WASHINGTON — Prosecutors in the U.S. revealed Thursday that they were part of an effort involving the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Canada to charge Russian military intelligence operatives who were involved in hacking campaigns aimed at discrediting anti-doping agencies. Officials added that organizations that analyzed a nerve agent used in an attempted assassination were also targets.
Authorities in The Hague described what they called a cloak-and-dagger operation by Russians to spy on chemical weapons analysts, using a rental car full of electronic spy equipment.
The Justice Department filed criminal charges against seven members of the GRU, Russia's main military intelligence unit, accusing them of hacking into the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as well as four international sports governing bodies. A grand jury indictment said the operation was in retaliation for the exposure of Russia's state-sponsored athlete doping program that resulted in a ban from the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil.
"They cheated, they got caught, they got mad, and they retaliated," said Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, who oversaw the U.S. prosecution.
The Russians were accused of stealing personal health information of more than 250 athletes from the U.S. and 29 other countries and releasing it, sometimes falsely claiming that the records showed that the athletes engaged in using banned doping drugs.
Three of the seven Russians named in the indictment were separately accused by special counsel Robert Mueller with meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
John Demers, assistant attorney general for the National Security Division, said Russia's goal in both cases was the same — "to pursue its interests through illegal influence and disinformation operations aimed at muddying or altering perceptions of the truth."
Overseas, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld said the Russians attempted to hack into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in April. Four of the Russians were caught in the act and immediately expelled from the Netherlands. Their hacking target was an organization that was analyzing the nerve agent that British authorities said was used in an April attempt to assassinate a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England.
While none of the Russians indicted Thursday were arrested, U.S. authorities said the charges make it difficult for them to travel. Investigators said that while much of the hacking was done remotely from Russia, some was carried out in operations similar to the one disrupted in the Netherlands.
U.S. authorities said the Russian hackers also carried out technical reconnaissance on Westinghouse Electric Corp., a nuclear energy company based in Pennsylvania. But they declined to offer any details about the intrusion.