President Barack Obama blames the “highest level of the Russian government for hacks,” as he speaks during a news conference, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)
The Obama administration announced sweeping new measures on Thursday in retaliation for what U.S. officials characterized as Russian interference in this fall’s presidential election, ordering the removal of 35 Russian government officials and sanctioning state agencies and individuals tied to the hacks.
The FBI and CIA have concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House. Thursday’s announcement comes several weeks after President Obama promised to respond to Russian hacking with both public and covert actions,“at a time and place of our own choosing.”
The president said the new actions followed repeated warnings to the Russian government and were “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests” contrary to international norms.
Obama said Americans should be “alarmed” by Russian actions, which he said included the interference in the election and harassment of U.S. diplomats overseas. “Such activities have consequences,” he said in a statement.
The new measures include sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies that are believed to have provided support for government cyber operations, and four Russian cyber officials. The administration will also shut down Russian-owned facilities in Maryland and New York that Obama said where used for intelligence activities and would declare 35 Russian operatives “persona non grata,” meaning they would be required to leave the United States.
The State Department said it is taking action against these 35 individuals in response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and to the harassment of U.S. diplomats overseas over the last four years.
“The harassment has involved arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk,” according to a statement from State Department spokesperson Mark C. Toner.
Obama also suggested Thursday the United States may undertake covert activity in response to Russian activities.
“Any anti-Russian sanctions are fruitless and counterproductive,” said Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry official in charge of democracy and human rights, according to Interfax. “Such one-sided steps have the goal of damaging relations and complicating their restoration in the future.”
The Obama administration’s announcement culminates months of vigorous internal debate over whether and how to respond to Russia’s unprecedented election-year provocations, ranging from the hacks of the Democratic National Committee to the targeting of state electoral systems.
U.S. officials believe that a military spy agency in Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee and stole emails later released by WikiLeaks. Emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, who chaired Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, were also made public, and state electoral systems were targeted.
The cyber-intervention was aimed primarily at Democrats, U.S. officials concluded.
[Obama administration is close to announcing measures to punish Russia for election interference]
Russia has denied involvement in attacks related to the election and promised to retaliate against any new sanctions.
President-elect Donald J. Trump has already suggested that the United States should drop its effort to retaliate against Russia, telling reporters this week that “we ought to get on with our lives.” Trump has also cast doubt on U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia was behind the hacks.
As part of the new measures, the administration has amended a 2015 executive order allowing the president to respond to foreign cyber attacks. Because that order was intended primarily for attacks against infrastructure or commercial targets, officials adapted the order to cover attempts to undermine the electoral process.