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Obama imposes sanctions on Russia over election hacking

The Obama administration today announced new sanctions against Russia in response to the country’s widely reported role in hacks meant to influence the US presidential election.

The sanctions include penalties for five entities and four individuals. Included on that list are multiple officials from Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, the country’s military intelligence unit tied to this year’s hack of the Democratic National Committee. Top officials from the Directorate, known as the GRU, are also listed for sanctions. Russia’s Federal Security Service, another intelligence agency, has also been sanctioned.

Three companies, which the White House says “provided material support” to GRU operations, were included in the sanctions as well.

As part of today’s action, 35 Russian officials who “were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status” in the US, according to the White House, will be ejected. Two compounds, one in New York and one in Maryland, used by Russia for intelligence purposes will also be shut down. Previous reporting this week also suggested the US will also take long-expected, unspecified covert action against Russia, likely using cyber techniques.

“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.

The new sanctions amend a previous executive order from the president, “Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities,” which was made in response to North Korea’s hack of Sony. The order allows the president to impose travel bans and freeze the assets of sanctioned persons, although in the case of the Russian officials, it may be mostly symbolic. Russian officials previously faced penalties from the Obama administration in 2014, after the country’s annexation of Crimea.

As part of the announcement, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI issued a joint report detailing malicious cyber operations in Russia. Some of the information in the report will be newly declassified, according to the White House.

Along with last year’s hack of the DNC, which caused major embarrassment for the Democratic part and led to the resignation of top DNC officials, Russia is believed to have orchestrated the hack of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. Emails stolen from Podesta’s account and later released have been seen as one factor in Clinton’s loss.

But the future of the sanctions will be uncertain after Trump takes office. The president-elect took a considerably more pro-Russia stance before the election, and has attempted to cast doubt on the country’s links to the hacks. “The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on,” he said yesterday.

Earlier this month, the FBI and CIA reportedly came to the conclusion that Russia’s election meddling was done to support Trump.


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