President Trump Sanctions Russia and Russian Officials
Thursday, The Trump Administration accused Russia of a concerted operation to hack the US energy grid and other critical infrastructure including aviation, and separately imposed sanctions on a number of Russian officials for alleged high-tech interference in the 2016 US Presidential election.
The moves were the strongest to date against Russia by the Administration.
US national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies had determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyberattacks beginning a year ago that have infiltrated the energy, nuclear, commercial, water, aviation and manufacturing sectors.
The officials said the Russian hackers chose their targets, obtained access to computer systems, conducted “network reconnaissance” of systems that control Key elements of the US economy and then attempted to cover their tracks by deleting evidence of their infiltration.
Homeland Security’s alert said the hacking effort was a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors who targeted small commercial facilities’ networks” to gain access and plant malware, which was then used to monitor activity as well as to move laterally into other, larger industrial control systems.
It also said the hackers exploited open-source material from companies’ public websites to mine seemingly innocuous information that was later used to infiltrate networks. In one case, the alert said, hackers downloaded a small image from a company’s human resources page that when blown up was actually “a high-resolution photo that displayed control systems equipment models and status information in the background.”
The accusations and accompanying Russian sanctions were the most severe yet by the Trump administration in connection with hacking and other efforts to sow discord in America’s democracy and compromise its infrastructure.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was greeting the sanctions calmly, but he warned that Russia had already started “to prepare a response.”
He suggested The Trump Administration had timed the sanctions to come ahead of this weekend’s Presidential election in Russia, in which President Vladimir Putin is expected to win an overwhelming victory.
“It is tied to US internal disorder, tied of course to our electoral calendar,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the Russian state news agency Tass.
The list of Russians now under U.S. sanctions includes the 13 indicted last month by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia-related investigation into alleged election interference.
The sanctions are the first use of the new powers that Congress passed last year to punish Moscow for meddling in an election that President Trump won over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. He said others would face punishment in the future under the new sanctions law “to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities.”
Also sanctioned were five Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, which is accused of orchestrating a mass online disinformation campaign to affect the presidential election result.
The US Treasury Department announced the sanctions amid withering criticism accusing Trump and his administration of failing to use its congressionally mandated authority to punish Russia. The sanction targets include officials working for the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.
Thursday’s action freezes any assets the individuals and entities may have in the United States and bars Americans from doing business with them.
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