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US Hits Russian Officials With Sanctions Over Election Hacks

US Hits Russian Officials With Sanctions Over Election Hacks

President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

By    |   Thursday, 29 December 2016 03:21 PM

President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats Thursday and closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland in executive orders to punish Moscow for harassment against American diplomats and cyberattacks that interfered in the presidential 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," Obama said in a statement announcing the actions.

"All Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions," he added. "Such activities have consequences."

The Russian Foreign Ministry ripped the sanctions, saying they added to "already destroyed" relations between the United States and Moscow.

The sanctions require the 35 diplomats from the Russian embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco to leave the United States within 72 hours.

They were declared persona non grata for acting in a "manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status."

In addition, access to the two compounds, used by Russian officials for intelligence gathering, will be denied to all Moscow officials as of noon Friday, according to the orders.

The White House also said the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security would soon provide specific evidence to Congress linking the Kremlin to the cyberattacks.

"These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia's aggressive activities," Obama said. "We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized."

He also called on American allies to "work together to oppose Russia's efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior, and interfere with democratic governance."

The Obama administration has accused Russia of hacking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other party operations — and leaking information intending to sway the election to President-elect Donald Trump and other Republican candidates.

Democrat Hillary Clinton also accused Moscow of meddling in the election.

Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, has called for improved relations with Russia.

On the issue of possible sanctions, he told reporters Wednesday: "I think we ought to get on with our lives."

"I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly," he said outside his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. 'The whole age of computers has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on."

It was not clear Thursday whether Trump could immediately overturn Obama's sanctions.

The State Department also has long complained Russian security agents and traffic police have harassed U.S. diplomats in Moscow, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration's accusations of involvement in the election and have vowed to respond to any new sanctions with unspecified counter-measures.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova slammed President Obama's sanctions, saying the administration had not "given up on its hope of dealing one last blow to relations with Russia, which it has already destroyed.

"Using obviously inspired leaks in the U.S. media, it is trying to threaten us again with expansion of anti-Russian sanctions, 'diplomatic' measures, and even subversion of our computer systems.

"We are tired of lies about Russian hackers that continue to be spread in the United States from the very top," Zakharova said.

"The Obama administration launched this misinformation half a year ago in a bid to play up to the required nominee at the November presidential election and, having failed to achieve the desired effect, has been trying to justify its failure by taking it out with a vengeance on Russian-U.S. relations."

Others targeted in the sanctions, which were announced by the Treasury Department, included the chief and deputy chiefs of GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.

U.S. cybersecurity experts have linked GRU to the hacking of the DNC and party officials through a group they have nicknamed APT 28 or "Fancy Bear."

The U.S. also is sanctioning the Federal Security Service and Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian state and cyber companies associated with them.

The sanctions might be matched by covert countermeasures intended to warn Russia the U.S. is able to breach its most sensitive computer systems, while preserving public deniability, experts said.

"If I want to just quietly take out their capability and send a very sneaky message and not an overt message, I would probably do a covert action," said Bob Stasio, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former chief of operations at the National Security Agency's cyber operations center.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats Thursday and closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland in executive orders to punish Moscow for harassment against American diplomats and cyberattacks that interfered in the presidential election.
sanctions, US, hacks, diplomats
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2016-21-29
Thursday, 29 December 2016 03:21 PM
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