The Response to Russia’s Attempt to Influence the U.S. Election

Almost two weeks ago the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement about the hacking and leaking of private emails.

The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

A few days later, the White House said that the president would respond.

“There are a range of responses that are available to the president and he will consider a response that is proportional,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One. “It is certainly possible that the president can choose response options that we never announce,” he said.

It is clear why an administration wouldn’t want to broadcast their plans or intentions in an area that is this sensitive. But we’ve seen a few actions lately that indicate they are not going to stand idly by while Russia attempts to influence our elections.

We have no way of knowing whether the United States had anything to do with the fact that National Westminster Bank shut down their accounts with the Kremlin’s TV network Russia Today. But here is what the New York Times reported:

Jonathan Eyal, assistant director of Russian and European security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said that the bank’s action might have reflected concerns over RT’s links to the Kremlin. “Certain questions are being raised over the corporation and its sources of funding,” he said, “and the bank must have been aware that this is not a happy commercial transaction.”

Mr. Eyal noted that some financial institutions had recently faced large fines for handling questionable accounts, and he speculated that NatWest may “prefer the controversy of closing the bank account over dealing with a business that may have tainted money.”

Beyond that, he said, the bank may be following a lead, either directly or indirectly, from the United States, which has been weighing its response to Russian hacking of American computers and servers. The bank’s action could be a kind of “veiled sanction,” he said, aimed at “trying to convey to the propaganda sources that they are increasingly finding their life difficult in the West.”

Yesterday we learned that Ecuador – the country that is providing asylum to Julian Assange at their British embassy – temporarily restricted his internet access. They issued this statement clearly identifying his role in attempting to disrupt the U.S. election as their reason for doing so:

Finally, this morning we learned of another action in which the U.S. was clearly involved.

Police in the Czech Republic have detained an unidentified Russian man suspected of participating in cyberattacks on the United States, according to a statement published Wednesday on the police website.

The statement said the Russian was arrested in cooperation with the FBI within 12 hours, thanks to a rapid exchange of information with American officials. The arrest took place on Oct. 5. It was not immediately clear whey the Czech authorities waited so long to publicize it.

According to the statement, the Czech judiciary was considering extraditing the man to the U.S., but it was not immediately clear Wednesday morning whether the U.S. government had made a formal extradition request.

I haven’t seen any reports about whether or not this “unidentified Russian” is actually Guccifer 2.0 – but it is very possible that he is.

There are likely other actions being taken that, as Earnest said, will never be announced. But we see that Russia’s TV station, Wikileaks and an actual hacker have already been targeted. When it comes to the sanctity of U.S. elections, Obama’s message to Putin is clearly, “Don’t come at me, bro!”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.