Mystery remains on why US released prominent Russian hacker

The Justice Department has declined to provide a clear explanation as to why a well-known Russian hacker was released home last year amid warnings from President Joe Biden that the Kremlin may soon carry out cyberattacks against the United States.

Aleksei Burkov is a cybercriminal who ran two noted underground hacking operations. After he was arrested by Israeli law enforcement in 2015, the Kremlin put a lot of effort into stopping him from being extradited to the U.S. Burkov eventually arrived in the U.S. in 2019, where he pleaded guilty to a host of crimes and received a nine-year sentence, though given credit for the time spent in Israeli prison.

But he was mysteriously deported back to Russia in late September, years before the sentence was completed.

Bryan Vorndran, the assistant director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, was unable to explain why during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday when pressed by Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican.

“Mr. Burkov was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, not by the FBI,” Vorndran said. “I don’t know specifics. What I do know is that there was no swap or concession.”

He said it was “a Department of Justice question” when asked why Burkov was let go.

Jordan asked if letting Burkov go was a good idea, and he replied he wasn’t in a position to comment, leading the Ohio Republican to say, “The head of cyber is not in a position to comment.” Vorndran said only that “it was a Department of Justice decision through the U.S. courts process.”

Jordan asked, “Do you think it helps to release the most notorious Russian hacker we’ve ever apprehended?”

“I’m not going to answer any questions about Mr. Burkov,” Vorndran replied. “It’s a Secret Service case.”


President Joe Biden spoke at a business roundtable last week in which he warned about the likelihood Putin would deploy cyberattacks.

“As I’ve said, the magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential,…