Justice Department charges 7 Russian hackers with targeting doping agencies, nuclear energy company

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes remarks to incoming immigration judges for the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) September 10, 2018 in Falls Church, Virginia. 

The Justice Department on Thursday said it has charged seven Russian intelligence officials with hacking doping agencies and other organizations, including a Pennsylvania-based nuclear energy company.

The indictment announced at a press conference by John Demers, assistant attorney general for the DOJ's national security division, alleges that Russia's military intelligence agency, known as the GRU, targeted the hacking victims because they had publicly condemned Russia's state-sponsored athlete doping program.

"The defendants believed they could use their anonymity to act with impunity in their own countries and on the territories of other sovereign nations to undermine international institutions and to distract from their government's own wrongdoing," Demers said.

"They were wrong."

The indictment alleges that the GRU agents stole information "as part of a related 'influence
and disinformation' campaign designed to undermine the legitimate interests of the victims, further Russian interests, retaliate against Russia's detractors and sway public opinion in Russia's favor."

The seven intelligence officers were all charged with computer hacking, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

Their victims included about 250 athletes from 30 countries, along with anti-doping agencies around the world, U.S. attorney Scott Brady said at the press conference.

"The investigation leading to the indictments announced today is the FBI at its best," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the DOJ's press release. "The FBI will not permit any government, group, or individual to threaten our people, our country, or our partners. We will work tirelessly to find them, stop them, and bring them to justice."

The charges did not appear to be directly related to special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation of Russia's interference and potential coordination with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

But three of the seven defendants in the indictment announced Thursday were previously charged by Mueller, Demers said.

Mueller's probe has lodged charges against dozens of Russian nationals and Russian companies for violating U.S. laws in their alleged efforts to meddle in the election that put Trump in the White House.

Russia's representatives were suspended from the International Olympic Committee in December due to the country's systematic efforts to cheat by giving their athletes performance-enhancing drugs. The move by the Olympic Committee essentially banned Russia from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The Russians also targeted Pennsylvania-based nuclear energy company Westinghouse Electric Corporation, as well as European chemical makers in the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to the indictment.

The U.S. officials said that the defendants are currently located in Russia and cannot be quickly apprehended.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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