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29 Dec, 2016 19:03

US issues more sanctions on Russia over alleged election hacking

President Barack Obama has issued new sanctions against Russian people and companies that the US government has accused of hacking American institutions ahead of the election.

The Treasury Department announced the new sanctions against five entities and four individuals on Thursday afternoon.

In the executive order, which Obama signed Wednesday night, the president said he was taking “additional steps to deal with the national emergency with respect to significant malicious cyber-enabled activities… in view of the increasing use of such activities to undermine democratic processes or institutions.”

The five institutions are: the Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, an autonomous noncommercial organization; Federal Security Service (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti or FSB); Main Intelligence Directorate (Glavnoe Razedyvatelnoe Upravelenie or GRU); Special Technology Center; and Zorsecurity, formerly known as Esage Lab or Tsor Security.

The four people are Vladimir Stepanovich Alexseyev, the first deputy chief of the GRU; Sergey Gizunov, the deputy chief of the GRU; Igor Korobov, chief of the GRU; and Igor Kostyukov, the first deputy chief of the GRU. The Treasury Department also added two additional people, Aleksey Alekseyevich Belan and Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, to the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) "for malicious cyber-enabled activities."

The US has also expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives, giving them 72 hours to leave the country, in response to harassment of US diplomats in Moscow, the White House announced. Although the cases are not related, the administration decided to serve them as "package" a senior official said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” the president warned, adding that the US still has a number of tools in its arsenal that it can use “at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized.”

The administration will also provide a report to Congress “about Russia’s efforts to interfere with our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections,” Obama said.

Ahead of that report, the FBI and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center released a joint document on Thursday that outlined the "technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence services" to interfere in the election. That 13-page joint analysis report is called "Grizzly Steppe."

President-elect Donald Trump spoke to journalists about reports of the impending sanctions outside his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Wednesday.

“I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly,” Trump said. “The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind, the security we need.”

Trump could rescind Obama’s executive order once he is sworn into office on January 20, a move that one senior US official described as inadvisable, Reuters reported.

The president-elect released a statement Thursday evening reiterating that the country needs to “move on to bigger and better things.”

“Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated about the facts of this situation,” Trump continued.

In mid-December, the FBI announced it agreed with the conclusion made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the CIA that Russia interfered with the 2016 US presidential elections partly in an effort to help Donald Trump win the White House. The US spy agency has reportedly identified those connected to Russia who provided WikiLeaks with hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee and who took other steps aimed at slashing Democrat Hillary Clinton’s chances to win.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said Thursday. “These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year.”

“Such activities have consequences,” the president added.

Russia has repeatedly denied any accusations that it interfered with the elections in any way, as has WikiLeaks.