As the Obama administration counts down the clock of its final weeks, it is expected to announce that economic sanctions will be put in place against Russia in response to Russian efforts to interfere in the presidential election, the Washington Post is reporting.
A public diplomatic censure may be announced this week along with the actions against Russia, reported the Post, citing unnamed officials.
“I think sanctions are warranted here,” said George Kurtz, co-founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike.
“Does the U.S. have capabilities to take action? They certainly do,” Kurtz said. “It will be up to the current and future administrations to decide what they are going to do.”
The Post reported that the Obama White House is seeking to use, as its basis for action, a 2015 law giving the president authority to respond to cyber attacks from overseas. That law did not cover any efforts to influence elections.
To use existing authority, either the Obama administration will have to add elections to America’s “critical infrastructure,” which is covered under the authority, or add elections to the existing rule.
American intelligence agencies have said they believe Russian hackers penetrated the Democratic National Committee. WikiLeaks, which published leaked emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, claimed it did not get its information from Russia.
President-elect Donald Trump has said he does not believe Russia sought to promote his candidacy by hacking into political groups.
Because Trump’s views differ from the Obama administration, efforts to punish Russia are being designed so that once Trump takes office Jan. 20, any actions taken cannot be easily reversed.
“Part of the goal here is to make sure that we have as much of the record public or communicated to Congress in a form that would be difficult to simply walk back,” the Post quoted one senior administration official as saying.
The order the administration is focused upon allows it to freeze the U.S. assets of anyone using cyber tools to threaten U.S. national security or financial stability. The sanctions also block commercial transactions with those targeted.
“Fundamentally, it was a low-tech, high-impact event” that does not fully fit the parameters of the 2015 order, said Zachary Goldman, a sanctions and national security expert at New York University School of Law.
Obama’s team must either “engage in some legal acrobatics to fit the DNC hack into an existing authority, or they need to write a new authority,” Goldman said.
The Post wrote that the National Security Council has said the existing authority does not cover what was done to the DNC.
“You would (a) have to be able to say that the actual electoral infrastructure, such as state databases, was critical infrastructure, and (b) that what the Russians did actually harmed it,” the Post quoted the administration official as telling it. “Those are two high bars.”
There has been no evidence to date that any voting systems were penetrated by Russian hackers.
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