Obama rap­ping Putin, says US could strike back on cy­ber

‘This hap­pened at the high­est lev­els of Rus­sian govern­ment’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has put Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin on no­tice that the US could use of­fen­sive cy­ber mus­cle to re­tal­i­ate for in­ter­fer­ence in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, his strong­est sug­ges­tion to date that Putin had been well aware of cam­paign email hack­ing. “What­ever they do to us, we can po­ten­tially do to them,” Obama de­clared Fri­day.

Caught in the mid­dle of a post-elec­tion con­tro­versy over Rus­sian hack­ing, Obama strongly de­fended his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse, in­clud­ing his re­fusal be­fore the vot­ing to as­cribe mo­tive to the med­dling or to dis­cuss now what ef­fect it might have had. U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments say it was aimed at least in part on help­ing Don­ald Trump de­feat Hil­lary Clin­ton, and some Democrats say it may well have tipped the re­sults in his fa­vor.

Though Obama avoided crit­i­ciz­ing Pres­i­den­t­elect Trump by name, he called out Repub­li­cans who he said fail even now to ac­knowl­edge the se­ri­ous­ness of Rus­sia’s in­volve­ment in US elec­tions. Obama ex­pressed be­wil­der­ment about GOP law­mak­ers and vot­ers who now say they ap­prove of Putin, and he said un­less that changes the US will be vul­ner­a­ble to for­eign in­flu­ence. “Ron­ald Rea­gan would roll over in his grave,” Obama said as he closed out the year at a White House news con­fer­ence. Af­ter­ward he left for the fam­ily’s an­nual va­ca­tion in Hawaii.

‘Cut it out’

Obama de­clined to state ex­plic­itly that Putin knew about the email hack­ing that roiled the pres­i­den­tial race, but he left no doubt who he felt was re­spon­si­ble. He said that “not much hap­pens in Rus­sia with­out Vladimir Putin” and re­peated a US in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment “that this hap­pened at the high­est lev­els of the Rus­sian govern­ment.”

Obama said he con­fronted Putin in Septem­ber, telling the former KGB chief to “cut it out.” That was one month be­fore the US pub­licly pointed the fin­ger at Rus­sia. Sug­gest­ing his di­rec­tive to Putin had been ef­fec­tive, Obama said the US “did not see fur­ther tam­per­ing” af­ter that date. The pres­i­dent has promised a “pro­por­tional” yet un­spec­i­fied re­sponse to the hack­ing of the Demo­cratic Party and Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man. Emails stolen dur­ing the cam­paign were re­leased in the fi­nal weeks by Wik­iLeaks. On Fri­day, CIA Di­rec­tor John Bren­nan said in a mes­sage to em­ploy­ees that the FBI agrees with the CIA’s con­clu­sion that Rus­sia’s goal was to help Trump win.

Trump has dis­missed the CIA’s as­sess­ment and talk about Rus­sian hack­ing as “ridicu­lous,” while ar­gu­ing both Democrats and the CIA are try­ing to un­der­mine the le­git­i­macy of his vic­tory. He made no men­tion of the hack­ing - or of Obama - dur­ing the lat­est stop on his “thank you” tour in Or­lando, Florida, Fri­day night. Clin­ton has even more di­rectly cited Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence. She said Thurs­day night, “Vladimir Putin him­self di­rected the covert cy­ber­at­tacks against our elec­toral sys­tem, against our democ­racy, ap­par­ently be­cause he has a per­sonal beef against me.”

‘Ob­ses­sion’

Obama said he’d leave it to po­lit­i­cal pun­dits to de­bate the ques­tion of whether the hack­ing swayed the elec­tion out­come. He did, how­ever, chide the me­dia for that he called an “ob­ses­sion” with the emails that were made pub­lic dur­ing the elec­tion’s fi­nal stretch. Ac­cu­sa­tions of Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence have height­ened the al­ready tense re­la­tion­ship be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow. Sep­a­rately, Obama has blamed Rus­sia for stand­ing in the way of in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to stop the civil war in Syria, where govern­ment forces have beaten back rebels in Aleppo.

Obama said he feels “re­spon­si­ble” for some of the suf­fer­ing in Syria, but he de­fended his de­ci­sion to avoid sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary ac­tion there. He said that while mil­i­tary op­tions short of in­va­sion were tempt­ing, it was “im­pos­si­ble to do this on the cheap.” Still, he pinned the bulk of the blame on Rus­sia, as well as Iran, for prop­ping up Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. “This blood and these atroc­i­ties are on their hands,” he said.

Mean­while, the pres­i­dent re­jected any no­tion that the dis­pute over hack­ing was dis­rupt­ing ef­forts to smoothly trans­fer power to Trump. De­spite fiercely crit­i­ciz­ing each other dur­ing the elec­tion, Obama and Trump have spo­ken mul­ti­ple times since the cam­paign ended. “He has lis­tened,” Obama said of Trump. “I can’t say he will end up im­ple­ment­ing. But the con­ver­sa­tions them­selves have been cor­dial.”

WASH­ING­TON: Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, Fri­day, Dec 16, 2016, in the brief­ing room of the White House. — AP

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