Russian hackers — possibly the same group that compromised the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers two months ago — have made top American athletes their latest target.
Joining an intercontinental dispute over sports doping, the hackers penetrated the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athlete database and publicly revealed private medical information about three of the United States’ most famous athletes: Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Simone Biles.
The hackers published documents this week showing that the Williams sisters and Biles, who won four gold medals in gymnastics at the Rio Olympics last month, received medical exemptions to use banned drugs.
The anti-doping agency confirmed the authenticity of the documents in a statement Tuesday, attributing the hack to Fancy Bear, a Russian cyberespionage group that forensics specialists have repeatedly tied to breaches against government agencies, nonprofits and corporations. That group is believed to be associated with GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency suspected of involvement in the recent theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee.
“These criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global antidoping community to re-establish trust in Russia,” WADA’s director general, Olivier Niggli, said Tuesday, referencing revelations of elaborate government-ordered doping by Russia that prompted more than 100 of the country’s athletes to be barred from Rio Games.
The hackers wrote on their website that the United States had “played well but not fair” in Rio, and the medical documents were quickly hailed in Russia on Tuesday as evidence of widespread doping among American athletes, and the double-standards of global antidoping regulators.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, said that the Kremlin was not involved in the hacks. “It’s simply ruled out,” Peskov said.
Revenge, apparently, motivated the WADA hacks. In May, The New York Times reported the account of Russia’s longtime anti-doping lab chief, who said the country had run a doping program and staged an elaborate cheating scheme at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. A subsequent report commissioned by WADA confirmed that account.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Tuesday the American athletes in question had sought the requisite approvals to take typically prohibited substances.