American officials are considering whether to respond to Russia’ alleged involvement in cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations with economic sanctions.
Imposing sanctions on Russia would require Washington to publicly accuse Moscow, or Russian-backed hackers, of committing the hack and then disclosing its evidence, which relies on highly classified sources and methods, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The Obama administration has already imposed an array of sanctions against Russian individuals and entities in response to Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine and reunification with the Crimean peninsula.
The White House has often chosen not to publicly release attribution for cyber attacks, though it has openly accused China and North Korea on several occasions.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other US intelligence agencies have been studying the cyber attacks on Democratic organizations, and several officials have alleged it was almost certainly conducted by Russian-affiliated hackers.
“I know for sure it is the Russians” and “we are assessing the damage,” US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.
“This is an electronic Watergate,” she added. “The Russians broke in. Who did they give the information to? I don’t know. Who dumped it? I don’t know.”
US Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said that “when the administration believes it has sufficient evidence of attribution, it will make that attribution public as well as consider any other steps necessary.”
The process of deciding on sanctions could be prolonged. Even if American officials have concluded the hackers were backed by Russia, they must decide to reveal that publicly and consider a range of possible reactions.
Intelligence officials say they fear a rapid escalation of cyber attacks by Russia if Washington retaliates against Moscow in cyberspace.
Washington and Moscow have been clashing over a variety of issues, from the conflict in Syria to Russia’s reunification with Crimea, and American officials must decide whether this case is worth intensifying those tensions.
Generally, many countries steal information from other nations using cyber attacks. US spy agencies do the same in other countries.