U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Russia Over Hacking and Election Interference

Here’s what you need to know: The Russian Central Bank headquarters in Moscow.Credit...Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The Biden administration on Thursday announced tough new sanctions on Russia and formally blamed the country’s premier intelligence agency for the sophisticated hacking operation that breached American government agencies and the nation’s largest companies. In the broadest effort yet to give more teeth to financial sanctions — which in the past have failed to deter Russian activity — the sanctions are aimed at choking off lending to the Russian government. In an executive order, Mr. Biden announced a series of additional steps — sanctions on 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and for carrying out the Russian government’s interference in the 2020 presidential election. Ten Russian diplomats, most of them identified as intelligence operatives, were expelled from the Russian Embassy in Washington. The country also joined with European partners to sanction eight people and entities associated with Russia’s occupation in Crimea. The announcement are the first time that the U.S. government had placed the blame for the “SolarWinds” hacking attack right at the Kremlin’s feet, saying it was masterminded by the SVR, one of the Russian intelligence agencies that was also involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee six years ago. The finding comports with the findings of private cybersecurity firms. Widely anticipated, the sanctions come amid a large Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014. They comprise what United States officials described as “seen and unseen” steps in response to the hacking, known as SolarWinds; to the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan; and to Russia’s longstanding effort to interfere in U.S. elections on behalf of Donald J. Trump. The key to the sanctions’ effectiveness, officials concede, will be whether European and Asian allies go along with that ban, and whether the United States decides to seek to extend the sanctions by threatening to cut off financial institutions around the world that deal in those Russian bonds, much as it has enforced “secondary sanctions” against those who do business with Iran. In a conversation with President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday, Mr. Biden warned that the United States was going to act to protect its interests, but also raised the prospect of a summit meeting between the two leaders. It is unclear whether Russia will now feel the need to retaliate for the sanctions and expulsions. American officials are already alarmed by a troop buildup along the border of Ukraine and Russian naval activity in the Black Sea. And inside American intelligence agencies there have been warnings that the SolarWinds attack — which enabled the SVR to place “back doors” in the computer networks — could give Russia a pathway for malicious cyber activity against government agencies and corporations. Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, has often said that sanctions alone will not be sufficient, and said there would be “seen and unseen” actions against Russia. Mr. Biden, before his inauguration, suggested the United States would respond in kind to the hack, which seemed to suggest some kind of clandestine cyber response. But it may take weeks or months for any evidence that activity to come to light, if it ever does. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, with the chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, in Kabul on Thursday.Credit...Sapidar Palace, via Associated Press Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, a day after President Biden announced his decision to withdraw all American troops from the country by Sept. 11. Mr. Blinken had a difficult task: reassuring Afghan leaders and the public that the United States would continue to support the country as it faced dire threats from the Taliban and other armed factions. Soon after his arrival, Mr. Blinken visited the U.S. Embassy and then met with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, as well as Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the Afghan government council that has led peace negotiations with the Taliban. “I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,” Mr. Blinken said before his meeting with Mr. Ghani began. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.” Mr. Ghani said the Afghan government respected the decision to withdraw and was “adjusting our priorities.” The Pentagon, American spy agencies and Western allies are refining plans to deploy a less visible but still potent force in the region to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist base. Drawing on the hard lessons from President Barack Obam

U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Russia Over Hacking and Election Interference
Here’s what you need to know: The Russian Central Bank headquarters in Moscow.Credit...Dimitar Dilkoff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The Biden administration on Thursday announced tough new sanctions on Russia and formally blamed the country’s premier intelligence agency for the sophisticated hacking operation that breached American government agencies and the nation’s largest companies. In the broadest effort yet to give more teeth to financial sanctions — which in the past have failed to deter Russian activity — the sanctions are aimed at choking off lending to the Russian government. In an executive order, Mr. Biden announced a series of additional steps — sanctions on 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and for carrying out the Russian government’s interference in the 2020 presidential election. Ten Russian diplomats, most of them identified as intelligence operatives, were expelled from the Russian Embassy in Washington. The country also joined with European partners to sanction eight people and entities associated with Russia’s occupation in Crimea. The announcement are the first time that the U.S. government had placed the blame for the “SolarWinds” hacking attack right at the Kremlin’s feet, saying it was masterminded by the SVR, one of the Russian intelligence agencies that was also involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee six years ago. The finding comports with the findings of private cybersecurity firms. Widely anticipated, the sanctions come amid a large Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014. They comprise what United States officials described as “seen and unseen” steps in response to the hacking, known as SolarWinds; to the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan; and to Russia’s longstanding effort to interfere in U.S. elections on behalf of Donald J. Trump. The key to the sanctions’ effectiveness, officials concede, will be whether European and Asian allies go along with that ban, and whether the United States decides to seek to extend the sanctions by threatening to cut off financial institutions around the world that deal in those Russian bonds, much as it has enforced “secondary sanctions” against those who do business with Iran. In a conversation with President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday, Mr. Biden warned that the United States was going to act to protect its interests, but also raised the prospect of a summit meeting between the two leaders. It is unclear whether Russia will now feel the need to retaliate for the sanctions and expulsions. American officials are already alarmed by a troop buildup along the border of Ukraine and Russian naval activity in the Black Sea. And inside American intelligence agencies there have been warnings that the SolarWinds attack — which enabled the SVR to place “back doors” in the computer networks — could give Russia a pathway for malicious cyber activity against government agencies and corporations. Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, has often said that sanctions alone will not be sufficient, and said there would be “seen and unseen” actions against Russia. Mr. Biden, before his inauguration, suggested the United States would respond in kind to the hack, which seemed to suggest some kind of clandestine cyber response. But it may take weeks or months for any evidence that activity to come to light, if it ever does. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, with the chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, in Kabul on Thursday.Credit...Sapidar Palace, via Associated Press Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday, a day after President Biden announced his decision to withdraw all American troops from the country by Sept. 11. Mr. Blinken had a difficult task: reassuring Afghan leaders and the public that the United States would continue to support the country as it faced dire threats from the Taliban and other armed factions. Soon after his arrival, Mr. Blinken visited the U.S. Embassy and then met with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, as well as Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the Afghan government council that has led peace negotiations with the Taliban. “I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,” Mr. Blinken said before his meeting with Mr. Ghani began. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.” Mr. Ghani said the Afghan government respected the decision to withdraw and was “adjusting our priorities.” The Pentagon, American spy agencies and Western allies are refining plans to deploy a less visible but still potent force in the region to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a terrorist base. Drawing on the hard lessons from President Barack Obama’s decision a decade ago to withdraw American troops from Iraq — allowing the rise of the Islamic State three years later — the Pentagon is discussing with allies where to reposition forces, possibly to neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to United States officials. Attack planes aboard aircraft carriers and long-range bombers flying from land bases along the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and even in the United States could strike insurgent fighters spotted by armed surveillance drones. But there are risks. Afghan commando units that have been providing the bulk of intelligence on insurgent threats could disintegrate after the United States withdraws, leaving a large hole to fill. Turkey, which has long had a direct relationship with Afghanistan in addition to its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission there, is leaving troops behind who could help the C.I.A. collect intelligence on Qaeda cells, officials note. Still, planners at the military’s Central Command in Tampa, Fla., and Joint Staff in Washington have been developing options to offset the loss of American combat boots on the ground, and President Biden said on Wednesday that the revised approach would keep Al Qaeda at bay. “We will not take our eye off the terrorist threat,” Mr. Biden said in a televised address from the White House. “We will reorganize our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region.” But some former top commanders, as well as lawmakers from both parties, warned that absent the unrelenting pressure from American Special Operations forces and intelligence operatives in the country, Al Qaeda could make a comeback in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan. “As good as our intelligence and over-the-horizon capabilities are, there is no substitute for being there,” Joseph Maguire, a former top Navy SEAL commander who served as acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, said in an interview. “Our effectiveness in protecting our homeland will be significantly diminished.” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, is the lead sponsor of a reparations bill first proposed in 1989 by the late Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan.Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times A House committee voted on Wednesday to recommend for the first time the creation of a commission to consider providing Black Americans with reparations for slavery in the United States and a “national apology” for centuries of discrimination. It comes three decades after the measure was first introduced and a century and a half after the end of slavery. The vote by the House Judiciary Committee was a major milestone for proponents of reparations, who have labored for decades to build mainstream support for redressing the lingering effects of slavery. Democrats on the panel advanced the legislation establishing the commission over Republican objections, 25 to 17. The bill — labeled H.R. 40 after the unfulfilled Civil War-era promise to give former slaves “40 acres and a mule” — still faces an uphill path. With opposition from some Democrats and unified Republicans, who argue that Black Americans do not need a government handout for long-ago crimes, neither chamber of Congress has committed to a floor vote. But as the country grapples anew with systemic racism, the bill now counts support from the president of the United States and key congressional leaders. “We’re asking for people to understand the pain, the violence, the brutality, the chattel-ness of what we went through,” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, said during a nighttime committee debate. “And of course, we’re asking for harmony, reconciliation, reason to come together as Americans.” The renewed interest in reparations comes as Mr. Biden has positioned addressing racial inequities at the center of his domestic policy agenda, proposing billions of dollars in investments in Black farmers, business owners, neighborhoods, students and the poor. The White House has said Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion jobs agenda aims, in part, to “tackle systemic racism and rebuild our economy and our social safety net so that every person in America can reach their full potential.” Proponents of reparations differ on what form, precisely, they should take, though many agree that Mr. Biden’s proposals encompass the kinds of compensation that might be considered the modern-day equivalent of 40 acres and a mule. But that does not mean they are a replacement, they say. “If this is about the full ramifications on Black wealth, about the destruction of entire businesses or neighborhoods, or the deprivation and loss of land, then we are talking about numbers that are far beyond the reach of what are relatively small programmatic initiatives,” said William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy at Duke University who has written a book on reparations. Mr. Darity’s vision of reparations primarily focuses on closing the wealth gap between African-Americans and white people, something that he estimates would take $10 trillion or more in government funds. The bill before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday would establish a body to study the effects of slavery and the decades of economic and social discrimination that followed, often with government involvement, and propose possible ways to address the yawning gap in wealth and opportunity between Black and white Americans. It would also consider a “national apology” for the harm caused by slavery. Opponents of reparations often argue that the wrongs of slavery are simply too far past and too diffuse to be practically addressed now. They question why taxpayers, many of whom came to the United States long after slavery ended, should foot a potentially large bill for payments or other forms of compensation to Black Americans. Roy L. Brooks, a law professor at the University of San Diego who has also written on the issue, argues that the purpose of reparations should not be viewed as primarily monetary nor something that can be dealt with in the course of normal policymaking, no matter how effective. “The purpose has to be bringing about racial reconciliation, and it can’t get swallowed up in generic domestic legislation, or else the significance is lost,” he said. The Biden administration will approve $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, including F-35 fighter jets, according to a State Department spokesman.Credit...Mark Wilson/Getty Images The Biden administration plans to suspend sales of many offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia that were approved under the Trump administration, but it will allow the sale of other matériel that can be construed to have a defensive purpose, U.S. officials said on Wednesday. The plan, which Congress was briefed on last week, is part of the Biden administration’s review of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that the White House announced soon after President Biden’s inauguration. The original sales were met with strong opposition last year from congressional Democrats, who are angry over the countries’ involvement in the war in Yemen and wary of transferring advanced military technology to authoritarian Middle Eastern nations with ties to China. The Biden administration will approve $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates, according to a State Department spokesman, including F-35 fighter jets and armed Reaper drones. Administration officials had signaled that those arms, sold to the Emirates soon after it signed a diplomatic agreement with Israel brokered by the Trump administration, were likely to be approved. The fate of arms sales to Saudi Arabia had been less clear. Mr. Biden, who has said that he wants to reset Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, announced in February that he would end “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales,” but the White House did not provide further details. Since then, U.S. officials have debated which weapons sold under the Trump administration might plausibly be used for Saudi Arabia’s self-defense, including against missile and drone attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, whom the Saudis have been fighting in Yemen. Even as Biden administration officials have criticized Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, they have repeatedly pledged to help the Saudis defend themselves. After its review, the administration plans to suspend the sale of air-to-ground offensive weapons used by fixed-wing aircraft — mainly fighter jets and drones — to Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said. This includes systems that can turn regular bombs into precision-guided munitions. The suspension is aimed at addressing one of the main concerns in the Yemen war: the killings of civilians, including many children, because of the Saudi-led coalition’s use of such bombs. Attorney General Merrick Garland has vowed to make civil rights enforcement a priority at the Justice Department.Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times Attorney General Merrick B. Garland urged senators on Wednesday to confirm President Biden’s nominees for top Justice Department posts, saying that he will be ill-equipped to enforce civil rights protections without them. He said that the department was doing “everything within our power” to get confirmed Vanita Gupta as the department’s No. 3 and Kristen Clarke as the head of its Civil Rights Division. “I meant it when I told the Senate Judiciary Committee that they have skills that I do not have. They have experiences that I do not have,” Mr. Garland said in remarks to the National Action Network, the civil rights organizations founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee forced Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, to bring Ms. Gupta’s nomination to a floor vote without the panel’s support to advance her nomination to be associate attorney general, a role that oversees several key divisions, including civil rights, antitrust and civil, as well as grants to the nation’s police departments. Republicans have expressed skepticism about her approach to policing issues and other policies, though Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the committee chairman, accused them of misrepresenting Ms. Gupta’s views. During Ms. Clarke’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Republicans on the panel criticized her past comments on policing, judicial nominees and religious groups that defied pandemic-era restrictions on gatherings, signaling that she was also unlikely to receive their support. Mr. Biden has said that his administration will tackle civil rights issues, a promise that has taken on urgency amid an uptick in violence against Asian-Americans and the high-profile trial of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer accused by prosecutors in Minnesota of murdering George Floyd, a Black man. Mr. Garland told the civil rights leaders that he has requested a larger budget to support the Justice Department’s civil rights mission, ordered an expedited review to determine how to use the department’s resources to combat hate crimes and telegraphed his intent to scrutinize whether government agencies, including police departments, engaged in “patterns or practices that deprive individuals of their federal or constitutional rights.” But he said that “dedicated, experienced leadership is also needed” to curb law enforcement misconduct, ensure the right to vote, and combat discrimination in housing, education and employment. “I meant it when I said I needed both of them, and their experiences and skills, to be successful as attorney general,” Mr. Garland said of Ms. Gupta and Ms. Clarke, both veteran civil rights lawyers.