(NBC News) — The Obama administration struck back at Russia on Thursday, imposing sanctions against its intelligence apparatus and expelling 35 diplomats in retaliation for the alleged orchestration of hacking attacks designed to interfere in the presidential election.
The sweeping actions outlined by the White House three weeks before the new administration takes office include:
- Shutting down two compounds, one in Maryland and one in New York, “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.”
- Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services GRU and FSB, and four high-ranking officers of the GRU. The sanctions are also aimed at two suspected hackers, including one wanted by the FBI in two other cases, and three companies that allegedly provided support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
- Releasing technical information about Russian cyber activity, “to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”
“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,” President Obama said in a statement.
“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions.”
In his statement, Obama said the U.S. had declared 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” persona non grata. The State Department said the 35 are diplomats “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status” and accused Russia of harassing U.S. diplomats overseas.
As of noon on Friday, the U.S. also will bar Russian access to two Moscow-owned “recreational compounds,” the White House said. No further detail was provided, but since 1972, the Russians have owned a historic estate overlooking the Chester River in eastern Maryland. They also own a recreation facility in Glen Cove on New York’s Long Island.
The White House said the actions will go beyond those announced Thursday.
“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 said in his statement.
Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the attacks on Democratic Party organizations and figures. After the announcement from Washington, Russian foreign ministry official Konstantin Dolgov called the sanctions “futile” and “counterproductive,” according to the Interfax news agency.
Konstantin Kosachev, a Russian political leader, blasted the measures.
“The outgoing administration has no grounds, neither political nor moral rights for such harsh and destructive steps towards the bilateral relations with Russia,” he was quoted as saying on Interfax. “I am sorry for the harsh wording but I don’t have other words for it. This not just an agony of the ‘lame ducks,’ but of the ‘political corpses.'”
As NBC News first reported two weeks ago, U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the alleged hacking campaign, and the CIA concluded that one of the goals was to help elect Donald Trump by leaking emails that were embarrassing to Democrats.
Publicly, President Obama has blamed “the highest level” of the Russian government for the hacks, noting that “not much happens in Russia” without Putin giving the green light.
Trump has expressed doubt as to whether Russia tried to meddle in the election. Asked on Wednesday about possible sanctions against Russia in the wake of the cyber-attacks, the president-elect said, “I think we ought to get on with our lives.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said this week that there is broad support in the Senate for sanctions against Russia and even the Russian president.
“I predict there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual,” Graham told reporters in Riga, Latvia.
After the announcement, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Obama administration’s response was “overdue” but “an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia.”
The economic sanctions against the Russian agencies, companies and individuals were contained in an executive order signed by Obama.
They include two alleged hackers, Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, aka “Lucky12345,” and Aleksey Belan, aka “Mrmagister.” Bogachev was already wanted by the FBI in two other cases, according to court documents and a senior U.S. official.
He was indicted in a 2014 case in Pennsylvania in connection with a “phishing” scheme to steal money through electronic fund transfers from victims’ bank accounts, and he was charged in a 2014 Nebraska case with trying to defraud 12 banks.
The named Russians who hold positions in the GRU are: Chief Igor Korobov, First Deputy Chief Vladimir Alexseyev, First Deputy Chief Igor Kostyukov, and Deputy Chief Sergey Gizunov.
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