US, allies target Russian cyber spies with indictments

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Washington, Oct 5 (IANS) The US and major Western allies have condemned Russia’s hacking and disinformation operations, announcing indictments and describing in striking detail Moscow’s targeting of top Olympic athletes, anti-doping organisations, and chemical weapons monitors.

US Justice Department officials on Thursday unveiled charges against seven officers with Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency who, authorities said, were linked to the leak of athletes’ drug-test data and efforts to steal information from organizations probing Russia’s alleged use of chemical weapons, including the poisoning of a former GRU spy in Britain, The Washington Post reported.

Three of the officers had been previously indicted in cases alleging that they conspired to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Hours earlier, the Dutch government outlined an operation — almost comedic in its haplessness — in which Dutch counterintelligence forces caught the Russians red-handed as they sought to hack a chemical-weapons agency in The Hague.

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The British government accused the GRU of “reckless and indiscriminate cyberattacks”, blaming it for such operations as the hacking of Olympic athletes’ medical records, disruptions on the Kiev subway system and the 2016 theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Taken together, the indictments and condemnations represented a coordinated effort to further expose Moscow’s ongoing, widespread campaign to discredit democracy and international institutions through disinformation and its attacks on the rule of law. Russia’s aim, officials said, is to muddy or alter perceptions of the truth, even if its efforts sometimes fail spectacularly.

“Nations like Russia, and others that engage in malicious and norm-shattering cyber and influence activities, should understand the continuing and steadfast resolve of the United States and its allies to prevent, disrupt and deter such unacceptable conduct,” said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.

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A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, dismissed Britain’s allegations as a delusional and “diabolical perfume blend.” The ministry had no immediate comment on the US indictment.

The flurry of activity on Thursday follows separate moves earlier this year stemming from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

In July, he obtained an indictment of 12 GRU members for hacking and leaking emails of Democratic officials and organizations.

In February, officials announced an indictment of more than a dozen Russian “trolls” who spread disinformation online and of several operatives who travelled to the US and posed as Americans to whip up protests and stoke political divisions.

In the summer of 2016, the GRU hacked drug-test results from the World Anti-Doping Agency and leaked onto the Internet confidential information about U.S. Olympic athletes, including tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, and gold medal gymnast Simone Biles. WADA that year called out the Russian military agency for the operation.

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Now, the US government is seeking to punish the cyberspies.

–IANS

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