A senior leader in Russia’s spy agency, wanted by the FBI and suspected to be linked to Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, has agreed to plead partially guilty to sharing information with foreign intelligence, according to a Russian media report.
The Russian news site RBC reported Monday that Dmitry Dokuchaev, a major in the FSB intelligence service, has admitted that he indirectly transferred information to foreign intelligence, presumably the United States. RBC, citing two anonymous sources, said that Dokuchaev insisted it amounted to informal information-sharing about activities of cybercriminals who did not work for Russia.
That’s at odds with a report from another Russian news outlet last year, which said that one of the individuals about whom Dokuchaev shared information was alleged Russian hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin. On Friday, it became public that the United States had succeeded in its attempt to extradite Nikulin from the Czech Republic – an effort bitterly fought by Moscow. Nikulin faces charges in California for allegedly hacking the databases of LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring in 2012.
Dokuchaev, 34, once a high-ranking official in the FSB’s unit that investigates cybercrime, is also the target of an arrest warrant in the U.S. The FBI accused him in February 2017 of directing and facilitating criminal hackers who stole user information on 500 million Yahoo accounts.
How exactly Nikulin and Dokuchaev fit into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election is not completely clear. The FSB is known to tolerate cybercriminals because it can piggyback off their illicit behaviors. U.S. intelligence believes the high-profile hacks of U.S. tech-firm databases allowed Russia to mine hundreds of millions of user accounts for personal information on election officials and U.S. political activists. This data could be used to try to enter secure websites or hypothetically to gather compromising information.
Importantly, Dokuchaev’s signed pre-trial agreement reported by RBC means evidence collected against him might not be made public and he could receive a lighter sentence if convicted. The Kremlin has said little publicly about Dokuchaev, and his alleged ties to accused hackers has provoked speculation of involvement in U.S. election meddling.
Dokuchaev and his boss, the cybercrime unit’s deputy director Sergey Mikhailov, were arrested on treason charges and reportedly led out of FSB headquarters with sacks over their heads in December 2016 — but that wasn’t revealed until shortly after the release of the so-called Trump dossier, a collection of business-intelligence memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele that alleged collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign team.
That explosive document, published in full on Jan. 10, 2017, by the news site BuzzFeed, led to congressional investigations and was in part the basis for the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller III as special counsel to investigate possible collusion. Earlier this year, Mueller brought charges against 13 alleged Russian intelligence officials, accusing them of attempting to undermine confidence in U.S. election results.
Adding to the intrigue of that period, Gen. Oleg Erovinkin, a former FSB leader, was found dead in the back seat of his car on Dec. 26, 2016. His death later sparked speculation that he might have been somehow involved in sharing information that made it into the dossier.
The next public hearing in Dokuchaev’s case is expected on Wednesday, RBC reported. A lawyer for Mikhailov, also facing treason charges, told RBC his client was not admitting guilt.