President Obama issued an executive order on Thursday sanctioning Russian intelligence officials, individuals, and organizations based on as-yet unproven accusations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election by hacking the emails of Democratic Party officials.
This action comes as the Obama administration is heightening tensions between the United States and Russia on several fronts.
The new executive order signed by Obama offers no new proof that the Russian government was involved in what it calls “tampering with, altering, or causing a misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”
In place of proof of these serious claims, the Obama White House said it will “be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections.”
After former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suffered a stunning loss in November’s election, many high-profile Democrats accused Russian “hacking” of interfering with the election. President Obama has explicitly stated there is no evidence of “vote tampering.” That leaves one possible avenue by which Russian “hackers” could have influenced the vote: the Wikileaks release of email archives from several Democratic National Committee (DNC) employees and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
The New York Times reported that anonymous CIA employees believe Russia hacked both the DNC and RNC but selectively leaked emails from the DNC to Wikileaks to turn public opinion against then-candidate Clinton. Wikileaks has repeatedly denied that Russia was the source of these published emails, and no one has produced evidence to confirm the anonymous CIA claims.
The House Intelligence committee has still not been briefed on the specific proof, if any, that links Russian espionage agencies to the hacking of Democrat’s official’s emails, inside sources with knowledge of the matter told Breitbart News last week. The committee was told they had to wait for the report to Congress to be issued to get the briefing, the source said.
Reuters reported on December 16th that Representative Ron Johnson said, “It is disappointing that the CIA would provide information on this issue to the Washington Post and NBC but will not provide information to elected members of Congress” after Johnson was denied a briefing by the CIA.
Obama said the sanctions would impact “The GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.”
“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.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman to Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that Russia was responsible for the alleged hacking.
“We think that such steps by a U.S. administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow. He denounced Obama’s announcement as “unpredictable” and “aggressive foreign policy.”
Executive Order Comes Amidst Obama Saber Rattling
The new executive order comes in the face of other anti-Russian moves by the Obama administration just prior to Donald Trump taking the Presidential oath of office in the next few weeks.
On December 16th, NBC News reported that the United States was sending tanks to Europe to “send a message” to Russia:
Three years after the last American tank left Europe, they are being brought back “as part of our commitment to deterrence,” Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges told NBC News.
Hodges, who is commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, welcomed a batch of tracked and wheeled support vehicles to a depot in the Netherlands on Thursday.
NBC also reported about American boots on the ground just prior to Trump taking office, saying that in January, “The U.S. Army in Europe is due to deploy a total of 4,000 American troops and 2,000 military vehicles on a rotational basis to Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic nations.”
In another provocative move, Reuters reported a barrage of claims and counter-claims by U.S. and Russian officials over a new provision in the defense authorization bill signed into law by President Obama last week that the Russians claim would allow the U.S. to supply anti-aircraft weapons to the so-called rebels in Syria.
As Reuters reported, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the move by Obama a “hostile act” and said in a statement:
Washington has placed its bets on supplying military aid to anti-government forces who don’t differ that much from blood thirsty head choppers. Now, the possibility of supplying them with weapons, including mobile anti-aircraft complexes, has been written into this new bill.
U.S. policy has been to not officially supply the Syrian rebels with man-portable air defense system, or MANPADS. Although the official policy of the United States is to not supply anti-aircraft weapons to the Libyan opposition, there has been a great deal of reporting that the Obama administration was, in fact, supplying the weapons through the Central Intelligence Agency.
In 2013, Michael B Kelley and Geoffrey Ingersoll reported that there was a “September shipment of SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles (i.e. MANPADS) and rocket-propelled grenades from Benghazi to Syria through southern Turkey” and said it may have been connected to slain Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the September 11, 2012 attack by jihadists on the Embassy House and CIA annex.
The reporters connected the dots by saying:
That 400-ton shipment — “the largest consignment of weapons” yet for Syrian rebels — was organized by Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was the newly-appointed head of the Tripoli Military Council.
In March 2011 Stevens, the official U.S. liaison to the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan rebels, worked directly with Belhadj while he headed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
President-Elect Trump has repeatedly said he is open to working with Russia to defeat jihadist terrorists in Syria.