Obama Administration Expected to Announce Measures to Punish Russia for Election Interference Soon


President Obama speaks about counterterrorism during his visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa on Dec. 6. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Obama administration is close to announcing a series of measures to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, including economic sanctions and diplomatic censure, according to U.S. officials.

The administration is finalizing the details, which also are expected to include covert action that will probably involve cyber-operations, the officials said. An announcement on the public elements of the response could come as early as this week.

The sanctions portion of the package culminates weeks of debate in the White House on how to revise a 2015 executive order that was meant to give the president authority to respond to cyberattacks from overseas but that did not cover efforts to influence the electoral system.

The Obama administration rolled the executive order out to great fanfare as a way to punish and deter foreign hackers who harm U.S. economic or national security.

The threat to use it last year helped wring a pledge out of China’s president that his country would cease hacking U.S. companies’ secrets to benefit Chinese firms.

But officials concluded this fall that the order could not, as written, be used to punish the most significant cyber-provocation in recent memory against the United States — Russia’s hacking of Democratic organizations, targeting of state election systems and meddling in the presidential election.

With the clock ticking, the White House is working on adapting the authority to punish the Russians, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. President Obama pledged this month that there would be a response to Moscow’s interference in the U.S. elections.

Russia had denied involvement in the hacking.

One clear way to use the order against the Russian suspects would be to declare the electoral systems part of the “critical infrastructure” of the United States. Or the order could be amended to clearly apply to the new threat — interfering in elections.

Administration officials would also like to make it difficult for President-elect Donald Trump to roll back any action they take.

“Part of the goal here is to make sure that we have as much of the record public or communicated to Congress in a form that would be difficult to simply walk back,” said one senior administration official.

Obama issued the executive order in April 2015, creating the sanctions tool as a way to hold accountable people who harm computer systems related to critical functions such as electricity generation or transportation, or who gain a competitive advantage through the cyber­­theft of commercial secrets.

The order allows the government to freeze the assets in the United States of people overseas who have engaged in cyber-acts that have threatened U.S. national security or financial stability. The sanctions would also block commercial transactions with the designated individuals and bar their entry into the country.

But just a year later, a Russian military spy agency would hack into the Democratic National Committee and steal a trove of emails that were released a few months later on WikiLeaks, U.S. officials said. Other releases followed, including the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

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SOURCE: Ellen Nakashima 
The Washington Post

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