The US Department of Justice is charging seven Russian military intelligence officials over the alleged hacking of doping agencies and other organisations.
The officials were indicted for conspiring to hack computers and steal data in a bid to delegitimise international anti-doping organisations and expose officials who revealed a Russian state-sponsored athlete-doping programme.
The charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse and to commit wire fraud and money laundering came hours after Dutch authorities said they had disrupted an attempt by Russian intelligence agents to hack into the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in April.
In a news conference in The Hague, Dutch Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld called on Russia to cease its cyber activities that aim at “undermining” Western democracies.
“The Dutch government finds the involvement of these intelligence operatives extremely worrisome,” Bijleveld said.
“Normally we don’t reveal this type of counter-intelligence operation.”
The revelations come as the United Kingdom accused Kremlin spies of directing a host of cyber attacks aimed at undermining Western democracies by sowing confusion in everything from sports to transport and the 2016 US presidential election.
Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said Moscow’s “reckless and indiscriminate” attacks left it isolated in the international community.
“This is not the actions of a great power, this is the actions of a pariah state and we’ll continue working with allies to isolate, make them understand they cannot continue to conduct themselves in such a way,” Williamson told reporters in Brussels.
Russia on Thursday rejected British accusations that its spies were behind global cyber attacks, saying the allegations were unworthy and part of a disinformation campaign designed to damage Russian interests, the TASS news agency reported.
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a news briefing that the accusations were the product of someone with a “rich imagination”.
“It’s some kind of a diabolical perfume cocktail [of allegations],” TASS quoted Zakharova as telling reporters.
“The vivid imagination of our colleagues from the UK has no boundaries indeed […] it’s undignified for the country, which pretends to play one of the leading roles in the world,” she said.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, speaking from London, said Thursday’s reaction is notable.
“Most, if not all, advanced intelligence agencies engage in hacking,” he said. “But it seems today that what we’re seeing is a coordinated campaign against Russia specifically because the activities that Russia has been engaging in go far beyond what in normal intelligence circles would be regarded as acceptable.”