US charges seven Russian intelligence officers over cyber attacks

US charges seven Russian intelligence officers over cyber attacks

The headquarters of Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

US authorities have charged seven Russian military intelligence officers for hacking the organisation investigating the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and anti-doping agencies.

The announcement by the US Justice Department comes after the British and Dutch authorities disclosed they have thwarted an attempt by the GRU to hack the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

Assistant attorney general for national security John Demers said the individuals indicted in the US include some of the four GRU officers named by the UK and the Netherlands.

Three defendants had already been charged in an indictment brought in July by the office of the Special Counsel relating to a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 US presidential elections.

Mr Demers said it was part of a Russian campaign to pursue its interests through "disinformation operations aimed at muddying or altering perceptions of the truth".


'Justice is patient' 

Photo of four GRU officers who entered the Netherlands at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on April 10, travelling on official Russian passports

The indictment said the GRU had targeted the hacking victims because they had publicly supported a ban on Russian athletes in international sports competitions and because they had condemned Russia's state-sponsored athlete doping programme.

Prosecutors said the Russians had also targeted a Pennsylvania-based nuclear energy company.

The indictment says the hacking was often conducted remotely.

If that was not successful, the hackers would conduct "on-site" or "close access" hacking operations, with trained GRU members travelling with sophisticated equipment to target their victims through wifi networks.

Mr Demers acknowledged the defendants were all now in Russia, but warned they "should know that justice is patient and its reach is long and its memory is longer."


'there will be consequences'

Earlier foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Moscow could face further sanctions following the release of "hard evidence" that the GRU was behind a string of cyber attacks.

He said: "We will also be discussing how we need - working with our friends and allies - to counter this pattern of cyber attacks, which is the new type of attack that the whole world is having to deal with."

Defence officials in the Netherlands, where OPCW is based, said four Russians had been expelled after the alleged cyber strike.

Mr Hunt said the alleged OPCW hack would "put to rest" any doubts people may have about the Russian military involvement in the Salisbury attack.

He said: "Here you have evidence of the Russian military launching a cyber attack on the very organisation, the international organisation in The Netherlands, set up to investigate those Novichok attacks.

"Why would you do that if you weren't the guilty party? The reality is that this is a pattern of cyber attacks in the UK, the US, Malaysia, Switzerland and now the Netherlands.

"The Russian government needs to know that if they flout international law in this way, there will be consequences, they will be exposed, and people will see the Russian government for what they are; which is an organisation that is trying to foster instability throughout the world and that is totally unacceptable."


Specialist hacking equipment

A car carrying hacking equipment used by GRU officers parked near the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague. Image: Press Association

According to the evidence released by the Dutch authorities, the team of four GRU officers travelling on official Russian passports entered the Netherlands on April 10.

On April 13 they parked a car carrying specialist hacking equipment outside the headquarters of the OPCW in The Hague.

At that point the Dutch counter-terrorism officers intervened to disrupt the operation and the four GRU officers were ordered to leave the country.