Obama blames Russia for hacking, says response won't be public
Addressing reporters at the White House for the year-end press conference, Obama took questions about Syria, China and president-elect Donald Trump's transition team. Mostly, however, he spoke about Russia and the allegations by US intelligence agencies that Moscow had hacked the US election.
His administration allowed the public "to make an assessment" by letting people know that "the Russians were responsible for hacking" the Democratic National Committee earlier this year, Obama said, adding that the intelligence community did its job "without political influence."
Citing alleged cyber security threats to the US, President Obama said he had "told Russia to stop [the attacks] and indicated there would be consequences."
"Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not to do this to us, because we can do stuff to you," he said, adding that Washington's response to Moscow's alleged interference is being done "in a thoughtful, methodical way."
"Some of it we do publicly, some of it we will do in a way that they know but not everybody will," Obama told the media, adding that "the message will be directly received by the Russians and not publicized."
"It's not like Putin is going around the world publicly saying, 'Look what we did, wasn't that clever' – he denies it," Obama said.
When meeting with Russia's President Putin in China in September, Obama said he confronted him directlyon the matter. The US leader told Moscow "to cut it out," and apparently since then Washington "didn't see further tampering with the election process."
By then, however, WikiLeaks had already published the DNC documents. In October they began publishing the emails of Clinton's campaign chair John Podesta, and the media "wrote about it every day," Obama said.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had a "disadvantage" in the presidential campaign because of how the US media covered her, Obama told journalists.
“I don’t think she was treated fairly during the election. I think the coverage of her and the issues was troubling,” he said, calling the leaks "an obsession" of the press.
"It's worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance... came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks," Obama told reporters, accusing the “divided, partisan, dysfunctional political process" for making the US vulnerable to "potential manipulations that were not particularly sophisticated."
"This was not some elaborate complicated espionage scheme," Obama said, once again accusing Moscow of having hacked into the Democratic party emails, both Clinton's and Podesta's, that contained "pretty routine stuff."
Though insisting Russia was responsible for making the DNC and Podesta documents public, Obama repeated several times that the actual election was not tampered with.
“My principal goal leading up to the election was making sure the election itself went off without a hitch, that it was not tarnished, and that it did not feed any sense in the public that somehow tampering had taken place with the actual process of voting. And we accomplished that,” Obama said.
“I can assure the public that there was not the kind of tampering with the voting process that was the concern,” he said later, answering another question. "The votes that were cast were counted, and counted appropriately.”
US cyber security faces a "constant challenge," the president said, adding that Washington has been warning other countries against cyberattacks. The US has been working on creating international norms in the field of cyber security, but along with defensive capabilities Washington also has "some offensive capabilities," he warned.
Attributing a cyber attack to a particular government can be difficult, and is “not always provable in court,” he cautioned.