Obama retaliates against Russia for election hacking
HONOLULU — In a sweeping response to election hacking, President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials, kicked out 35 Russian officials and shuttered two Russian-owned compounds in the U.S. It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack.
“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions,” Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. He added: “Such activities have consequences.”
Obama ordered sanctions against two Russian intelligence services, the GRU and the FSB, plus companies which the U.S. says support the GRU. The cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate theft of its emails determined earlier this year the hacking came from the Fancy Bear group, believed to be affiliated with the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.
The president also sanctioned Lt. Gen. Korobov, the head of GRU, and three of his deputies. Other individuals sanctioned include Alexei Belan and Yevgeny Bogachev, two Russian nationals who have been wanted by the FBI for cyber crimes for years.
FBI cyber agents in Pittsburgh claim Bogachev was involved with the Gameover Zeus scheme that infected more than a half-million computers around the world and stole more than $100 million in the United States alone. Bogachev is the No. 1 cyber criminal in the world, said David Hickton, who was serving as U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania when he indicted Bogachev in 2014.
Hickton bristled at recent comments by president-elect Donald Trump that the United States should move past accusations of Russian meddling in cyber-attacks.
“This is serious business and we realized this is serious business a long time ago,” Hickton told the Tribune-Review. “It's not something we can put aside. We need to get to the bottom of this and resolve it.”
Obama said the election hacking “could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” a contention the U.S. has used to suggest Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved.
Although the White House announced at the same time it was kicking out Russian officials and closing facilities, it said those were responses to other troubling Russian behavior: harassment of U.S. diplomats by Russian personnel and police.
The 35 Russian diplomats being kicked out are intelligence operatives, Obama said. The State Department said they were being declared “persona non grata,” and they were given 72 hours to leave the country.
The two compounds being closed down are recreational facilities owned by Russia's government, one in Maryland and one in New York, the U.S. said. The White House said Russia had been notified that Russia would be denied access to the sites starting noon on Friday.
Russian officials have denied the Obama administration's accusation that the Russian government was involved at the highest levels in trying to influence the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia's goal was to help Donald Trump win – an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.
The move puts the president-elect in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office.
This story includes reporting from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contributing writer Andrew Conte.