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G.R.U., Russian Spy Agency Cited by Mueller, Casts a Long Shadow

Category: Europe,World

The agency, according to a Treasury Department statement, has been “directly involved in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election through cyber-enabled activities,” as well as a 2017 NotPetya cyber attack, which caused billions of dollars in losses across Europe, Asia and the United States, disrupted global shipping and trade, and knocked several major hospitals offline.

Inside Russia, one of the two units cited in Friday’s indictment, Unit 26165, had a reputation as an elite group. In 2016, Vzglyad, an online news portal, described members of the unit as being “able to decipher any code within three minutes and re-encrypt it without breaking away from writing a doctoral dissertation on quantum physics.”

The United States government had also subjected two Russians identified as G.R.U. officers to sanctions in relation to Russia’s military incursion in eastern Ukraine under the guise of patriotic volunteers. These included Igor Girkin, who under the nickname Igor the Strelkov, or Igor the Shooter, led the seizure of a Ukrainian town in 2014.

Bellingcat, a group conducting open source research on the Ukrainian conflict, has identified the Russian military officer who shot down Malaysia Airline flight 17 in 2014 as a member of the G.R.U.

Earlier this year, the United States imposed sanctions against the G.R.U. for violating the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which prohibits entities from providing equipment or technology that can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missile systems. This is likely for operations in Syria, where G.R.U. commandos, or Spetsnaz, have been instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State and played a critical role in regaining cities like Aleppo and Palmyra for the Assad government.

Like the Spetsnaz, the military’s signals intelligence units have a storied history stretching deep into the Cold War.

A Russian history book, “Security Systems of the U.S.S.R.,” published in 2013, identified the origins of Unit 26165 in the Cold War, when it was established as a signals decrypting office for the Soviet military. The unit, according to this history, was based in the same building identified in the indictments released on Friday as its base today, in central Moscow.

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