Russian hackers Fancy Bears have struck again, this time at the heart of US sports. Once again acting in retaliation for allegations of institutionalized Russian doping at the Sochi winter games. Doping that resulted in many Russian athletes – including the entire Paralympic team – being banned from competing in Rio.
Fancy Bears, have been drip feeding the private records of athletes to the Internet since they hacked WADA in August. Now, the hackers have begun dumping documents they feel demonstrate US involvement in institutionalized doping of their own.
Following the Russian middle distance runner Yuliya Stepanova’s whistleblowing about doping within Russia, Fancy Bears penetrated WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). Following that hack, Stepanova’s private records were leaked to the Internet in a revenge attack.
Now, however, Fancy Bears have upped the ante; claiming they have evidence of institutionalized cheating within the US team. So what is the truth?
Among the 29 athletes affected by the hack are Venus and Serena Williams and four-times gold medalist Simone Biles. Those athletes, it would appear, have been specifically targeted because of Fancy Bears’ belief that they have cheated.
Evidence has been dumped online from the stolen WADA records. That data reveals athletes – including Simone Biles – were taking banned substances when they competed in Rio. Serena, for example, is alleged to have been under the influence of muscle damage meds including painkillers.
Those substances, however, were administered legally due to recognized medical conditions; in the case of Biles – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
According to WADA (and Biles herself), she was prescribed methylphenidate (better known as Ritalin) for her condition since she was a child.
Athletes with medical conditions refuse to be shamed
For that reason, despite testing positive for the controlled substance in Rio (where she won 4 gold medals), Biles has technically done nothing wrong – because she is permitted to take the drug for therapeutic reasons.
Patrick Sandusky from the U.S. Olympic Committee said,
‘We’re not going to comment on anyone’s private medical information, but Team USA has had zero adverse findings from the Rio Olympic Games that weren’t 100 percent within the medical guidelines set forth by anti-doping authorities.’
For that reason, Biles is vehemently denying that she cheated in any way and is standing up for herself: As are the other athletes involved. In a statement released on Twitter, Biles made the following comment:
The 19-year-old athlete followed up that statement by tweeting,
‘Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I’m afraid to let people know.’
WADA has also come forward to issue a statement. It explains that all the athletes that take ‘Therapeutic Use Exemptions’ (TUEs) do so under scrutiny and with the consent of the Anti-Doping Organization.
It is this legal medicating known as TUEs that Fancy Bears is claiming amounts to ‘licences for doping,’
‘We are going to tell you how Olympic medals are won. We hacked World Anti-Doping Agency databases, and we were shocked with what we saw.’
Fancy Bears vs. WADA
WADA officials insist this belief is incorrect and have strongly condemned Fancy Bears’ attempt to tarnish the 29 athletes reputations. Adding that the hackers are seriously harming Russia’s ongoing attempts to re-establish trust in its athletes.
‘WADA deeply regrets this situation and is very conscious of the threat that it represents to athletes whose confidential information has been divulged through this criminal act,’ commented Olivier Niggli, the Director General of WADA.
‘In each of the situations, the athlete has done everything right in adhering to the global rules for obtaining permission to use a needed medication,’ commented Travis T. Tygart, president of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. ‘It’s unthinkable that in the Olympic movement, hackers would illegally obtain confidential medical information in an attempt to smear athletes to make it look as if they have done something wrong.’
‘WADA has been informed by law enforcement authorities that these attacks are originating out of Russia. Let it be known that these criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia further to the outcomes of the Agency’s independent McLaren Investigation Report,’ Niggli added.
Therapeutic Use Exemptions – Fair Play?
TUEs permit athletes to legitimately dose themselves with banned substances because of verified medical conditions. Fancy Bears’ claim that this is also institutionalized doping – although controversial (due to the alleged legitimacy of the conditions involved) – certainly does appear to raise some questions.
Some people are wondering, perhaps unfairly, what verification there is that the doses of banned substances that these athletes have been taking have simply brought those athletes up to regular performance levels. Rather than giving them an edge.
While this question seems natural under the circumstances, there can be no doubt that the privacy of the athletes involved has been terribly harmed by the actions of Fancy Bears. There is no question that people with genuine medical needs should be allowed to take the medications that they need to function properly.
Arguably, however, transparency of that process – to also be fair to those athletes that are not allowed to take those substances – is of prime importance.
The USA gymnastics governing body has issued its own statement standing up for its athletes,
‘By virtue of the TUE, Biles has not broken any drug-testing regulations, including at the Olympic Games in Rio.’
Not just US athletes
Two days ago, Fancy Bears released more ADAMS records and TUEs of athletes from all over the world. Including 10 American athletes and Olympians from Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic and even Russia itself.
Those new releases were expected, due to Fancy Bears’ comments on its website:
‘We will start with the US team which has disgraced its name by tainted victories. We will also disclose exclusive information about other national Olympic teams later.’
WADA director general has added the following statement following the publishing of these further health records,
‘WADA is very mindful that this criminal attack, which to date has recklessly exposed personal data of 29 athletes, will be very distressing for the athletes that have been targeted; and, cause apprehension for all athletes that were involved in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.’
More to come?
In other comments from its website Fancy Bears claims it has evidence of ‘dozens’ of US athletes having used TUEs. This means that there may be more data dumps of ADAMS records to come. One wonders how many athletes are having sleepless nights worrying about their private health record being revealed.
Despite WADA’s claim that everything is fine, and no wrongdoing has occurred, one is left wondering. If enough evidence emerges to suggest that TUE using athletes have won medals at higher rates than non-using athletes. Could a case could be made for an independent investigation?
For the time being that remains to be seen. No one could deny, however; that the information Fancy Bears has brought to the table is fascinating. In fact, despite being cruel, damaging, and a total breach of privacy. It is one of the most interesting hacking incidents of recent times.
Kremlin denies involvement
Finally, Russia has denied any official involvement in the hacks. Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news that ‘any involvement of official Moscow, the government, any Russian services in these actions is out of the question. It is completely ruled out.’
Cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, however, is confident that the evidence does connect Fancy Bears to GRU and the Kremlin. As such, despite attempting to link themselves with Anonymous (for credibilities sake), the evidence would appear to suggest that Fancy Bears’ #OpOlympics is not a real Anonymous campaign.