicted on charges of conspiracy to gain unauthorized access into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The seven GRU officers will have safe haven in Russia and will likely remain beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement for the foreseeable future.
DOJ. (October 4, 2018). U.S. Charges Russian GRU Officers with International Hacking and Related Influence and Disinformation Operations. Retrieved from justice.gov/opa/pr/us-charges-russian-gru-officers-international-hacking-and-related-influence-and