NOEL KING, HOST:
The Justice Department has charged six Russian intelligence officers in connection with hacking computer systems around the world. The U.S., France and Ukraine were all affected, other countries and some companies, too. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here with details. Good morning, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: How significant were these attacks?
LUCAS: These attacks are a big deal. Officials and experts say that they're some of the most damaging cyberattacks that we've seen in recent years. And the indictment spells them all out. It starts with cyberattacks that targeted Ukraine's electricity grid back in the winters of 2015 and 2016. Here's how the head of the Justice Department's national security division, John Demers, described those.
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JOHN DEMERS: These attacks turned out the lights and turned off the heat in the middle of the Eastern European winter as the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men, women and children went dark and cold.
LUCAS: Now, the defendants are also accused of a really nasty cyberattack known as NotPetya that initially targeted Ukraine but very quickly spread across the globe. It caused billions of dollars in damages including in the United States. The indictment says that it knocked a hospital system in Pennsylvania offline, including its critical systems. And one company in the U.S., according to the indictment, spent half a billion dollars dealing with the fallout from that attack.
KING: OK. So that's a lot of money and also, in the case of Ukraine, a lot of people hurt.
LUCAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And there's more in the indictment, more attacks. They allegedly conducted a hack and leak operation in the run up to France's 2017 election. That targeted the campaign of the now president of France, Emmanuel Macron. Then there are cyberattacks targeting the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. There's an interesting thing in the indictment here saying that the Russians tried to leave digital fingerprints behind to frame North Korea for that one. And finally, there are hacks that targeted the investigations that British and international authorities were conducting into the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K. with a nerve agent.
KING: Who are these guys that the Justice Department is charging?
LUCAS: So the department says that all six men who are facing charges are current or former members of Russia's military intelligence agency. That's the GRU. It's the same Russian intelligence service that was responsible for some of the hacks that we saw targeting the U.S. election back in 2016. Interestingly, one of the defendants here was also charged as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation back in 2018. But this new indictment and the allegations that are in it, it shows what Justice Department officials say is, really, Russia's reckless use of cyberattacks. Here, again, is the Justice Department's John Demers.
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DEMERS: No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia - wantonly causing unprecedented collateral damage to pursue small tactical advantages in fits of spite.
LUCAS: Now, the DOJ says these attacks pursued Russia's geopolitical goals. Take Ukraine, for example - Ukraine and Russia have been locked in a war now for several years in eastern Ukraine. Now, the hacks targeting the 2018 Olympics could be seen more as a fit of spite, as Demers put it there. Russian athletes were banned from competing under the Russian flag because of a massive, state-sponsored doping scandal in Russia.
KING: Really runs the gamut. Let me ask you lastly - so the GRU meddled in the 2016 election. Does this indictment say or suggest that they're interfering in this election?
LUCAS: There's nothing related to that in this indictment. And U.S. officials said in announcing these charges that the timing was not tied at all to the political schedule. That said, this is a good reminder of what Russian state hackers are capable of. And it also makes clear that they didn't tone it down after the U.S. called the Russians out for election interference back in 2016. In this case, none of the defendants is in U.S. custody. It's unlikely that any of them ever will be. Still, U.S. officials say it is worth putting the weight of the U.S. government behind these allegations and calling Russia out.
KING: Justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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