President Barack Obama and his administration are reportedly reviewing options to impose new sanctions against Russia in response to the country's alleged tampering with the 2016 presidential election. In addition to new sanctions, the Obama administration is also considering diplomatic censure and covert cyber operations to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Dec. 27, several anonymous U.S. officials confirmed that the Obama administration was set to announce a package of punishments against the Putin government in addition to undertaking several covert operations that will not be made public, The Washington Post reports.
The White House is currently debating how to impose the new sanctions using an executive order that Obama signed in April 2015, which granted him to power to sanction the U.S. assets of individuals whose countries conduct cyber espionage to undermine critical American infrastructure.
Currently, the executive order does not apply to Russia's alleged interference in the presidential election, but the Obama administration could clarify that electoral systems count as a part of critical U.S. infrastructure or simply amend the order.
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The U.S. Intelligence community has accused the Putin government of hacking and distributing data from both the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the email of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta.
National security expert Zachary Goldman of New York University School of Law noted that the executive order that Obama signed in 2015 would not apply to Russia's actions during the 2016 election.
Goldman stated that the Obama administrations would have to "engage in some legal acrobatics to fit the DNC hack into an existing authority, or they need to write a new authority."
Former senior director for cybersecurity Ari Schwartz of the National Security Council added that adapting the sanctions tool to apply to Russia's interference in the election "can make a very strong statement in a way that is less drastic than bombing a country and more impactful than sending out a cable from the State Department."
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On Dec. 15, Obama voted to take punitive action against Russia for its alleged tampering in the election, telling NPR that his administration would take action "at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be."
On Dec. 16, Obama stated during his end-of-year press conference that he was fully confident that the Putin government had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
"Based on uniform intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC and that as a consequence, it is important for us to review all elements of that and to make sure that we are preventing that kind of interference from cyber attacks in the future," Obama said, according to CBS News.
The president added that the U.S. intelligence "that I've seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack — the hack of the DNC, and the hack of John Podesta."
One anonymous U.S. official stated that the planned sanctions would be designed to not only punish the Putin government but to serve as a warning against any governments that hope to influence future presidential elections with cyber espionage.
"As much as I am concerned about what happened to us in the election, I am also concerned about what will happen to us in the future," the official said. "I am firmly convinced that the Russians and others will say, 'That worked pretty well in 2016, so let's keep going.' We have elections every two years in this country."