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The Obama Administration Expels Russia 'Diplomats' After Election Hacks

The Obama Administration Expels Russia 'Diplomats' After Election Hacks

The Obama administration is on a mission to punish Russia after the country allegedly hacked U.S. political groups during the 2016 presidential election.

The government has introduced sanctions that will close two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York, along with expelling 35 Russian diplomatic personnel suspected to be intelligence operatives.

The sanctions target the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence agencies.

“Allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed efforts to intervene in the U.S. election process by hacking mostly Democrats have made relations even worse,” writes Reuters.

This means the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, which was already deteriorating due to the conflict over Syria and Ukraine, is officially in the worst state it has ever been in since the Cold War.

“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,” said Obama in a statement. “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions.” 

So Obama has broadened his 2015 executive order to allow the government to punish foreign actors involved in cyberattacks against the U.S.

“The order allows the Treasury Department to freeze the assets of individuals or entities who used digital means to damage U.S. critical infrastructure or engage in economic espionage,” writes The Hill.

The Treasury can now sanction those “responsible for tampering, altering, or causing the misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”

To punish Russia further, Obama has instructed the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to take appropriate action when in defense of Russian cyber activity. He also alluded to also taking some covert action against the country.

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” said Obama in a statement.

Press secretary for Putin, Dmitry Peskov called the new sanctions “a manifestation of unpredictable and aggressive foreign policy”, and referred to them as “ungrounded and not legal”.

Then the Russian embassy in UK tweeted “President Obama expels 35 {Russian Flag emoji} diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl [American flag emoji} people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm” with a lame duck image.

The Russian government plans to respond to the Obama’s new measures with ones of their own.

“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,” said Vladimir Dzhabarov, the deputy chairman of the foreign policy committee in the Russian Duma, to the Tass News News Agency. 

And Russia has already taken some action in response.

“Russia’s first visible action came later Thursday, when Russian authorities ordered the closure of the Anglo-American School of Moscow, a US official briefed on the matter said. The order from the Russian government closes the school, which serves children of US, British and Canadian embassy personnel, to US and foreign nationals, writes CNN. “The order also closes access to the US embassy vacation house in Serebryany Bor, near Moscow.”

Putin has repeatedly denied his involvement in the 2016 presidential hacks and Wikileaks founder has said the leak emails were not from Russian sources.  

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the US Government and its citizens,” said James Clapper, director of National Intelligence in a statement Thursday. “The US Government can confirm that the Russian government, including Russia’s civilian and military intelligence services, conducted many of the activities generally described by a number of these security companies.”

Yet, Obama and the intelligence agencies have not released any real evidence backing up the claims that Russia was responsible for the hacks.

“If the CIA director, [John] Brennan, and others at the top are serious about turning over evidence … they should do that,” said Trump’s former campaign manager and soon to be White House Counselor, Kellyanne Conway earlier this month. “They should not be leaking to the media. If there’s evidence, let’s see it.” 

Trump has criticized Obama’s administration for spending so much time and energy on this issue.

“It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” said Trump 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.”

Author’s note: Why is Obama wasting his last few days on this? Trump is only going to reverse these actions. The president-elect has said that he will “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.” So again, Obama is just wasting his time.

Editor’s note: We would normally look for Moscow to expel an equal number of our ‘diplomats’ (i.e. intelligence officers), but reports say he is declining to do so. Read this as ‘heavy sigh, eyes rolling’ on Putin’s part. Fortunately Trump will be in office in a few weeks. If Hillary had been elected tensions with Moscow would elevate substantially, but in the current circumstance, Obama’s grandstanding will have relatively little effect.

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