The Rendon Group Snapshot – 02 January 2017

by TRG Alerts Admin on January 9, 2017

The Rendon Group


Each week The Rendon Group’s media analysts will focus on a different continent and a different issue affecting that continent. As always, we remain available to answer any questions you may have and to provide additional information upon request. For more information regarding The Rendon Group’s products and services, please contact us at or +1-202-745-4900.


The United States expels Russian Diplomats

obamaputinObama and Putin at Lough Erne in Enniskillen, 2013 (AP)


This week’s snapshot focuses on the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States in response to alleged cyber attacks during the U.S. election. American intelligence agencies concluded with high confidence that the Russian government covertly interfered in the presidential election to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald Trump. Consequently, President Barack Obama promised to respond to the cyber attacks. Likely further emboldened by exclusion from peace agreement talks in Syria, the United States, on 28DEC16, ejected 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposed sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services. It was claimed that the expulsion was in response to the harassment of American diplomats in Russia. In addition, the State Department announced the closing of two waterfront estates said to be used for Russian spying activities. The U.S. government concluded that the G.R.U., a powerful Russian military intelligence unit, ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations, with the approval of the Kremlin, and ultimately enabled the publication of the emails. It was initially reported that Russia promised to retaliate against Washington, but Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would not expel US diplomats in response to U.S. sanctions. President-elect, Donald Trump, praised Vladimir Putin for not responding immediately with retaliation. Subsequently, it was revealed that a code associated with a Russian hacking operation had been detected within the system ofa Vermont utility, underscoring the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. Following the revelation, several states around the country asked cybersecurity experts to re-examine state and utility networks.


News summary of events during the week of 26DEC16 – 02JAN17


  • 28DEC: U.S. senator, Lindsey Graham, said Russia and President Vladimir Putin could expect sanctions after cyberattacks. (Reuters)
  • 28DEC: Russia promised retaliation against Washington in the event of new economic sanctions. (Reuters)
  • 29DEC: The Obama administration ejected 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposed sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services, including four top officers of the military intelligence unit the White House believes ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations. (New York Times)
  • 29DEC: Russia’s foreign ministry denied reports it was retaliating against new US sanctions leveled against the Kremlin. (Business Insider)
  • 30DEC: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Moscow will not expel American diplomats in response to US sanctions against Russia. (CNN)
  • 30DEC: Donald Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for not quickly hitting back at Washington for the punitive measures imposed over alleged interference in the election. (AFP)
  • 30DEC: Sen. John McCain scheduled a hearing next week on foreign cyber threats, where accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election will likely feature prominently. (CNBC)
  • 30DEC: U.S. officials said Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont. (Washington Post)
  • 31DEC: The head of the Russian Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee said Vladimir Putin’s decision not to expel US diplomats from Russia demonstrated a determination to build constructive relations with US. (TASS)
  • 31DEC: Several states around the country on Saturday asked cybersecurity experts to re-examine state and utility networks. (AP)
  • 01JAN: A plane carrying 35 Russian diplomats, expelled from the United States over Moscow’s alleged interference in the presidential election, took off from Washington on Sunday, Russian news agencies reported. (AFP)
  • 01JAN: Incoming White House press secretary to President-elect Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia by ordering the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies. (Reuters)
  • 02JAN: Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer is defending cryptic comments by President-elect Donald Trump that he knows “things that other people don’t know” when it comes to allegations of Russian hacking. (AP)


Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States


  • @DavidCornDC David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief, Mother Jones, Analyst, MSNBC
  • @ZekeJMillerZeke Miller, Political Reporter, Time Magazine
  • @kylegriffin1Kyle Griffin, Producer, MSNBC’s The Last Word
  • @jonathanchaitJonathan Chait, Writer, New York Magazine
  • @GideonResnickGideon Resnick, Reporter, The Daily Beast


Sample of Third Party Validators regarding America’s response to Russia’s interference during the presidential elections


Mark Galeotti, Senior Researcher, Institute of International Relations Prague

“Ukraine is the perfect sandpit for this as it is complex enough to test it out but it’s not NATO and can’t really fight back. Russia is ahead of the curve in political warfare, and we are scrambling to come to terms with it.”

  • “Behind Russia’s Cyber Strategy,” WSJ, 30DEC16


Zachary Goldman, Sanctions and National Security Expert, New York University School of Law

“Fundamentally, it was a low-tech, high-impact event. And the 2015 executive order was not crafted to target hackers who steal emails and dump them on WikiLeaks or seek to disrupt an election. It was an authority published at a particular time to address a particular set of problems.” So officials need to engage in some legal acrobatics to fit the DNC hack into an existing authority, or they need to write a new authority.”

  • “Obama administration is close to announcing measures to punish Russia for election interference,” WAPO, 27DEC16


Ari Schwartz, Former Senior Director for Cybersecurity, National Security Council

“When the president came into office, he didn’t have that many tools out there to use as a response” to malicious cyber-acts. “Having the sanctions tool is really a big one. It can make a very strong statement in a way that is less drastic than bombing a country and more impactful than sending out a cable from the State Department.”

  • “Obama administration is close to announcing measures to punish Russia for election interference,” WAPO, 27DEC16


Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow

“He thinks he will have the ability with Trump to pursue important objectives defined by Putin, and why mess that up?” “For Putin the objectives are pretty clear: the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions, getting Trump to agree with what he’s doing in Syria and his dream of dreams—the recognition of Crimea,”

  • “Putin Declines to Retaliate in Move Praised by Trump”, WSJ, 30DEC16


Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group

“We are in a whiplash moment right now, and I think it is unprecedented in several respects,”  “The most important one is that the baton is about to be passed from an administration with a very hard line on Russia to one that is very much more sympathetic.”

  • “With Trump, Russia Goes From Thursday’s Foe of U.S. to Friday’s Friend”, NYT, 31DEC16


Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the expulsion of Russian diplomats


  1. US set to move against Russia over vote meddling: reports


Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Byline: N/A

Date: 28 December 2016


Washington, Dec 28, 2016 (AFP) – President Barack Obama’s administration is poised to announce a series of retaliatory measures against Russia over its cyber-meddling in the US election, reports said Wednesday.


Obama has all but accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering an audacious cyber hack that many Democrats believe damaged Hillary Clinton’s chances in November’s closely fought election with Republican foe Donald Trump.


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  1. US Punishes Russia for Hacking Presidential Campaign


Media: Associated Press


Date: 29 December 2016


The United States struck back Thursday at Russia for hacking the U.S. presidential campaign with a sweeping set of punishments targeting Russia’s spy agencies and diplomats. The U.S. said Russia must bear costs for its actions, but Moscow called the Obama administration “losers” and threatened retaliation.


A month after an election the U.S. says Russia tried to sway for Donald Trump, President Barack Obama sanctioned the GRU and FSB, leading Russian intelligence agencies the U.S. said were involved. Those sanctions could easily be pulled back by Trump, who has insisted that Obama and Democrats are merely attempting to delegitimize his election.


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  1. Russian hackers penetrated Vermont electric utility


Media: Reuters

Byline: N/A

Date: 30 December 2016


A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont electric utility, The Washington Post reported on Friday, citing unnamed U.S. officials.


The Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, the officials told the Post, but penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.


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  1. Putin ‘reserves right’ to retaliate, will look at Trump’s policies


Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Byline: N/A

Date: 30 December 2016


Moscow, Dec 30, 2016 (AFP) – Russia reserves the “right” to retaliate to US sanctions over hacking, but will watch the policy moves of Donald Trump who enters the White House next month, President Vladimir Putin said Friday.


“Reserving the right to retaliatory measures, we… will be planning our next steps in restoring the US-Russian relations based on the policies pursued by the administration of president Donald Trump,” Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin.


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  1. Trump aide says U.S. sanctions on Russia may be disproportionate


Media: Reuters

Byline: David Shepardson and Lisa Lambert

Date: 01 January 2017


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top aide to President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview aired on Sunday that the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia by ordering the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies.


Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump will be asking questions of U.S. intelligence agencies after President Barack Obama imposed sanctions last week on two Russian intelligence agencies over what he said was their involvement in hacking political groups in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Obama also ordered Russia to vacate two U.S. facilities as part of the tough sanctions on Russia.


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