Update 12/29/16: Report on Russian Hacking Is Released By FBI and DHS
Early Thursday morning it was announced that President Barack Obama and his administration would be expelling 35 Russian diplomats, sanctioning Russian state agencies and closing multiple Russian Compounds inside the United States. This is in reaction to Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, as well as their alleged harassment campaigns of American diplomats in Moscow, reports Reuters.
Just weeks ago, President Obama promised to take action against Russia for its responsibility in hacking the 2016 presidential election. His promise of retaliation was based on conclusions by the FBI and the CIA that Russia was responsible for intervening in the elections and helping Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States.
The FBI and CIA, along with other US officials, believe that a Russian military spy agency hacked into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and stole emails later released by WikiLeaks. Emails hacked from the account of Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign chair John Podesta were also made public, and state electoral systems were targeted. The agencies concluded that the target of the attacks was primarily the Democratic Party.
Obama made clear that Americans should be “alarmed” by the Russian’s actions. He mentioned that Russia had been warned repeatedly and that his administration’s actions were “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests,” according to The Washington Post.
The Washington Post reports that the actions taken by the president include sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies who are believed to have supplied cyber support for Russia, as well as four Russian cyber officials. Two Russian-owned facilities which Obama claims were used as intelligence agencies will also be shut down in Maryland and New York. Finally, thirty-five Russian operatives were declared “persona non grata,” meaning that they would be required to leave the United States within seventy-two hours and access to the Russian compounds would be denied to all Russian officials after noon on Friday, reports Reuters.
The US State Department mentioned that the removal of thirty-five operatives from US soil, while a part of the response to the hacking, also had to do with the harassment of US diplomats in Russia 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 by State Department spokesperson Mark C. Toner.
Obama would also hint at possible covert measures that the US may undertake to discipline Russia.
“By imposing costs on the Russian diplomats in the United States, by denying them access to the two facilities, we hope the Russian government reevaluates its own actions, which have impeded the ability and safety of our own embassy personnel in Russia,” said a senior US official.
Though the senior official speaking on behalf of the administration declined to name which Russian diplomats would be affected, Reuters reports that Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, will not be one of them.
It is important to note that Russia has denied any involvement in the hacks and has promised to retaliate to any new sanctions placed on them. Shortly after the announced actions against them, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded:
The outgoing US administration has 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 US media, it is trying to threaten us again with expansion of anti-Russian sanctions, “diplomatic” measures and even subversion of our computer systems. Moreover, this final New Year’s “greeting” from Barack Obama’s team, which is already preparing to leave the White House, is being cynically presented as a response to some cyber-attacks from Moscow.
Frankly speaking, we are tired of lies about Russian hackers that continue to be spread in the United States from the very top. 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-US relations.
However, the truth about the White House-orchestrated provocation is bound to surface sooner or later. In fact, this is already happening. On December 8, US media quoted Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp as saying that the local authorities tracked down the origin of a hacker attack on his voter registration database after the election. The attack was traced to an IP address of the Department of Homeland Security. This was followed by an attempt to quickly cover up this information by a flood of new anti-Russian accusations that did not contain a single piece of evidence.
We can only add that if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer. This applies to any actions against Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, which will immediately backfire at US diplomats in Russia. The Obama administration probably does not care at all about the future of bilateral relations, but history will hardly forgive it for this après-nous-le-deluge attitude.
President-elect Trump, who will take office on January 20, has been vocal about easing the relationship with Russia, along with ending efforts of retaliation over the election by the US, stating that “we ought to get on with our lives.” Beyond that, Trump and others have cast doubt on the findings of the FBI and CIA that Russia was even responsible for the meddling.
Whatever the truth may be about Russia’s involvement, these new actions by the current administration may paint Trump’s incoming administration into a corner on how he will handle the contentious rival nation, and the sanctions levied by the previous administration.
The Russian Embassy located in the United Kingdom used Twitter to jab the Obama Administration, stating that even the “American (flag used for reference) people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm,” with a picture of a duck and the words lame laid across.
President Obama expels 35 ?? diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl ?? people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm. pic.twitter.com/mleqA16H8D
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) December 29, 2016
Whistleblower publication Wikileaks has also contended via Twitter that “Obama’s banning Russian diplomats from entering into two diplomatic properties in the US is likely a violation of the Vienna Convention.”
Obama’s banning Russian diplomats from entering into two diplomatic properties in the US is likely a violation of the Vienna Convention.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) December 29, 2016
Though the tweet by the Russia Embassy is clearly internet trolling, is the question of a new Cold War that far off?