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Fancy Bears hack linked to Russian officials, USA court finds

Seven Russian citizens have been indicted for Fancy Bear hack at 2016 Rio Olympics

Joe Robinson
5 Oct 2018

A senior court in the USA has formally accused seven Russian intelligence officers in connection with the 'Fancy Bears' leak that saw the Therapeutic Use Exemptions of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Laura Trott released to the public. 

The USA Justice Department confirmed that it has indicted seven members of the government-run Russian Main Intelligence Directorate over the charges of 'computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering' in relation to medical information leaks that happened after the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Confidential medical information of some 250 athletes was released in September 2016 including the likes of Wiggins and Froome as well as Fabian Cancellara, Emma Johansson and other high profile sportspeople from different fields.

This leak was operated by a hacking group that worked under the name of 'Fancy Bears' but it is now believed that this leak happened under the direction of the Russian government.

FBI Director Christopher Wray commented that the sophisticated actions of the hacking group took place under the eye of Russian authorities and were 'criminal, retaliatory, and damaging to innocent victims and the United States' economy, as well as to world organisations.'

The hack came hot of the heels of Russia's expulsion from competing at Rio 2016. An independent investigation from the World Anti-Doping Agency - the McClaren Report - concluded that Russia had operated state-sponsored doping which saw the majority of its athletes expelled from participating at the Games.

The state-sponsored doping was in connection to the Sochi Winter Olympics that had been held in Russia two years previous.

The McClaren Report found that a government-approved system was implemented in order to hide and tamper with dope samples taken at the Games in order to maximise Russian success.

Consequently, the Fancy Bears hack breached the WADA 'Anti-Doping Administration and Management System [ADAMS]' subsequently leaking the TUE information of athletes competing at the Games.

Included in that was Wiggins, who in a British sense, was most affected by the Fancy Bears leak.

It showed that on three occasions throughout his career, between 2011 and 2013, he had been granted TUEs for corticosteroid triamcinolone in order prevent a 'lifelong allergy to pollen nasal congestion/rhinorrhoea'.

However, immediate questions were raised over the use of triamcinolone which other cyclists, such as David Millar, labelled the 'most potent drug' he took had taken while doping. 

This then acted as one of the contributing factors to the following Department of Culture, Media and Sport investigation into doping in sport which concluded earlier this year.

All seven indicted are Russian residents and citizens with the US Department of Justice noting that they were part of military unit 26165.

The US DOJ report also divulged into some of the methods used by the hackers.

It is believed two of the seven hackers travelled to Rio during the Olympics, hacking the Wifi networks of anti-doping officials to then gain the credentials needed to access the ADAMS system. 

WADA welcomed the indictment of these seven Russian officials stating that the hack 'sought to violate athletes' rights by exposing personal and private data - often then modifying them - and ultimately undermine the work of WADA and its partners in the protection of clean sport.'

US Anti-Doping CEO, Travis Tygart, also commented on the findings labelling the hack a smear campaign.

'Let's not forget that these cyber-attacks, which we now know were perpetuated by officials in the Russian government, illegally obtained information during the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio to try to smear innocent athletes' reputations and make it look like they did something wrong, when in fact they did everything right,' Tygart said.

However, top Russian officials have fought back claiming that these accusations are just yet another attempt to vilify Russia, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov commenting that these court findings prove the USA has 'lost the sense of measure and normalcy.'