Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers Delivers Remarks on the Unsealing of an Indictment Against Russian GRU Officers for Various Malicious Cyber Activities

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning and thank you all for joining us today as we announce an indictment charging seven Russian military officers with violations of several U.S. criminal laws for malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies. 

I am joined by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott Brady; the FBI’s Deputy Assistant Director for Cyber, Eric Welling, and the Director General of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Mark Flynn. 

A short while ago, the Dutch Minister of Defense and the United Kingdom’s National Security Advisor held a joint press conference announcing a recent intelligence operation against several Russian agents conducting a clandestine mission in The Hague.

The Joint UK/Dutch intelligence operation led to four Russian GRU officers being caught red handed in The Hague, while they attempted to breach the cyber security of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

This GRU target and an additional laboratory in Switzerland that was their next target were analyzing the deadly Russian nerve-agent recovered in the UK following an assassination attempt, as well as other chemical agents that were used in Syria against innocent civilians. 

The Prime Ministers of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement condemning Russia’s behavior.  We are including a copy of their statements in the materials provided to the media in this room and online at Justice.gov.

Our 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. 

More specifically, this indictment alleges a conspiracy to use computer hacking to obtain non-public, personal health information about athletes and others in the files of anti-doping agencies and sporting federations in multiple countries, and to release that stolen information selectively, and sometimes misleadingly.  All of this was done to undermine those organizations’ efforts to ensure the integrity of the Olympic and other games.  Other targets of this conspiracy were the chemical weapons laboratory in The Hague and a nuclear power company here in America.  

Three of the seven defendants charged in this case were previously charged in the indictment brought by the Office of Special Counsel in July of this year, which pertained to a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

The current indictment did not arise out of the Special Counsel’s work.  Nonetheless, these two indictments charge overlapping groups of conspirators.  And they evince some of the same methods of computer intrusion and the same overarching Russian strategic goal: to pursue its interests through illegal influence and disinformation operations aimed at muddying or altering perceptions of the truth. 

The crux of the indictment, which U.S. Attorney Scott Brady will describe in more detail, is the GRU’s targeting of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which is Canada’s anti-doping body.  The GRU did so in response to the efforts of anti-doping officials’ exposure of Russia’s systematic and state-backed athlete doping program.  Embarrassed by that truth, Russia fought back by retaliating against the truth tellers and against the truth itself.   

The results of Russia’s hacks, however, weren’t just felt by the anti-doping officials and agencies themselves. 

Instead, Russia decided that it was fair game to flood social and traditional media with private medical information about more than 250 athletes from 30 countries in a manner that often inaccurately reflected or otherwise omitted the true nature, purpose, and context of this information. 

I hope that through today’s charges—which fall far from the electoral arena of our prior charges—we can further educate ourselves as to the scope of the Russian government’s disinformation and influence campaigns. 

I also hope that responsible members of the international news media will cast a suspecting eye on future “hack and leak” operations which seek in part to manipulate stories in furtherance of Russian state interests.

It is evident from the allegations in today’s indictment that the defendants believed that they could use their perceived anonymity to act with impunity, in their own countries and on territories of other sovereign nations, to undermine international institutions and to distract from their government’s own wrong-doing. 

They were wrong.  Working together with our partners in nations that share our values, we can expose the truth for the world to see.

Nations like Russia, and others that engage in malicious and norm-shattering cyber and influence activities, should understand the continuing and steadfast resolve of the United States and its allies to prevent, disrupt, and deter such unacceptable conduct. 

The defendants in this case should know that justice is very patient, its reach is long and its memory is even longer. 

Before I turn it over to the U.S. Attorney Brady to discuss the charges in greater detail, I’d like to extend my gratitude to the prosecutors in his office, and here in the National Security Division, as well as the team of FBI investigators, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and our other international partners in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, who are together responsible for where we are today. 

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Author: October 4, 2018