WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s decision to identify Russia as almost certainly the culprit in hacking the Democratic National Committee and releasing politically embarrassing emails fits his administration’s new penchant for openly blaming foreign governments for such break-ins.
Even as the U.S. continues to secretly hack its own adversaries, Obama is raising the stakes for countries caught behind the keyboards engaging in cyber espionage, including even major powers like Russia and China.
The president discussed the incident after WikiLeaks published on its website last week more than 19,000 internal emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee earlier this year. The emails showed DNC staffers actively supporting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton when they were publicly promising to remain neutral during the primary elections between Clinton and rival candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned over the disclosures, which disrupted this week’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
Obama traditionally avoids commenting on active FBI investigations, but he told NBC News on Tuesday that outside experts have blamed Russia for the leak and appeared to embrace the notion that President Vladimir Putin might have been responsible because of what he described as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s affinity for Putin.
“What the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that, I can’t say directly,” Obama said. “What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.”
Obama said he was basing his assessment on Trump’s own comments and the fact that Trump has “gotten pretty favorable coverage back in Russia.” He added that the U.S. knows that “Russians hack our systems — not just government systems, but private systems.”
The developing U.S. strategy, unofficially dubbed “name and shame,” is intended to raise diplomatic consequences for foreign governments involved in state-sponsored hacking.
In Moscow, Putin’s spokesman, while not directly denying Russian involvement in the hack, said Wednesday that Moscow would never interfere in another country’s election.
“President Putin more than once has said the Russia would never interfere and does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, especially in the electoral process,” Dmitry Peskov told journalists in a conference call.
Peskov also criticized the willingness to accuse Russia of wrongdoing. “If we talk about some sort of suspicions against a country, then it is necessary at a minimum to be precise and concrete,” the spokesman said. “Some sort of speculation in this case does not show a constructive attitude.”