The Trump administration on Thursday indicted seven Russian intelligence officers on a slew of federal charges for allegedly conducting malicious cyber operations against the United States and its allies.
Officials with the Justice Department’s national security division and the FBI announced the charges Thursday morning, shortly after officials in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands revealed a secret joint intelligence mission that thwarted a Russian intelligence operation targeting a global chemical weapons watchdog at The Hague, called the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
U.S. officials allege that some of the Russians caught in the operation at The Hague participated in a global hacking campaign against individuals and organizations in the U.S., Canada and Europe. These include attacks on Olympic organizations, including the World Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as well as attacks on a U.S. nuclear power company in Pennsylvania.
The Russian hackers allegedly targeted Westinghouse, which officials noted supplies nuclear power to Ukraine. Officials would not comment on the motivation of that attack or whether it was successful.
The Russians linked to the operation foiled at The Hague allegedly targeted organizations analyzing the chemical nerve agent used in the attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal. The U.K. charged two Russian intelligence officers with attempted murder in an unsuccessful operation to use a nerve agent, Novichok, on Skripal in March.
The Russians allegedly work for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit known for conducting brazen operations on targets across the globe. Earlier this year, special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate 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 MORE indicted 12 GRU officers for their role in a hacking plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Three of those charged Thursday were also charged by Mueller in July, though the indictments did not result from the work of the special counsel’s office.
The Russians are being charged with conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to launder money. Despite the charges, the Russians are unlikely to see their day in court, given that they are in Russia and out of reach of U.S. law enforcement.
“Our indictment today charges some of the same Russian operatives caught in The Hague, along with their colleagues in Moscow, as part of a conspiracy to hack a variety of individuals and organizations in the United States, Canada and Europe, to obtain information or access that was then exploited for the benefit of the Russian government,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said at a press conference at the Justice Department on Thursday morning.
“Nations like Russia, and others that engaged 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,” Demers said.
Thursday’s announcement is part of a burgeoning effort by the U.S. government to call out Russia and other foreign actors for engaging in malicious cyber activity.
The Russian hacking group Fancy Bear, linked to the GRU, has been widely suspected in attacks on Olympic organizations. The attacks have been seen as part of an effort to retaliate against a ban imposed on Moscow for engaging in a doping program.
U.S. officials on Thursday accused Moscow of hacking into Olympics organizations and stealing confidential health information on athletes and selectively leaking files to undermine the integrity of the Olympic Games.
The FBI’s field offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia led the investigation and were assisted by a parallel probe conducted by law enforcement in Canada. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
The Russians charged are Aleksei Sergeyevich Morenets, Evgenii Mikhaylovich Serebriakov, Ivan Sergeyevich Yermakov, Artem Andreyevich Malyshev, Dmitriy Sergeyevich Badin, Oleg Mikhaylovich Sotnikov and Alexey Valerevich Minin.
In addition to naming the Russian individuals, officials also distributed a “wanted” flyer with photographs of those indicted.