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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 Alert@Rendon.com or +1-202-745-4900.
The United States expels Russian Diplomats
Obama 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
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States
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.”
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.”
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.”
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,”
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.”
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the expulsion of Russian diplomats
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
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.
Media: Associated Press
Byline: JOSH LEDERMAN AND TAMI ABDOLLAH
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.
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.
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
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.
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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