Opinion 10th January 2018

Fancy Bears latest hack appears to be an own goal

Hacking group Fancy Bears appears to have scored an own goal. The way in which it has publicised its latest hack into emails between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appears to reveal more about the political motives behind the organisation than it does about alleged corruption within the governance of world sport.

Alleged clear order to expel Russia

The first allegation made is that Richard McLaren, the Independent Person (IP) appointed by WADA to investigate allegations of systemic Russian doping, was given ‘a clear political order’ by WADA to usurp the IOC’s authority by expelling Russia from the Rio 2016 Olympics. However, the source for this claim appears to be a 7 March 2017 email from the IOC’s Legal Director, Howard Stupp.

‘WADA went down the path of using the (first) Report to try to have the Russian team excluded from the Rio Games, rather than RM and WADA considering to go down the path that the IOC intended to take, namely to deal with the individual athletes on a case-by-case basis’, reads Stupp’s suggested amendment to an email response to McLaren, which was unadopted. ‘This put the IOC and the IFs, and the Olympic movement in general, in a very difficult position’.

Stupp’s email was sent as an advisory about how to respond to a letter sent by McLaren which was, in turn, a response to a 23 February 2017 open letter sent by Christophe De Kepper, Director General of the IOC. That letter (PDF below) warned that the evidence in the McLaren Reports may not be sufficient for international federations to sanction athletes, and that ‘discrepancies’ had been identified with McLaren’s evidence. McLaren’s second Report was designed to ‘identify any further athletes that might have benefited from such manipulation to conceal positive doping tests’. Stupp’s advisory comments were not included in the IOC’s final response to McLaren.

As can be seen from the extract on the right, Stupp’s comments do not mention a ‘political order’, but suggest that WADA and McLaren should have discussed a course of action with the IOC before calling for the expulsion of Russia from the Olympic Games. The IOC’s apparent annoyance was due to WADA suggesting that the IOC ban Russia from competing at the Rio 2016 Olympics 18 days before the Games were due to start.

Stupp’s email does indicate that the IOC may have decided on a course of action prior to the publication of McLaren’s first Independent Person (IP) Report. As the email also reveals that McLaren had not shared his Report with the IOC prior to its publication, it could be argued that the IOC had little choice but to decide on a prior course of action.

As Stupp’s comments were not included in the IOC’s emailed reply to McLaren, it is unlikely that he ever saw them. It is an opinion from an IOC employee in a private email and is not evidence that McLaren was given a ‘political order’ by WADA to expel Russia from the Olympics. It is definitely not a ‘smoking gun’, to use common parlance.

The Sports Integrity Initiative reported on the difficulties that IFs faced in attempting to verify whether Russian athletes had been implicated in McLaren’s evidence, and should therefore be banned from the Rio 2016 Olympics. Until McLaren’s second Report in December 2016, his mandate was to investigate the methodology by which Russia allegedly concealed positive doping tests, and not to bring forward anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) against athletes.

As such, whether the IOC took the best course of action in July 2016 by requiring IFs to determine whether individual Russian athletes could compete on the basis of evidence in McLaren’s first IP Report, just days before the Rio 2016 Olympics, has been the subject of much debate. However, what is crystal clear is that Stupp’s suggestion about how to reply to McLaren’s rebut of Christophe De Kepper’s suggestion of issues with the December 2016 second IP Report does not equate a a ‘political order’ being given to McLaren by WADA to ban Russia. All it suggests is that the IOC’s nose was put out of joint by WADA suggesting how it should act.

FBI connections

Fancy Bears also alludes to connections between the McLaren investigation team, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and British special forces. ‘It is notable that the McLaren investigation team includes former employees of the U.S. and British Special Forces’, reads its internet site. ‘The Anglo-Saxons feel free to attract private intelligence companies and even the U.S. special agencies. The struggle for clean sport looks like a special operation that involves Richard McLaren as a smoke screen for special agents. This is far from the real fair play spirit the Anglo-Saxons claim to protect.’

Fancy Bears neglects to mention that the Investigation Team supporting McLaren was led by WADA’s Investigations Manager, Mathieu Holz, a former Major of the French Gendarmerie and INTERPOL agent. The Investigation Team also included scientists such as the Director of the WADA-accredited laboratory in Montreal, Professor Christiane Ayotte.

It is also difficult to see an issue here. It could be argued that the Anglo-Saxon nature of WADA led it to trust intelligence agencies that its administrators were used to working with, but is this really a problem? If so, why? Fancy Bears leaves these questions unanswered.

Before the appointment of McLaren, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov and former Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) employee Vitaly Stepanov did raise concerns about the independence of WADA’s investigation. However, these involved a conflict of interest with the IOC, due to IOC Member Dick Pound’s leadership of the Independent Commission (IC), which previously investigated systemic Russian doping.

As well as being WADA’s Founding President, Pound is an IOC Member and as allegations concerned the Sochi 2014 Olympics, WADA decided to appoint McLaren as an ‘Independent Person’ to avoid any perceived conflict of interest. However, McLaren was also a member of the IC. Despite these connections, there is no evidence to suggest that the use of lawyers and agents connected to UK and US security forces presented any conflict of interest.

Athlete Commissions 

The Fancy Bears hack also revealed that there is significant overlap between the IOC and WADA Athletes Commissions. In a 12 March 2017 email discussing an IOC Athlete Commission Position Paper on Anti-Doping, it is pointed out that five members of the IOC Athletes Commission also sit on the WADA Athlete Commission.

It is not clear if the draft Position Paper, dated 12 March, was ever published. A statement expressing many of the same points was published on 17 March. The email said that Beckie Scott, Head of the IOC Athletes Commission, had asked not to put her name on the Position Paper and that there was ‘a lot of tension, emotion and mistrust at the WADA AC meeting today towards the IOC AC and IOC at large’. It also states that Olivier Niggli, WADA’s Director General, told Tony Estanguet of the IOC AC ‘that the IOC AC must be careful with its position paper and not undermine the work of Prof. McLaren’.

The above underlines the extraordinary amount of control that both the IOC and WADA have over their Athletes Commissions. It also underlines that athletes who sit on the Commissions have questions about their lack of independence.

Own goal

The reason that Fancy Bears latest hack could be considered an own goal is that it sails closer than ever towards revealing the political motives behind the illegal attack. There is a significant focus on allegations of an Anglo-Saxon attempt to sideline the IOC through control of WADA. Anglo-Saxons also led the investigations into allegations of systemic Russian doping.

Fancy Bears highlight that ‘the Europeans and the Anglo-Saxons are fighting for power and cash in the sports world’, without providing any evidence of this. It alleges that WADA has attempted to sideline the IOC so that it can control the sanctioning and punishing of athletes. But analysis of the emails it has illegally obtained do not appear to support its case.

Fancy Bears asserts that Scott Blackmun of the US Olympic Committee (USOC) called ‘for WADA withdrawal from the IOC jurisdiction, so the Agency would be empowered to test and punish guilty athletes’. The subject of an 11 March 2017 email from Blackmun was a USOC Position Paper calling for an independent body to oversee anti-doping. In the same email, Blackmun clarifies that ‘we will be very supportive of any outcome where the body or bodies responsible for testing, investigation, prosecution and judicial functions are independent, whether it is an independent WADA or a separate independent organization’.

Fancy Bears assertion here was just not the case. The USOC was concerned that the IOC had too much influence and control over bodies such as WADA, and its Position Paper calls for more independence in anti-doping. A previous Fancy Bears hack revealed that the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) engaged a law firm to prepare an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the IOC decision to allow certain Russian athletes to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics. This suggests that the motivation behind the USOC’s Position Paper was to force the IOC into taking action against Russia, as it felt that it had a conflict of interest as both the commercial beneficiary of the Games and its anti-doping regulator.

What the latest hack does reveal is the extraordinary tensions between the IOC and WADA, who commissioned McLaren to investigate allegations of systemic Russian doping in his first Report; and to identity any athletes that may have benefitted from efforts to conceal positive doping tests in his second Report. It would appear that the IOC took this to mean that McLaren would be presenting concrete evidence allowing IFs to bring forward ADRVs against athletes. It would appear that this evidence was not as concrete as the IOC would have liked. An extraordinary 10-page document marked as ‘confidential’ also reveals that the IOC’s Schmid Commission had similar issues regarding evidence against 16 officials named in McLaren’s two Reports.

The IOC has yet to respond to Fancy Bears’ illegal hack into its email database. Previous intelligence has indicated that the group may be Russian in origin, and the allegations made today only appear to lend support to that theory. The Sports Integrity Initiative has repeatedly requested interviews with the people behind Fancy Bears since the group first accessed WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) in September 2016. They have yet to agree. Perhaps they are afraid that their accents will give them away.

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