On Thursday, the Justice Department announced the indictment of seven Russian intelligence officials, as accusations and allegations regarding Russia’s intelligence community continue to mount.
All seven defendants are members of Russia’s GRU, KGB’s successor and rough equivalent to the CIA. The charges include hacking, wire fraud, identity theft, and money laundering carried out in an attempt to shift public perceptions about Russian’s state-sponsored doping program, which disqualified them from the Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year. Their efforts targeted anti-doping agencies, as well as sports officials and even athletes. Interestingly, aside from sporting organizations and more than 250 athletes and officials, their only other targets were companies, such as the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, which runs nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania.
“We want the hundreds of victims of these Russian hackers to know that we will do everything we can to hold these criminals accountable for their crimes,” said Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Three of the indicted Russian intelligence officers were also charged with meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Justice officials, however, have stated that these new charges didn’t stem out of any continued investigation into Russian involvement in the presidential election.
“It is evident from the allegations in today’s indictment that the defendants believed that they could use their perceived anonymity to act with impunity, in their own countries and on territories of other sovereign nations, to undermine international institutions to distract from their government’s own malfeasance,” said John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
These new charges are just the latest in a slew of allegations brought against the Russian intelligence community. Earlier this year, two Russian operatives were implicated in a nerve agent attack on the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal. Since then, Russians have been implicated in an attempted infiltration of one of the chemical weapons laboratories tasked with identifying the Soviet era nerve agent used in the Skripal attack. Also, last week, Estonian officials charged two Russian-Estonian citizens with espionage. Norway, moreover, charged another Russian with “unlawful intelligence gathering.”
Add to these cases the 12 other indicted Russians, for election interference, and a pattern emerges. Russia seems to be hemorrhaging intelligence operatives as a result of what appears to be a combination of sloppy tradecraft and a heightened awareness among the international community.
“This pattern of behavior demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt about the recent slew of Russian spies being outed for their malign behavior.
Those sentiments were later echoed by British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson, who drew a hard line against Russia’s behavior, despite their formal statement calling all of these allegations “big fantasies.”
“We are not going to be backward leaning. We are going to actually make it clear that where Russia acts, we are going to be exposing that action,” said Williamson. “This is not the actions of a great power. This is the actions of a pariah state, and we will continue working with allies to isolate them; make them understand they cannot continue to conduct themselves in such a way.”
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