Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats in wake of election cyberattacks
By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News
In response to claims the Russian government waged cyberattacks to interfere with last month’s presidential election, President Obama on Thursday announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomatic officials from the United States as well as the closure of two compounds the said have been used for intelligence purposes.
“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Obama said in a statement. “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.”
U.S. intelligence officials claim that not only did Russia authorize hacks into the networks of government and political organizations, they did so with the specific intention of undermining Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances.
Under Obama’s order, the 35 diplomats, as well as any family members residing with them, must leave the United States within 72 hours.
Whether Obama’s actions, including sanctions levied against specific Russian government officials and companies, will stay in effect after he leaves office next month remains uncertain. President-elect Donald Trump has previously questioned claims about Russian involvement and has stated that he wants to “move on” from the matter. However, Trump announced in a statement late Thursday he would meet with intelligence leaders on the matter in the next week.
Also on Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a joint statement offering specifics on how Russian intelligence officers compromised critical information technology networks. According to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and FBI Director James Clapper, Russian cyber activities have targeted American systems for at least a decade.
Clapper and Johnson added that Russia has waged similar cyberattacks on other countries, too.
“The Joint Analysis Report recognizes the excellent work undertaken by security companies and private sector network owners and operators, and provides new indicators of compromise and malicious infrastructure identified during the course of investigations and incident response,” Clapper and Johnson said. “The U.S. Government seeks to arm network defenders with the tools they need to identify, detect and disrupt Russian malicious cyber activity that is targeting our country’s and our allies’ networks.”
The Russian Embassy in Washington said American claims of election interference were baseless and denounced the measures as an attempt to undermine relations between the two powers.
“They (the sanctions) won’t be left unanswered,” the Embassy posted on Twitter.
While Trump has expressed eagerness in improving relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, other Republican officials quickly came out in support of the moves made by Obama, a Democrat.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called the sanctions overdue. While he chastised the Obama Administration for its poor foreign policy, he added that Russia has long wanted to create global instability and undermine American interests.
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a statement calling Russia’s cyberattacks “a brazen attack on American democracy.” They also announced intentions to seek even stronger penalties once the new Congress convenes in January.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the sanctions, “a good first step,” although he, like Ryan, McCain and Graham, wished they would have come sooner.
“The Russians are not our friends,” McConnell said in his statement.