Election interference not covered in 2015 executive order on hacking
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.