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Obama Administration Issues Sanctions Against Russia, Removes 35 Diplomats

By Derrick Broze

On Thursday the Obama Administration announced a new executive order involving Russia, including new cyber security measures and the removal of 35 Russian diplomats. 

In the latest drama between the United States and Russia, President Barack Obama has announced an amendment to a previous executive order designed to target foreign entities who attempt to interfere with the electoral process. Obama also ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, sanctions against Russian intelligence officials, and the closing of two Russian intelligence facilities in New York and Maryland.

In response to allegations that Russia was responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Convention, Obama approved an amendment to Executive Order 13964. Originally issued in April 2015, the executive order created a new authority responsible with helping the U.S. deal with significant cyber threats. However, the new changes ordered by Obama authorize the U.S. government to sanction those who attempt to interfere with the U.S. elections.

“Russia’s recent activities has made clear that a tool explicitly targeting attempts to interfere with elections is also warranted,” reads the White House statement.

In the same statement, The White House discusses harassment of U.S. diplomats in Russia. The Obama Administration accuses Russian security and police of significantly increasing the harassment of diplomatic personnel. In response to the apparent abuse, Obama issued an order calling for the expulsion of 35 Russian officials.

Today the State Department declared 35 Russian government officials from the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco “persona non grata.”  They were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status. Those individuals and their families were given 72 hours to leave the United States.

Russian officials will also be denied access to two compounds in Maryland and New York beginning at noon on Friday, according to Reuters. The Russian foreign ministry told Reuters the sanctions were “counter-productive.”

Although the U.S. claims the removal of 35 Russian diplomats is unrelated to the hacking accusations, the timing may indicate that the actions are simply another facet of the U.S. and Russian proxy war. In addition to removing the diplomats, President Obama sanctioned two Russian intelligence agencies, as well as four intelligence officers, and three companies suspected of providing support the intelligence agencies.

Also on Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a new report investigating the hacking of the DNC. The Joint Analysis Report (JAR) details alleged evidence of Russian civilian and military intelligence hacking. The joint report attempts to strengthen claims against the Russian government regarding the hacking of the DNC and attempted manipulation of the U.S. election.

“This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. Government and its citizens,” a statement reads. “These cyber operations have included spearphishing, campaigns targeting government organizations, critical infrastructure, think tanks, universities, political organizations, and corporations; theft of information from these organizations; and the recent public release of some of this stolen information.”

The 13-page report looks at the tools used by Russian intelligence services for compromising and exploiting the election. According to the report, the Russian hacking campaign is known as “Grizzly Steppe” involving the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the group known as APT29. The GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, and a second group known as APT28 are accused of leaking the now infamous Podesta emails.

The DHS and FBI report mirrors previous reports from government agencies and private institutions which claim that Russia is behind the cybersecurity breach. One of these reports came on June 14 from cybersecurity company Crowdstrike. The company was hired by the DNC to identify the culprits responsible for the hacking. Still, WikiLeaks poked fun at the new report, claiming that it was lacking in evidence.

Despite the lack of strong evidence tying Russia to the hacking of the DNC, U.S. agencies and private contractors continue to expect the American public to accept their claims without hard evidence. When the political leaders and media pundits are eagerly pushing for conflict it is wise to proceed with caution, at least until proof of hacking has clearly been established. The American public is being asked to trust the same establishment that has a long record of deception. Remain skeptical, friends.


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