For­mu­lat­ing cy­ber­sanc­tions

Elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence not cov­ered in 2015 ex­ec­u­tive or­der on hack­ing

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Ellen Nakashima

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is close to an­nounc­ing a se­ries of mea­sures to pun­ish Rus­sia for its in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, in­clud­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions and diplo­matic cen­sure, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is still fi­nal­iz­ing the de­tails, which are also ex­pected to in­clude covert ac­tion that likely will in­volve cy­ber op­er­a­tions, the of­fi­cials said. An an­nounce­ment on the pub­lic el­e­ments of the re­sponse could come as early as this week.

The sanc­tions part of the pack­age cul­mi­nates weeks of de­bate in the White House about how to re­vise an ex­ec­u­tive or­der from last year meant to give the pres­i­dent au­thor­ity to re­spond to cy­ber­at­tacks from over­seas but which orig­i­nally did not cover ef­forts to in­flu­ence the elec­toral sys­tem.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion rolled out the or­der in April 2015 to great fan­fare as a way to pun­ish and de­ter for­eign hack­ers who harm the United States’ eco­nomic or na­tional se­cu­rity.

The threat to use it last year helped wring a pledge out of China’s pres­i­dent that his coun­try would cease hack­ing U.S. com­pa­nies’ se­crets to ben­e­fit Chi­nese firms.

But of­fi­cials this fall con­cluded that it could not, as writ­ten, be used to pun­ish the most sig­nif­i­cant cy­ber-provo­ca­tion in re­cent mem­ory against the United States — Rus­sia’s hack­ing of Demo­cratic or­ga­ni­za­tions, tar­get­ing of state elec­tion sys­tems and med­dling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The White House is work­ing to adapt the au­thor­ity to pun­ish the Rus­sians, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama last week pledged there would be a re­sponse to Moscow’s in­ter­fer­ence in the U.S. elec­tions.

One clear way to use the or­der against the Rus­sian sus­pects would be to de­clare the elec­toral sys­tems part of the “crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture” of the United States. Or it could be amended to clearly ap­ply to the new threat — in­ter­fer­ing in elec­tions.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials also would like to make it dif­fi­cult for Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to roll back any ac­tion they take.

“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,” said one se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, who like oth­ers spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions.

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der cre­ated sanc­tions as a tool to hold ac­count­able peo­ple who harm com­puter sys­tems re­lated to crit­i­cal func­tions such as elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion or trans­porta­tion or who gain a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage through cy­bertheft of com­mer­cial se­crets.

The or­der al­lows the govern­ment to freeze the as­sets in the United States of peo­ple over­seas who have en­gaged in cy­ber acts that have threat­ened U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity or fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity. The sanc­tions would also block com­mer­cial trans­ac­tions with the des­ig­nated in­di­vid­u­als and bar their en­try into the coun­try.

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