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Russia accuses FBI agent of hacking

A G-man who nabbed two Russian hackers in a sting operation is charged by Russia with downloading evidence from a server without authorization.

Russia has accused an FBI agent who nabbed two Russian hackers of downloading evidence against the pair from a server based in Russia without authorization.

The charges come nearly two years after FBI investigators lured two Chelyabinsk, Russia, residents suspected of hacking to Seattle with false offers of jobs with a fictitious security firm. The FBI fooled the suspects into accessing their overseas computers from the United States, and then used the same passwords to download large files that were subsequently used for evidence.

A directorate from Russia's Federal Security Service on Thursday alleged that FBI Special Agent Michael Schuler, who was in charge of the Seattle investigation, illegally accessed Russian Internet servers to gather evidence. Special Agent Marty D. Prewett, who also led aspects of the investigation, has not been mentioned in the case.

Calling the case "a matter of principle," the Russian agency said in the statement that "if FBI agents used hackers' methods against hackers, they might also use them on other occasions," according to a report by Radio Free Europe.

As previously reported, international law experts said a year ago that the operation, the first known incident of international hacking for evidence, created a precedent for indiscriminate cross-border hacking.

The two Russian suspects--Aleksei Ivanov and Vasilii Gorshakov--were indicted in April 2001 by the FBI for allegedly breaking into the computer systems of American banks and stealing credit card numbers.

FBI agents and officials from the Justice Department arrested the duo on Nov. 10, 2000, after they entered the United States with employment offers from a mythical security company, Invita.

The case comes a week after Schuler and Prewett, as well as Seattle FBI bureau specialist Lesley J. Sanders, received the Director's Award for Excellence for Outstanding Criminal Investigation for the sting operation.

"This investigation was the first FBI undercover operation that was able to successfully lure 'hi-tech' criminals out of their safe haven, where they were able to commit their crimes anonymously and safely, thousands of miles from their victims and U.S. law enforcement," according to Tuesday's release announcing the awards. "Also, this was the first FBI case to ever utilize the technique of extra-territorial seizure of digital evidence."