U.S. retaliation meant to expose, dissuade increasing Russian aggression

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U.S. President Barack Obama participates in his last news conference of the year at the White House before leaving for his annual Hawaiian Christmas holiday in Washington, U.S., December 16, 2016.     REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  - RTX2VEAG

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now: the administration’s imposition of sanctions against Russia for trying to influence the vote during the presidential election.

I spoke earlier today with Lisa Monaco, the assistant to President Obama for homeland security and counterterrorism.

I began our conversation asking her about the impact of these new sanctions.

LISA MONACO, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism: So, the impact is to make clear that we are imposing consequences for Russian aggression and their interference, their attempts to interfere in our political process.

Specifically, the impact is for the individuals who have been sanctioned. It imposes a travel ban and inhibits anybody from doing and bars anybody from conducting financial transactions with them.

Importantly, also, what we often see is the international financial system and European banks and others from — who will take steps to follow our lead when we take these types of actions, so it can have a ripple effect and impose some real consequences.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, considering that these are the actions that you have decided to publicize, are these enough of a proportionate response to Russian meddling in the U.S. election?

LISA MONACO: Well, look, I think we should always be asking the question, are we hitting the right balance?

And we have decided to take these actions quite deliberately, and we have done so with precision, consistent with what’s going to be in our national interest and consistent with what’s going to protect our national security.

What I think you really should be very clear about is the actions taken today are done in response to a range of Russian aggressive behavior, both harassment and mistreatment of our personnel in Moscow, and, of course, the accomplishes cyber-activities against our — and efforts to interfere in our election process.

But these actions today follow very clear steps that we took earlier this year, the unprecedented disclosure and attribution to the highest levels of the Russian government. That was done in the statement from the DNI and from the secretary of homeland security back in October, making quite clear that we attribute the efforts to interfere in our election to the Russian government.

And these actions today also follow repeated both public and private warnings to the Russian government, including at the level of the president. And these actions also follow extensive outreach to state and local governments to shore up their cyber-defenses ahead of the election, because, of course, we were focused very keenly on maintaining the integrity of our election process.

And these are actions also follow our extensive briefing of Congress.

HARI SREENIVASAN: How much is based on concern that the incoming administration might not take this step?

LISA MONACO: So, these actions are taken deliberately, as I said, and with precision, and because we feel it is very important to make clear both to Russia and to any other actors that there will be consequences for violating norms of international behavior, both with respect to mistreatment of our diplomatic personnel and with respect to malicious cyber-activity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You mentioned in this long report that there were government organizations, critical infrastructure entities, think tanks, universities, political organizations and corporations that were all hacked. So besides the DNC, who else was hacked? Was the RNC or were the Republicans hacked as well?

LISA MONACO: So, I will leave that to the intelligence and law enforcement experts to detail in their reporting and in their investigation,.

But what you’re referencing there is the statement that we have made already, both from the intelligence community and elsewhere, that Russia has become an increasingly aggressive actor, and has engaged in a years-long campaign in influence operations and malicious cyber-activity across a range of public and private sector institutions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, since you have laid out that you know who is doing this, you know how they’re doing this, can you say with any certainty that either the hacks have stopped and that we have defended against them?

LISA MONACO: Well, what we did over the summer was to be very clear about what the threat is, and we did that by briefing both Congress and state and local officials, who, of course, own and operate and manage the electoral infrastructure in this country.

And we enabled them to take steps to defend themselves and provided them assistance in shoring up their defenses. So, we also were very clear, during the election season and on Election Day, that we were monitoring and making sure that there had not been an increase in that malicious activity, and we didn’t see an increase.

And, indeed, we are confident in the outcome that there wasn’t a malicious cyber-meddling, such that it affected the vote count or the voting operations.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, have all of these think tanks and universities and important infrastructure entities, have they all been alerted of the types of attacks and what they need to do? And are we safer now that this information is out there?

LISA MONACO: I think one of the steps we are taking today in the responses that we are issuing is, very importantly, to expose Russian activity.

And so one of the elements of the announcement that we made today is a report by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that provides technical information that will allow network defenders — that’s the owners and the operators of systems both in the public and private sector — to use that information to defend themselves.

So we’re exposing the Russian tactics, techniques and procedures that they use to infiltrate our systems, allowing network defenders to defend themselves, and, importantly, making it harder and more complicated for these malicious, bad actors to undertake these activities. We’re basically forcing them to reengineer their approaches.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Lisa Monaco from the White House, thanks so much.

LISA MONACO: Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This evening, in a statement, President-elect Trump said: “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”

But he said that, in the interests of the nation, he will meet with intelligence chiefs next week on the Russian hacking.

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