Unprecedented step: President Obama issues executive order, sanctions against Russia for hacking

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President Barack Obama

President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday it’s time for the US to “move on” regarding the sanctions announced by the Obama administration against Russia, but said he would meet with intelligence officials next week to be briefed on the situation.

“It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” President-elect Trump said in a statement. “Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation.”

President Barack Obama took unprecedented steps Thursday, December 29th to retaliate against alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, ratcheting up the face-off between the two nations less than a month before he leaves office.

The administration described Russia’s involvement as “Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities” and sanctioned six Russian individuals and five Russian entities, as well as ordering dozens of Russian diplomats to leave the country. This is the first time the names of Russian officials involved in the hacking have become public on the sanctions list.

President Obama said 35 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the country and two Russian compounds are being closed under Thursday’s actions.

“Russia’s cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government,” a White House statement said. “These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

According to statements from the White House and the Treasury Department, the government has sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s operations; and two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.

Two of the individuals on the sanctions list, Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev and Alexey Belan, are on the FBI wanted list as well.

President Obama also said in the statement announcing that the diplomats have been ordered to leave the country, that those individuals and their families were given 72 hours to leave the United States.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm US interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama said in the statement.

Russia’s reaction

Russia swiftly responded to the actions Thursday. Russia will respond to any “hostile steps” that the US may take in response to allegations of hacking during the 2016 election, according to the official representative for the ministry.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said similar steps will be taken in response to the expulsions, though she did not immediately provide further details. Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters there is “no alternative to reciprocal measures,” adding that Putin is “in no rush to make a decision.

And Russia’s embassy in the UK tweeted that Obama’s actions were “Cold War deja vu” described the administration as “hapless.”

Congressional Republicans split with President-elect Trump

President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday that Americans should “get on with our lives” when he was asked about the expected White House announcement to place sanctions on Russia.

“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” he told reporters Wednesday night at the Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach, Florida. “I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind, the security we need.”

A senior Obama administration official acknowledged to reporters Thursday that President-elect Trump could reverse the sanctions by executive order, but added, “I don’t think it’d make a lot of sense.”

The President-elect’s statements also split with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, called the sanctions “overdue,” adding that it is an “appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia.”

“Russia does not share America’s interests,” he said in a statement Thursday. “In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world. While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement on Thursday reiterating the agency’s confidence that the Russian government was involved in the US hacking.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the US Government and its citizens,” the statement read. “The US Government can confirm that the Russian government, including Russia’s civilian and military intelligence services, conducted many of the activities generally described by a number of these security companies.”

Months of internal debate

The administration’s announcement comes after months of internal debate over how to respond to Russian hacking that US law enforcement and intelligence agencies have watched take place for over a year.

The US government announced in October that it was “confident” that the Russian government orchestrated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations of the Democratic Party to influence the 2016 election.

Those hacks resulted in the public release of thousands of stolen emails, many of which included damaging revelations about the Democratic Party and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party’s nominee.

The hacking of DNC emails eventually led to the resignation of former chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz after emails showed her favoring Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary.

Earlier this month, the CIA announced to a group of senators that the hacks were aimed to help elect President-elect Trump as president.

The statement from the President is as follows:

Statement by the President on Actions in Response to Russian Malicious Cyber Activity and Harassment

“Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election. These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.

All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions. In October, my Administration publicized our assessment that Russia took actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.  These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year.  Such activities have consequences.  Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response.

I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners.  Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals:  the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.  In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.  The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives.  Finally, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity, to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.

These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized. In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior, and interfere with democratic governance. To that end, my Administration will be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections.”

5 comments

  • phacepalm

    Lets see, sanction Russia because they might have made the dims look bad but lift the sanctions on Iran whose leaders chant “death to America” and want to wipe Israel off the map. Got it

  • Z

    Obozo the clown is at it again. Sanctions on Russia with no actual evidence of anything.

    I dare any of you brain-dead libs to present evidence of Russian hacking. By the way, I read the report that was released this last week, you know the one that came with a disclaimer that it did not have an endorsement from the DoHS. The one that was done by a “private” firm that can present anything they want as long as they get paid.

    What a joke.

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