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Intelligence report: Russia's Olympic doping scandal linked to election interference

Here's why intelligence agencies mentioned the Russian Olympic doping scandal in their report on Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

A declassified intelligence report on Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election, released by the CIA, FBI, and NSA on Friday afternoon, references the Russian Olympic doping scandal that dominated headlines leading up to the 2016 Rio Games.

The report concludes that the scandal, which ultimately resulted in the banning of a number of Russian athletes from Rio 2016, is one of several factors that helped motivate Russia to pursue a hacking campaign during the recent U.S. presidential election. 

“[Vladimir] Putin publicly pointed to the Panama Papers disclosure and the Olympic doping scandal as US-directed efforts to defame Russia, suggesting he sought to use disclosures to discredit the image of the United States and cast it as hypocritical," the report reads

The report largely centers on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The report states that Russian president “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” and that the interference, including a multifaceted hacking campaign, purposefully aimed to harm Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president. The report also determined that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect [Donald] Trump,” and that the Russian government tried to help Trump's campaign. 

President-elect Trump, who was briefed on the report before the declassification on Friday, has expressed skepticism over Russia's role in hacking the Democratic National Committee despite the consensus view of the intelligence community and his own call during the campaign for Russia to hack Clinton's emails. 

The Olympic doping scandal broke open in 2014, when a German television documentary uncovered evidence of systematic doping and cover-ups in Russia around the 2014 Sochi Games. The World Anti-Doping Agency published its own independent investigative report in November 2015, leading to Russia's track and field team being barred form the Olympics in Rio as more evidence of widespread drug use and extortion was discovered. 

The vast reach of Russia's doping scandal has implicated more than 1,000 athletes across 30 sports, according to TheNew York Times. Several Russian medalists from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi allegedly used banned substances, and the country's doping program extends beyond just those Games. Former Russian anti-doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov came forward to detail how the cheating took place in Sochi and how he covered up positive tests over his 10–year tenure.

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Russian hackers, believed to be linked to a hacking group dubbed Fancy Bear, targeted the World Anti-Doping Agency's database ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. In the weeks after the Games, Fancy Bear leaked medical information pertaining to top athletes from the Olympics, including several Americans. None of the athletes with leaked records showed evidence of cheating with many having therapeutic exemptions for their drugs. Russia denied its involvement in the leaks, but a leading Russian sports official later used the hacks as evidence that Russia does not compete on a level playing field with other countries.

Friday's declassified intelligence report concludes that the WADA leaks "originated with the GRU," a Russian intelligence agency. The report draws a parallel between hacking campaigns related to the election and the Olympics. 

These election-related disclosures reflect a pattern of Russian intelligence using hacked information in targeted influence efforts against targets such as Olympic athletes and other foreign governments. Such efforts have included releasing or altering personal data, defacing websites, or releasing emails.

The International Association of Athletics Federation, track and field's governing body, banned Russia's athletes from international competition in the aftermath of the doping scandal. That ban is still in place, but the IAAF has issued guidelines for Russian athletes hoping to compete in a neutral capacity.

In December, The New York Timesreported that Russian officials admitted there was a doping operation within the country, with one official describing it as a “institutional conspiracy.” The next day, Russia said its officials had been misquoted. The New York Times has stood by its report.