Russia wants DNC hack lawsuit thrown out, citing international conventions

Russian Federation says it benefits from the same legal protections as the US does when carrying out military cyberattacks.
Written by Catalin Cimpanu, Contributor

The Russian Federation has responded to a lawsuit filed by the Democratic National Committee and has requested the overseeing court to throw out the lawsuit altogether.

The lawsuit, filed by the DNC in April 2018, names a slew of figures as defendants, such as the Russian state, Russia's military intelligence service GRU, the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0, WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, and several members of the Trump campaign, such as Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, and George Papadopoulos.

According to an 87-page complaint, the DNC accused Russia and the other defendants of carrying out the hacking of DNC servers in 2016 and then leaking data online via the WikiLeaks portal in an orchestrated manner for the benefit of the Trump presidential campaign.

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The lawsuit, which has its own Wikipedia page and was likened to a lawsuit the DNC filed against Nixon after the Watergate scandal, seeks damages, but also for the court to issue a declaration about the defendants' conspiracy.

But in a letter sent to a New York court, presented by the Russian Embassy in the US and signed by a representative of the Russian Ministry of Justice, the Russian Federation wants the lawsuit thrown out.

In the 12-page letter, the Russian Federation argues that the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA") grants Russia immunity.

"The FSIA provides that foreign sovereign States enjoy absolute jurisdictional immunity from suit unless a plaintiff can demonstrate that one of the FSIA's enumerated 'exceptions' applies'," the letter argues.

"The DNC's allegations regarding a purported 'military attack' by 'Russia's military intelligence agency' do not fall within any of

the FSIA's enumerated exceptions to the Russian Federation's sovereign immunity."

More specifically, Russia argued that a country's military operations are immune from civil lawsuits, like the one filed by the DNC.

Any alleged "military attack" is a quintessential sovereign act that does not fall within any exception to the FSIA or the customary international law of foreign sovereign immunity. The Russian Federation's sovereign immunity with respect to claims based upon such allegations is absolute.

In addition, Russia also reminded the court that the US has many times benefited from the same international accords in regards to its military's cyber operations.

Indeed, the United States benefits significantly from the sovereign immunity that it enjoys (and U.S. officials enjoy) in foreign courts around the world with respect to the United States' frequent acts of cyber intrusion and political interference. As current and former U.S. officials have acknowledged on many occasions, the United States--acting primarily through the National Security Agency (NSA) within the U.S. Department of Defense--is one of the most prolific practitioners of cyberattacks and cyber-intrusions on the planet.

The Russian Federation argues that such incidents are "State-to-State matters" and should be resolved between governments, and not in courts.

"The DNC's allegations do not permit the U.S. District Court to exercise jurisdiction in this case," the Russian Federation's letter said, suggesting that the court should throw out the lawsuit on the basis of a lack of jurisdiction in the matter.

The letter and the judge's decision will be closely watched by the entire world, especially by countries with cyber divisions and which actively engage in cyber-attacks, or have been the victims of cyber-attacks. If a precedent is created, this could open the door for countless litigation cases around where American, Russian, UK, Chinese, or Israeli military hackers have been involved.

This decision won't affect the charges brought forward by the Department of Justice over the summer, as they are viewed as a criminal matter and not a civil case. In July, the US charged 12 Russian spies based on an investigation carried out by US special counsel Robert Mueller.

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