After weeks of discussion, the Obama Administration today lashed out at Russia for its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the country and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services.
Among those ejected from the country include four top officers from the military intelligence unit the White House says ordered the attacks on various political organizations, including the Democratic National Committee. According to the New York Times:
In a sweeping set of announcements, the United States was also expected to release evidence linking the cyberattacks to computer systems used by Russian intelligence. Taken together, the actions would amount to the strongest American response ever taken to a state-sponsored cyberattack aimed at the United States.
The sanctions were also intended to box in President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump has consistently cast doubt that the Russian government had anything to do with the hacking of the D.N.C. or other political institutions, saying American intelligence agencies could not be trusted and suggesting that the hacking could have been the work of a “400-pound guy” lying in his bed.
Mr. Trump will now have to decide whether to lift the sanctions on the Russian intelligence agencies when he takes office next month, with Republicans in Congress among those calling for a public investigation into Russia’s actions. Should Mr. Trump do so, it would require him to effectively reject the findings of his intelligence agencies.
President-Elect Donald Trump was asked about the impending sanctions at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and told reporters: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind, the security we need.”
The order signed by President Obama immediately imposes sanctions on four top ranking Russian Intelligence officials: Igor Valentinovich Korobov, the current chief of a military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., and three deputies: Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov, the deputy chief of the G.R.U.; Igor Olegovich Kostyukov, a first deputy chief, and Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseyev, also a first deputy chief of the G.R.U.
Additionally, the sanctions target three companies the administration says supported the hacking operations — including the “Autonomous Non-commercial Organization Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems”, an organization American officials say is just a cover for a group that provided specialized training for the hacking team.
With both Democrats and Republicans in Congress calling for a full-scale investigation into Russian hacking during the election, it is unlikely Trump will remove the sanctions as that would require him to repudiate the findings of all U.S. intelligence services and expend political capital with little to no gain.
Reports indicate that Obama held off issuing sanctions prior to the elections out of fear of Russian retaliation, leaving Democrats incensed after the surprise victory of Trump.