U.S. Charges Russian Intelligence Officers in Major Cyberattacks

The Justice Department announced indictments on Monday of six Russian military intelligence officers in connection with major hacks worldwide, including of the Winter Olympics and elections in France as well as an attack in 2017 aimed at destabilizing Ukraine that spread rapidly and was blamed for billions of dollars in damage.

Prosecutors said the suspects were from the same Russian unit that conducted one of the Kremlin’s major operations to interfere in the 2016 American election, the theft of Democratic emails. They attacked the 2017 French presidential elections; targeted British authorities investigating the poisoning of a Russian former intelligence operative and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea; and hacked the Ukrainian parliament, finance ministry and electrical grid, according to court documents.

The case marked another effort by Trump administration officials to punish Russia for its meddling in other countries’ affairs, even as President Trump has adopted a more accommodating stance toward Moscow. The charges did not address 2020 election interference; American intelligence agencies have assessed that Russia is trying to influence the vote in November.

“No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” said the assistant attorney general for national security, John C. Demers.

In a dig at President Vladimir V. Putin’s claims that he is restoring Russia to its greatness, Mr. Demers added: “No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way.”

Prosecutors said the suspects worked for Unit 74455 of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, commonly referred to as the G.R.U. Known among cybersecurity analysts as Fancy Bear, the unit led the 2016 campaign to steal Democrats’ emails and help make them public, embarrassing Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the final stretch.

One of the suspects charged in the newly unsealed indictments, Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev, was indicted two years ago over his suspected role in the 2016 election meddling.

It was unclear whether the suspects will stand trial for the charges. The Russian government is highly unlikely to hand them over to be prosecuted. But the charges could potentially restrict their travels and they could be arrested if they enter a country willing to turn them over to the United States.

One of the intrusions that the Justice Department focused on was the 2017 attempt to interfere in the French presidential election. That year, hackers released stolen documents just as voting was beginning, aimed at trying to hurt Emmanuel Macron in his race against Marine Le Pen, a far-right candidate supported by Moscow.

Security researchers at the time quickly blamed the hack-and-dump on Fancy Bear.

But unlike the Russian work in the 2016 American election, the French operation mixed genuine documents with altered material. The French media largely ignored the stolen documents, in part because of questions of their authenticity, but also because France was in a government-mandated blackout period immediately before the vote.

American officials have warned that Russia could repeat those tactics in this year’s presidential race in the United States, mixing falsified material with real stolen documents in a way that is difficult to tell fact from fiction.

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.


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