‘Big hunt’ for Russian hackers, but no obvious election link » Manila Bulletin News


MOSCOW (AP) — Pyotr Levashov appeared to be just another comfortable member of Russia’s rising middle-class — an IT entrepreneur with a taste for upmarket restaurants, Thai massages and foreign travel.

FILE – In this Wednesday, July 26, 2017 file photo, alleged hacker Pyotr Levashov, speaks during a hearing to consider his extradition to the United States, at the National Court in Madrid. (Luca Piergiovanni/Pool Photo via AP, File) Manila Bulletin


Then police raided his vacation rental in Barcelona, marching him out in handcuffs to face charges of being one of the world’s most notorious spam lords.

Levashov’s April 7 arrest was one in a series of American-initiated operations over the past year to seize alleged Russian cybercriminals outside their homeland, which has no extradition agreement with the United States.

They come at a fraught moment in relations between Moscow and Washington, where politicians are grappling with the allegation that Kremlin hackers intervened in the U.S. election to help President Donald Trump. Through their lawyers, several defendants have suggested their arrests are linked to the election turmoil. Experts say that’s possible, though an Associated Press review of the cases found no firm evidence to back the claim.

“There is a big hunt underway,” said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on the Russian security services and co-author of “Red Web,” a book about Russian attempts to control the internet. He said the recent burst of arrests made it look like the United States was “trying to understand what’s going on with a very complicated world of Russian hacking and a very complicated relationship between Russian hackers and Russian secret services.”

But Soldatov didn’t rule out another possible explanation: The imprisoned Russians may be falsely tying their arrests to Trump’s election in a bid to sow confusion and politicize their cases.

“It’s a very big question,” he said.

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