White House Scrambling To Punish Russian Hackers Before Trump Takes Over


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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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White House officials are scrambling to punish Russia for election interference in ways that the incoming Trump administration will find difficult to reverse.

This punishment won’t solely take the form of additional sanctions. According to officials, it could also include measures like covert cyber operations, The Washington Post reports.

Officials are attempting to modify an existing executive order from April 2015 that gave President Barack Obama authority to punish foreign hackers abroad by expanding it to cover attempts to influence domestic elections.

The National Security Council determined this fall that existing authority would not be enough on its own.

One possible way to strike back at the Russians would be to deem electoral systems as critical infrastructure. That would then restrict the administration to cases where Russians directly went after electoral systems, as opposed to running influence campaigns through social media.

“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,” an administration official told The Washington Post. “Those are two high bars.”

Whatever legal contraption officials design, the key goal is to make sure that the incoming Trump administration can’t easily undo any punishment.

“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,” a senior administration official told The Washington Post.

The existing order from 2015 permits the president to freeze assets in the U.S. owned by a foreign party who engaged in particular cyber attacks. Any commercial transactions with that individual would be prohibited, and that individual would no longer be allowed entry into the U.S.

There is still some confusion about Russia’s level of involvement in trying to influence the 2016 presidential election, which is why Congress has declared that it’s planning numerous investigations. Republicans and Democrats differ significantly on how they intend to go about these investigations.

At least as far as the hack of the Democratic National Committee is concerned, while there’s good evidence to indicate how the attack was accomplished, less certain, despite claims to the contrary, is who the actors behind the attack were.

CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, declared that Russia was responsible for the phishing attacks used to gain access to DNC email accounts. CrowdStrike was contracted by the DNC.

The U.S. intelligence community has attributed the hacks to Russia, but is refusing to release any evidence.

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