U.S. charges Russian officers with hacking anti-doping agencies

The U.S. Justice Department has charged seven Russian military intelligence officers with hacking anti-doping agencies and other organizations.

An indictment unsealed Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI in Washington on Thursday says Russia's military intelligence agency, known as the GRU, 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 program.

Prosecutors say the Russians also targeted a Pennsylvania-based nuclear energy company and an international organization that was investigating chemical weapons in Syria and the poisoning of a former GRU officer.

The indictment says the hacking was often conducted remotely. If that wasn't successful, the hackers would conduct "on-site'' or "close access'' hacking operations with trained GRU members traveling with sophisticated equipment to target their victims through Wi-Fi networks

When some members of Russia's Olympics team were barred from the 2016 Summer Olympics over widespread drug use and cover-ups, the Russian state hit the sports world with a wave of hacker attacks, the indictment said.

More than 250 athletes' medical records were published and confidential data from some of the world's biggest sports organizations -- the Olympics, world track and field, FIFA -- was published as Russia prepared to host this year's soccer World Cup.

"This began with a disclosure of Russian state-sponsored doping programs for its athletes. In other words, Russia cheated," said Scott Brady, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. "They cheated, they got caught, they were banned from the Olympics, they were mad, and they retaliated. And in retaliating, they broke the law, so they are criminals."

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was a prime target. As USADA's CEO Travis Tygart issued stinging attacks on Russian athletes' drug use, science director Matthew Fedoruk's email was hacked at the 2016 Olympics. The Fancy Bear website then posted medical data of dozens of U.S.-based athletes who'd asked permission to use otherwise-banned substances for medical reasons.

"A system that was abusing its own athletes with an institutionalized doping program has now been indicted for perpetrating cyber-attacks on innocent athletes from around the world while yet again trying to win by any means," Tygart said Thursday.

In December 2016, FIFA was investigating allegations that Russian soccer players had benefited from a cover-up, though none have since been banned as a result. At that time, the indictment says, "the conspirators compromised a computer" with evidence from anti-doping investigations and lab results, and retained access to the device for almost a month.

Last year, some FIFA data was published by the Fancy Bear group, including a list of players who had therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) at the 2010 World Cup. There was no evidence any of those players had cheated.

FIFA has not commented on the indictment.

The Russian Foreign Ministry fired back with its own accusations Thursday, accusing USADA of going easy on U.S. dopers and seeking to sideline their Russian rivals.

"American pretentions to leading the fight for clean sport are no more than unfair competition," ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, speaking after British and Dutch officials outlined the hacking accusations, but before the full U.S. indictment was published.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.