9 January 2017

Second US report claims Russia is behind attacks on ADOs

A second US intelligence report has claimed that Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) is behind cyber attacks on anti-doping organisations (ADOs) and the 2016 Presidential election. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ONDI) published a declassified version of the report on 6 January, which does not contain the corroborating information behind the report, which remains classified.

‘A prominent target since the 2016 Summer Olympics has been the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), with leaks that we assess to have originated with the GRU and that have involved data on US athletes’, it reads (PDF below). On 29 December 2016, the Whitehouse sanctioned the GRU for cyber operations intended to ‘influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government’. A US Federal law enforcement report produced to back up that sanction named GRU (also known as RIS) as being behind Fancy Bear, a hacking group which has been targeting organisations since 2008.

Under a slightly different moniker, Fancy Bears, cyber attacks on ADOs have resulted in the release of athlete therapeutic use exemption (TUE) data. As shown above, the US report suggests that the GRU is also behind Fancy Bears, but warns: ‘By their nature, Russian influence campaigns are multifaceted and designed to be deniable because they use a mix of agents of influence, cutouts, front organisations and false-flag operations’. Russia initially denied any responsibility for attacks on ADOs, and has consistently stated that it is not responsible for them.

The report, Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections, was produced by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA) and covers Moscow’s intentions regarding the US elections, as well as its use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion around the election. It suggests that the disclosures published as a result of the 2016 Presidential campaign cyber attacks may have been in response to a view, held by the Kremlin, that allegations of systemic Russian doping were a US-directed attempt to discredit Russia. ‘Putin publicly pointed to the Panama Papers disclosure and the Olympic doping scandal as US-directed efforts to defame Russia, suggesting he sought to use disclosures to discredit the image of the United States and cast it as hypocritical’, it reads.

It is easy to see how the Kremlin might take the view that the US deliberately targeted Russia to keep it out of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Meldonium, a drug used largely in Russia and eastern Europe, was placed on to the 2016 Prohibited List following dubious research commissioned by the major US sports leagues. After the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided not to impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes following the systemic doping uncovered by the four WADA Independent Commission (IC) and Independent Person (IP) Reports, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) sought ADO support for Project Olympian, which sought an appeal against the IOC’s decision not to impose a blanket ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Russia continues to deny that any State-sanctioned doping programme existed, however as The Sports Integrity Initiative has previously highlighted, it has little choice but to do this. Vitaly Mutko was Minister for Sport at the time that the alleged systemic Russian doping occurred, and is directly implicated in the WADA IP Reports. He is President of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and has been promoted from Minister for Sport to Deputy Prime Minister.

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