10/05/2018 13:57 EDT | Updated 10/07/2018 14:23 EDT

Russia Calls Canada’s Cyberattack Allegations ‘Cheap Spy Fiction’

A Global Affairs spokesman said the government stands “in parallel” with its allies.

Alex Wong via Getty Images
Assistant U.S. Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers speaks as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott W. Brady (2nd left), FBI Deputy Assistant Director Eric Welling (left), and RCMP Director General Mark Flynn (right) listen during a news conference to announce criminal charges Oct. 4, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

OTTAWA — There's a new fray in diplomatic relations after Russia accused Canada of joining an "international anti-Russian witch hunt" on Thursday.

Russia has accused Canada of joining an "international anti-Russian witch hunt," a charge that represents a new fray in diplomatic relations between the countries.

On Thursday, U.S. prosecutors announced criminal charges against seven Russian military intelligence officers for alleged hacking. Two of the targets included the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and the World Anti-Doping Agency based in Montreal.

RCMP cybercrime director Mark Flynn appeared at a Pentagon news conference and confirmed Mounties are conducting an ongoing criminal investigation related to the cyberattacks. Flynn said he was in Washington to show international collaboration "to tackle this problem as a global community."

"We have to make the world borderless in the law enforcement context," Flynn said, defending the international collaboration.

The Russian embassy in Ottawa released a strongly worded statement calling the charges and RCMP investigation part of a "brazen propaganda" campaign.

"The recent round of anti-Russian witch hunt by the US/UK and their willing allies, including Canada, over alleged cyber attacks is nothing more than cheap spy fiction and fake news," it read.

Moscow claimed the U.S., U.K., and Canada are using the hacking charges to "distract attention from NATO countries' expanding their offensive cyber war capabilities."

The U.S. indictment covers events from December 2014 to May 2018 and claims Russian GRU military agents hacked into the computer networks of anti-doping agencies and sporting officials, as well as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a nuclear company near Pittsburgh.

"The GRU did so in response to the efforts of anti-doping officials' exposure of Russia's systematic and state-backed athlete doping program," said John C. Demers, U.S. assistant attorney general for national security.

GRU officers also allegedly planned to hack into the networks of a Swiss laboratory analyzing the deadly nerve agent, Novichok, used in an assassination attempt in the U.K. earlier this year.

Canada calls Russian response a 'disinformation campaign'

Some of the cyberattack charges involve incidents where networks were compromised remotely. In other cases, GRU officers were allegedly issued diplomatic passports to carry out assignments, according to U.S. prosecutors.

A World Anti-Doping Agency conference in Lausanne, Switzerland became a target for alleged hacking in September 2016. Two GRU officers were allegedly dispatched to Lausanne and used tools to comprise the Wi-Fi network of the hotel hosting the conference.

They allegedly stole the identity of a senior Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) official attending the conference. Using malware, GRU officials were allegedly able to "compromise CCES's networks in Canada" — and accessed the personal health records of athletes from more than 30 countries.

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Eric Welling, the FBI's deputy assistant cyber director, claimed the information was used to ruin the reputations of clean athletes by "pedaling a false narrative suggesting such athletes were using banned or performance-enhancing drugs."

Global Affairs released a statement Thursday to back its allies.

"These acts form part of a broader pattern of activities by the Russian government that lie well outside the bounds of appropriate behaviour, demonstrate a disregard for international law and undermine the rules-based international order," it read.

When asked about the Russian embassy's tough language pushing back against Ottawa, Global Affairs spokesman John Babcock told HuffPost Canada the government stands "in parallel" with its allies.

"Through its disinformation campaign, Russia is attempting to evade responsibility for its reckless and unacceptable acts and continue with such behaviour," he said, nothing the participation of the RCMP in the international investigation.

"We are working with allies and partners to further develop coordinated mechanisms on this front."

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