US suspected Russia was behind 2016 cyberattacks against Swedish news organizations: report

US suspected Russia was behind 2016 cyberattacks against Swedish news organizations: report
© Getty Images

The U.S. State Department suspected that Russian hackers were behind cyberattacks against several Swedish news organizations in 2016, according to a cable from the department obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The cable, which was sent primarily to U.S. ambassadors in Europe on Oct. 19, 2016, detailed U.S. intelligence suspicions that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, BuzzFeed reported.

The cable, which was intended exclusively for internal use, detailed additional warnings that Russia was carrying out a widespread campaign to destabilize NATO alliances. The campaign included cyberattacks against Swedish news organizations that resulted in several of the largest sites being knocked offline. 


BuzzFeed notes that the cable is the first confirmation that Russia was suspected of the March 2016 attack against Sweden. The outlet obtained the cable through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by BuzzFeed News and Ryan Shapiro, a Ph.D. candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and cofounder of the transparency project, Property of the People.

“Russia has focused significant resources on specific Partners, like Sweden and Finland,” the cable said in a section labeled "SBU," which BuzzFeed notes stands for "sensitive but unclassified."

“Russian actors are suspected of being behind recent efforts to infiltrate Sweden with distorted and false information about NATO in the Swedish press, at think tank events, and on social media," it continued. “Russia is also suspected of carrying out cyberattacks against Swedish media outlets in March 2016.”

The State Department told BuzzFeed that "the cable speaks for itself" when asked for comment.

The outlet added that it was sent just 12 days after the government's first public statement about Russian interference in the U.S. election. 

The attacks on Swedish media outlets were strong enough to deny readers from accessing at least nine of the nations’s largest news sites, according to BuzzFeed.

The site noted that the timing of the attacks is notable because of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's indictment in July of 12 Russian intelligence officers for their part in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The attacks on Swedish media outlets began on March 19 — the same day a Russian intelligence officer sent a spear-phishing email to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE's campaign manager John Podesta, according to Mueller's indictment. 

Sweden's national police told BuzzFeed that the country's government has not publicly blamed Russia for the media attacks two years ago. 

BuzzFeed's report comes amid heightened bipartisan concerns about Russian interference in future U.S. elections. 

The Daily Beast reported last month that Russian intelligence agents targeted Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) ahead of the midterm elections.