Within the aftermath of Moscow’s hacking of the 2016 US election, many analysts anticipated the GRU to be punished. In spite of everything, Russia’s highly effective army spy company had been caught red-handed. The FBI indicted a number of GRU hackers in humiliating trend. The spies who stole Democratic social gathering emails – tens and 1000’s of them – had been named and shamed.
In reality, the GRU averted any repressions. In recent times Vladimir Putin has carried out a sweeping and brutal reorganisation on the prime of presidency, sending a shiver down the backbone of nervous bureaucrats. He has sacked or had arrested regional governors and ministers. Even the FSB, Putin’s outdated spy company and a rival to the GRU, has seen generals fired.
The one organisation that has carried on unscathed is the GRU, at the very least judging from the most recent assaults revealed on Monday by the US and UK. In 2018 the spy company sought to disrupt the winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang in South Korea. Its hackers had been plotting one other cyber-raid for this summer season towards the Olympics in Japan, now postponed till 2021.
None of that is shocking. For years, the Kremlin ran an undercover sports activities doping programme that achieved extraordinary outcomes – gold medals on the 2012 London Olympics, ending prime of the medals desk on the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi. And all presided over by Putin himself.
A sequence of Russian whistleblowers revealed this rip-off. The dishonest brought about outrage amongst worldwide sporting our bodies. The Kremlin wasn’t contrite. In public, Putin blamed the west and mentioned his nation was the sufferer of an “anti-Russian coverage”. In non-public, he unleashed the GRU. The objective was to dig up info that may discredit Russia’s critics.
The GRU unit behind the most recent assaults on South Korea and Japan, 74455, was concerned. It focused the Rio Olympics, the World Anti-Doping Company (Wada), and different our bodies. Figuring out of a glass tower in Khimki, in north-west Moscow, the unit invented a persona to launch stolen sports activities information: the Fancy Bears hack group. They posed as “hacktivists” relatively than spies.
The hackers acquired maintain of medical data and different information from 250 athletes in almost 30 international locations. They included the non-public well being data of Serena Williams, Simone Biles and the cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. All had taken therapeutic remedy – permissible beneath the principles, however spun by the GRU to present the impression of hypocrisy and US-UK doping.
The assaults on Japan and South Korea are a part of this disruptive sample. The one distinction this time is the extent of sophistication. Based on the UK, the unit tried to cross itself off as Chinese language or North Korean when it focused the opening ceremony of the 2018 winter video games. The tactic is an outdated one. It is called maskirovka – from the Russian phrase for disguise.
“No nation has weaponised its cyber capabilities as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly inflicting unprecedented collateral harm to pursue small tactical benefits and to fulfill matches of spite,” the US assistant legal professional normal, John Demers, mentioned on Monday, saying the indictment of six GRU officers. Indictment is one factor. However to this point, London and Washington have been unable to cease Russia’s cyber-piracy.
The GRU’s attain is outstanding. The US Division of Justice on Monday cited assaults on Ukraine’s essential infrastructure, France’s 2017 presidential election and the Georgian authorities. There was additionally a 2018 spear-phishing raid directed on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) within the Hague. It adopted the novichok poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei Skripal by two GRU assassins.
Clearly Putin remains to be livid at Moscow’s persevering with exclusion from worldwide competitions. The four-year ban was imposed in December 2019, after Moscow despatched manipulated athlete information to Wada. As an alternative of cleansing up Russian sport, Putin appears decided to proceed a job he has perfected in recent times: that of world spoiler and disrupter.
Luke Harding’s newest e-book Shadow State: Homicide, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West (Guardian Faber) is accessible from the Guardian Bookshop.