President Obama launched a Cold War strike on the Kremlin and its spies on Thursday, accusing them of hacking the presidential election on orders from Vladimir Putin.
He ordered 35 Russian intelligence operatives to leave the country as part of sanctions ordered for what he said where the country’s attempts to ‘interfere with democratic governance’ and harassment of U.S. diplomatic officials in Russia.
And he launched a scathing attack on Putin’s Kremlin in an official announcement of sanctions over allegations of hacking in the run-up to the presidential elections.
Obama all but named the Russian strongman in his statement – saying hacking was ‘ordered at the highest level’.
That prompted an angry response from the Kremlin which promised an ‘appropriate’ retaliation – while its London embassy tweeted a picture mocking him as a ‘lame duck’.
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Anger: President Obama’s strongly-worded statement about sanctions against Russia is his most sweeping action against the Kremlin during his eight years in office
‘Lies’: A spokesman for Vladimir Putin rejected claims of cyber-attacking the election and said the U.S. government must put up or shut up
Crisis: Donald Trump now enters office amid the worst relations with Russia since the 1980s and his defeated rival Hillary Clinton claiming that its leader personally targeted her to hand the election to the Republican
Donald Trump took four hours to react – and did not say if he had been briefed in advance.
‘It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,’ he 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.’
The sanctions came after the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s secrets were published, mostly by Wikileaks, in a series of releases before Hillary Clinton’s election defeat.
These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government.
Obama accuses Putin of being behind hacking which led to the Democrats’ secrets being published
The White House says Russia hacked the emails, and Clinton has claimed Putin acted out because of a ‘personal beef.’
Wikileaks has denied Moscow was the source.
‘This is not in question. There’s no debate within the U.S. administration about the fact,’ a senior U.S. official said Thursday, ‘that Russia interfered in our democratic election. We’ve established that clearly to our satisfaction.
‘I would never expect Russia to come out with their hands up and acknowledge what they did. They don’t do that…They still deny that they are intervening in Eastern Ukraine.
Continuing the official said, ‘We don’t see this as a he-said, she-said situation. We see this as there are facts, and then there are things that Russia says.’
Thirty-five Russian operatives were declared ‘persona non grata’ in a Cold War-style move that is likely to be followed by tit-for-tat action by the Kremlin. The Russians that were personally targeted have 72 hours to leave the country and must be gone by Sunday.
Other sanctions include revealing in public exactly what technical information the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI hold on Russian hacking capabilities – something which will embarrass the Kremlin and make it easier for their targets to take precaution.
Obama also approved the shut down of two Russian compounds, one in New York and one in Maryland, which he said had been used for intelligence-related purposes.
And he introduced financial sanctions on the two Russian spy agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four named GRU officers, and three companies said to have provided ‘material support’ for the GRU’s hacking.
Government officials warned that convert actions were on their way, too.
‘This is not the sum total of everything that we are doing in response to Russia’s actions,’ a senior official said. ‘As President Obama and others have said some of those actions will be public and some of them will not….that should not be mistaken for the sum total of our response.’
Obama linked the sanctions to hacking which saw the Democratic Party’s secrets revealed as it tried to get Hillary Clinton elected – and to ‘an unacceptable level of harassment’ of American diplomats in Moscow by police and security services.
Mockery: This was how Russia’s embassy in London responded to the sanctions announcement, mocking Obama as a lame duck president
Spy HQ: The Moscow headquarters of the FSB, known popularly as the Lubyanka, has been used for espionage for generations. It was where Stalin’s purges were directed from
The most high-profile of the hacks were the embarrassing leaks from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s gmail account, which produced revelation after revelation about her family Foundation, tensions in the campaign and speeches to Wall Street which she had tried desperately to keep secret.
Another set of leaks cost the Democratic National Committee’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her job after they revealed how she rigged the system to get Clinton elected ahead of Bernie Sanders.
It is now certain that Russia will seek revenge with Vladimir Dzhabarov, the deputy chairman of the foreign policy committee in the Russian Duma, telling TASS news agency there would be action.
‘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,’ he said after the White House announced its sanctions.
Dmitry Peskov, a Putin spokesman, told reporters on a conference call that Putin will order an ‘appropriate’ retaliation to Washington’s ‘unpredictable’ and ‘aggressive foreign policy.’
Peskov also said Moscow doubted the effectiveness of the measures, since Obama will leave office in just three weeks.
‘Such steps of the U.S. administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, deal a blow on the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,’ he declared.
Senior administration officials said Thursday that they expected the sanctions to stick after Donald Trump takes over, however.
‘These are executive actions, so if a future president decided that he wanted to allow in a large tranche of intelligence agents, presumably a future president could invite that action. We think it would be inadvisable,’ one U.S. official said. ‘Hypothetically you could reverse those sanctions, but it wouldn’t make a lot of sense.’
Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Obama’s measures were ‘appropriate and better late than never.’
But he added on Twitter that it ‘can’t be the end of the story — need bipartisan independent investigation.’
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said the sanctions are ‘a small price’ for Russia to pay for interfering with U.S. elections. They promised to lead efforts in Congress to impose even stronger sanctions.
The two senators called Russian cyber attacks impacting the 2016 election a ‘brazen attack on American democracy’ and insisted that Thursday’s measures from the White House are long overdue.
But it comes after President-elect Trump said yesterday that people should ‘get on with our lives’ and over the hacking claims – which his defeated rival Clinton has cited as one of the main reasons for her loss.
The move also would put Trump in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office and could potentially cause difficulties for his nominees during their confirmation hearings in the Senate, where support for sanctioning Russia is strong.
An administration official, speaking about the possibility that Trump could revoke the sanctions, said the incoming president should think twice before undoing the actions.
‘These diplomatic compounds were being used for intelligence purposes. That is a direct challenge to U.S. national security. And I don’t think it would make much sense to reopen Russian intelligence compounds,’ the official said.
Cyber-spies: The sanctions identified the GRU – whose Moscow headquarters have been visited by Putin and which reveals in its bat logo – as the prosecutors of the hacking Obama says led to the publication of the Democrats’ secrets
The 35 Russians who are being kicked out of the country are Russian intelligence agents, the official charged. ‘So I don’t think it would make much sense to invite back in Russian intelligence agents.
‘The officials who were sanctioned were participating in malicious cyber attacks’ the official added, on ‘critical infrastructure and interfering in our democratic process.’
The senior official said the hacks are of ‘great concern to American business.
‘And so I would expect that future administration would be concerned about the threat to the America economy.’
Some of the Russian intelligence efforts are harming U.S. national security.
‘I would think that future administration would be concerned about those efforts,’ the high-ranking Obama administration official said. ‘If they aren’t then they should explain why.’
Trump on Wednesday night acknowledged speaking to Obama that day, suggesting he may have been warned in advance of the measures. He has not released a statement on Obama’s actions, on Twitter or otherwise.
The first reaction from the Republicans came from house Speaker Paul Ryan, who said the sanctions were right – but a condemnation of Obama’s time in office.
‘Russia does not share America’s interests’ and has consistently sought to undermine U.S. values while ‘sowing dangerous instability around the world,’ he said.
He called them overdue, and ‘an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia.’
Russia’s interference in U.S. elections showed the Obama administration’s ‘ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world’, he said.
There had been a mounting clamor from Democrats for sanctions before the announcement.
The spokesman for Putin said on Thursday that a new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia would harm relations between Moscow and Washington.
Dmitry Peskov said Putin would order an ‘appropriate’ retaliation to the sanctions, which included the expulsion of 35 diplomats.
In a conference call with reporters, Peskov said Moscow doubted the effectiveness of the measures as the current U.S. presidential administration was stepping down in three weeks.
Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the Russian government was involved at the highest levels in trying to influence the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.
The U.S. has already sanctioned Russia over its annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, but it is hitting the country even harder now through the use of an April 2015 executive order allowing for the use of sanctions to combat cyberattacks.
OBAMA’S COLD WAR WARNING
The White House released a statement from the president – who is vacationing in Hawaii – in which he firmly blamed Vladimir Putin for the hacking before the election:
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.
Showdown: Obama’s statement is a strongly-worded attack on Putin
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
A year after the order was issued, Democratic Party officials learned their systems were attacked after discovering malicious software on their computers.
VLAD’S ‘PERSONAL BEEF’ – BITTER HILLARY
The Democratic loser launched a bitter attack on the Kremlin strongman earlier this month on a behind-closed-doors speech revealed by the New York Times.
At a reception at the Plaza hotel in New York she told mega-donors who had funded her White House run that her defeat was helped by the FBI’s announcement of fresh moves on her secret server scandal – and by Putin.
‘We have to recognize … Vladimir Putin himself directed the covert cyber attacks against our electoral system, against our democracy, apparently because he has a personal beef against me,’ Clinton said.
She said Putin was ‘determined not only to score a point against me – which he did,’ but to undermine U.S. democracy.
She called it ‘part of a long term strategy to cause us to doubt ourselves and to create the circumstances in which Americans either wittingly or unwittingly will begin to cede their freedoms to a much more powerful state.’
Clinton’s remarks also make clear her lingering resentment toward the press, which reported on Russian hacking but also delved into internal campaign and Clinton Foundation intrigue after internal emails got posted on WikiLeaks and other sites.
‘As the press is finally catching up to the facts – which we desperately tried to present to them during the last months of the campaign,’ she said.
‘This is not just an attack against me and my campaign … This is an attack on our country. We are well beyond normal political concerns here,’ she said.
The 2015 order covers a response to attacks on critical infrastructure, and Klobuchar called on the administration to amend it to include election systems.
A presidential policy directive in 2013 identified 16 sectors that are considered critical infrastructure, including energy, financial services and health care. The U.S. Homeland Security Department is considering adding election systems to that list.
The designation places responsibilities on the secretary of homeland security to conduct comprehensive assessments of vulnerabilities and track as well as provide information on emerging and imminent threats that may affect critical infrastructure.
More important, in this case, the designation would allow for the first use of the 2015 executive order in response to a cyberattack against election systems.
And while Trump could reverse any amended or new order allowing for the U.S. to impose sanctions on entities involved in a cyberattack on election systems, ‘he would have a lot of explaining to do,’ Klobuchar said. ‘The executive order gives tools to respond.’
Speaking to journalists at his Palm Beach, Florida estate on Wednesday, Trump said as he responded to a question about sanctions: ‘We don’t have the kind of security we need.’ He added: ‘Nobody knows what’s going on.’
Trump said he has not spoken with senators calling for sanctions but believes ‘we have to get on with our lives.’
Obama has ordered intelligence officials to conduct a broad review of the election-season cyberattacks to be completed before he leaves office.
Russia’s neighbors have long suffered the wrath of its hackers, whose actions have frequently complemented Moscow’s political and military aims. In 2014, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission was targeted by a pro-Russian hacking group.
A U.S. official said Thursday that ‘Russia is not going to stop’ its behavior.
‘We have every indication that they will continue to interfere in democratic elections in other countries, including some of our European allies. There’s no reason to believe that they will not try to interfere in future American elections,’ the official said.
‘There has to be a cost and a consequence for what Russia has done. It is an extraordinary step for them to interfere in the democratic process here in the United States of America, and there needs to be a price for that.
The official said, ‘They need to be held accountable for that and we believe that this should be of concern to all Americans. ‘