West hits Russia with allegations of cyber interference

AMSTERDAM, dpa correspondents (dpa)- The US Department of Justice charged seven officers of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency for alleged cyberattacks on Thursday, as British and Dutch officials lodged similar accusations.
The US indictment includes four Russians who were expelled by Dutch authorities after a foiled plot against the OPCW, an international chemical weapons watchdog based in The Hague, earlier this year.

"[The] indictment today charges some of the same Russian operatives caught in The Hague, along with their colleagues in Moscow, as part of a conspiracy to hack a variety of individuals and organizations, in the United States, Canada, and Europe, to obtain information or access that was then exploited for the benefit of the Russian government," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C Demers said.
Three of the seven had been previously indicted, together with nine other men, in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged US election meddling by Russia.
The indictment also alleges a conspiracy to use computer hacking to obtain personal health information about athletes and others in the files of anti-doping agencies.
The justice department released pictures and the names of all seven suspects, all believed to belong to Russia's GRU military intelligence agency.
"State-sponsored hacking and disinformation campaigns pose serious threats to our security and to our open society, but the Department of Justice is defending against them," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the statement.
Earlier on Thursday, Dutch and British officials labelled the GRU "brazen" for allegedly targeting the OPCW and the investigation into the 2014 downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine.
The international chemical weapons watchdog thanked its host country, the Netherlands, for disrupting the attack on the body.
"The OPCW takes very seriously the security of its information
systems and networks. Since early 2018, the Organisation has
observed increased cyber-related activities," it said in an emailed statement, without giving details.
The OPCW is responsible for investigating chemical weapons attacks in the conflict in Syria - where Russia supports the government - and the near-fatal poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain earlier this year.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his British counterpart, Theresa May, said the alleged attacks reflect a "disregard for the global values and rules that keep us all safe."
The two leaders issued a joint statement after the Netherlands said it had expelled four Russian spies from its territory due to the attempted cyberattack on the OPCW.
"The GRU's reckless operations stretch from destructive cyber activity to the use of illegal nerve agents, as we saw in Salisbury," Rutte and May said, referring to the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter in March.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain will discuss with its allies "what further sanctions should be imposed" against Russia.
"The Russian government needs to know that if they flout international law in this way, there will be consequences," Hunt said in London.
Hitting out at Britain, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused that country of levelling accusations against Russia "without any analysis."
The four spies were already expelled in April, Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld said on Thursday, after authorities thwarted their plan to hack into the the OPCW's computer network.
Investigators had confiscated the spies' laptops and mobile phones, which provided evidence that they were planning cyberattacks on an OPCW site in Switzerland and on the examination of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
In April, it was already known that two Russian spies were expelled from the Netherlands. They were allegedly on their way to Switzerland, where they planned to hack into an OPCW laboratory.
US Secretary of Defence James Mattis also said Russia must be held to account on the foiled cyberattack against the OPCW.
"The Russians got caught with their equipment, with the people who were doing it... They are going to have to be held to account," Mattis said in Brussels, following a meeting of NATO defence ministers.
The group arrived in the Netherlands with diplomatic passports on April 10 and were detained on April 13 after being caught near the OPCW headquarters several times.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to stop its "reckless pattern of behaviour, including the use of force against its neighbours, attempted interference in election processes, and widespread disinformation campaigns.

Saturday, October 6th 2018
dpa correspondents (dpa)

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