National Security

US sanctions Russia over hacking, expels 35 officials

Getty Images

The Obama administration on Thursday announced an array of retaliatory measures against Russia in response to a hacking campaign geared at interfering in the U.S. presidential election. 
The measures include a slate of economic sanctions, diplomatic censure, and public “naming and shaming.” The president also hinted at possible covert cyber measures but did not provide details. 
The president also announced that the State Department will expel 35 Russian intelligence operatives and shutter two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russia for intelligence purposes. 
The sanctions target two of Russia’s main intelligence organizations — the GRU and the FSB — four individual GRU officers and three companies who provided support to the GRU. 
To levy the sanctions, Obama broadened a 2015 executive order giving the president the authority to punish foreign actors who carry out cyberattacks against the U.S.
{mosads}The order allows the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of individuals or entities who used digital means to damage U.S. critical infrastructure or engage in economic espionage.
The changes expanded the order to allow Treasury to sanction individuals and entities “responsible for tampering, altering, or causing the misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”
Further, Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security and FBI would declassify “technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity” to help networks defend against “Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.” That report was released Thursday afternoon.
The president also signaled that the U.S. will undertake some covert action against Russia. 
“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Obama said in a statement. “We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized.”

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country will likely take retaliatory measures against the United States. 

“You realize, of course, reciprocal steps will be made and the U.S. embassy in Moscow and, quite possibly, the consulates will be cut down to size as well,” Vladimir Dzhabarov, the deputy chairman of the foreign policy committee in the Russian Duma, told Tass News News Agency. 

Obama has been under pressure to respond to Russia over the intelligence community’s assessment that the Kremlin was behind the theft and release of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and other Democratic political organizations. 
The two intelligence agencies targeted by the sanctions, the FSB and the GRU, are believed to have carried out the attacks. 
The Federal Security Service, or FSB, is the main successor to the KGB — once headed by Putin.
The FSB is thought to be behind the hacking group known as “Cozy Bear.” A more traditional, long-range intelligence agency, the FSB lurked on the DNC systems for over a year.
The GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, is thought to be behind the second group that infiltrated the DNC, known as “Fancy Bear.” Fancy Bear is also believed to have breached Podesta’s emails.
Despite their overlapping targets, the two agencies have different missions in the cyber realm.
Fancy Bear is thought to be the group responsible for “doxxing” the DNC and Podesta by allegedly providing the stolen missives to WikiLeaks to publish.
Putin has denied any involvement in the hacks, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said he did not obtain his documents from Russia.
Among the individuals named in Obama’s sanctions order Thursday are Lieutenant General Igor Korobov, who heads the GRU, and three deputies: deputy chief Sergey Gizunov and first deputy chiefs Igor Kostyukov and Vladimir Alekseyev.
Two other individuals, Alekseyevich Belan and Evgeniy Bogachev, were sanctioned over unrelated crimes, including using cyber tools to misappropriate funds and personal information.
Bogachev is the at-large mastermind behind a massive botnet known as GameOver Zeus taken down by the FBI in 2014. 
The intelligence community in October made an official announcement blaming Russia for “interfering” in the U.S. election, but the administration took no other public action. Subsequent leaks from anonymous officials have said that the CIA believes the campaign was an explicit attempt by Putin to ensure President-elect Donald Trump’s victory. 
Despite calls from all corners to establish a firm deterrent to the kind of influence campaign undertaken by Moscow, the White House moved cautiously. 
“The debate, I think, within the [Obama] administration has always been: Will steps risk too much of an escalation?” the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), said in an interview with The Atlantic earlier this week.
The U.S. throughout the fall was engaged in tense, fragile cease-fire talks with Russia over Syria. 
But critics have characterized Russia’s attempt to meddle in the election as an “unprecedented” attack on American democracy — one that demanded a response. 
Cyber policy experts have argued that covert cyber actions would not be enough. The U.S. needed to respond to Russia publicly to signal to other nations that interfering in the U.S democratic process carries a high risk. 
Some — like Schiff — say Obama was too cautious. 
“I think the process of sanctioning Russia should have begun far earlier, and we should have worked with our European allies to impose costs on Russia,” Schiff said in the interview Tuesday. “That would have also telegraphed to the American people how serious this was.
“The impact has been inviting too much Russian interference because there hasn’t been enough of a pushback. I think [the Obama administration] have erred too much on the side of caution. And that has ended up costing us.”
Democrats had urged Obama to respond before he cedes the White House to Trump on Jan. 20, fearing that the president-elect would take no action. Trump has famously praised Putin and expressed a desire for warmer relations with the Kremlin. 
Some Republicans, meanwhile, also called for retaliation, but have argued the response should come from the new administration.
“Let the new Congress and the new president deal with Russia, pass new sanctions, much tougher than the ones we already have,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday, arguing, “You need to hit Russia in a sustained fashion.”
Democrats and some Republicans quickly praised news of the sanctions. 
“I hope the incoming Trump administration, which has been far too close to Russia throughout the campaign and transition, won’t think for one second about weakening these new sanctions or our existing regime,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Similarly, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called Obama’s action “overdue” and “appropriate,” though he slammed Obama as having an “ineffective foreign policy.”

Ryan added that “Russia does not share America’s interests. In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world.”

President-elect Trump has continued to deny Russian involvement in the election, treating any suggestion to that effect as an attack on the legitimacy of his forthcoming presidency. 

Obama has similarly been under pressure to provide documentation backing up the intelligence community’s claims that Russia was involved.

“If the CIA director, [John] Brennan, and others at the top are serious about turning over evidence … they should do that,” Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said earlier this month. “They should not be leaking to the media. If there’s evidence, let’s see it.” 

— Updated at 4:17 p.m.
Tags Adam Schiff Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Lindsey Graham Paul Ryan

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video