US Sanctions Russia for Cyber Activities Against US Election, Infrastructure

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on Thursday urged the US to aggressively respond to a range of Russian threats. Screenshot from HASC video.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said Russia is threatening the interests of the United States and its allies with “increasing belligerence,” and the US must respond to “these challenges with clear-eyed objectivity and not allow domestic politics to color our view or affect our actions.”

Thornberry said the United States is being threatened by a range of Russian capabilities and it must respond “in the military sphere” to all of these threats, which not only include multiple cyber attacks, but also “renewed nuclear and territorial ambitions.”

His comments came during a full committee hearing on Thursday on the security challenges in Europe and inter-state competition with Russia, which took place just after the US Treasury Department announced it was imposing sanctions against five Russian entities and 19 individuals for “malign Russian cyber activities,” including attempted interference in US elections, destructive cyber attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.”

Mnuchin said the Treasury intends to impose additional sanctions that are meant to sever access to the US financial system.

Since March 2016, “Russian government cyber actors have also targeted US government entities and multiple US critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors,” stated the Treasury release, which cited recent “technical alerts” from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

The US also condemned Russia for using a “military-grade nerve agent”—the first use of such a nerve agent in Europe since World War II—in an attempt to assassinate two citizens of the United Kingdom, according to a White House statement.

“NATO has said it stands by our ally, the UK, and believes it’s highly likely Russia was complicit in this attack,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, told members of HASC on Thursday. “That statement was made as an alliance of 29. We also believe it’s highly likely Russia was complicit with chemical weapons use and we stand by our ally and support their efforts to fully determine who the responsible parties were and hold them accountable.”

HASC ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said, “Russia is not all together that powerful,” but willing to “push as far as they can push if they think there is no cost” for doing so. He echoed his Republican colleague in urging the US to “be as aggressive as possible implementing sanctions.”