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Obama Issues Sanctions for Alleged Russian Hacking

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has expelled 35 Russian nationals and sanctioned five Russian entities and four individuals for an alleged cyber assault on Democratic political organizations during the 2016 presidential campaign, the White House announced Thursday.

“Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election,” Obama wrote in a statement. “These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.”

Obama noted that all Americans “should be alarmed by Russia’s actions” which were to “interfere with the U.S. election process.”

“These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” Obama said. “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.”

Obama issued an executive order, amending his April 2015 decree to expand authorization for a response to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine U.S. election processes and institutions.

Obama said that the State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and has ordered 35 Russian intelligence operatives to leave the U.S. within 72 hours.

"This harassment has involved arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner wrote in a statement. "In addition, the Russian government has impeded our diplomatic operations by, among other actions: forcing the closure of 28 American corners which hosted cultural programs and English-language teaching; blocking our efforts to begin the construction of a new, safer facility for our Consulate General in St. Petersburg; and rejecting requests to improve perimeter security at the current, outdated facility in St. Petersburg."

"Today’s actions send a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and will have consequences," Toner added.

Later Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are expected to release declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity to help network defenders in the U.S. and abroad identify, detect and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities, according to the president.

Obama warned that Thursday’s actions will not be the full extent of his administration’s response to Russia’s interference in the election, which several Democrats blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump.

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama promised. “In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior, and interfere with democratic governance.”

The president pledged that his administration will provide a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election, as well as “malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections.”

The announcement is not the culmination of the broad review of Russian hacking recently ordered by Obama. That review is ongoing, and the government is expected to release its findings before Obama leaves office next month.

The timing of Thursday's expected announcement is notable, with Obama's term coming to a close in 22 days. President-elect Trump has questioned the intelligence community's conclusions and has not said he firmly believes that Russia was behind the hacks.

On Wednesday, Trump spoke briefly to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. He was asked about U.S. intelligence efforts to determine whether there was Russian interference in the election. "They should do the best they can, figure it all out," he replied.

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