In an executive order accompanied by a series of official statements, US President Barack Obama has sharply escalated the campaign against Russia, based on unsubstantiated claims of Russian government hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign in the presidential election.
Obama has imposed sanctions on top Russian government officials, blacklisted several Russian IT companies and expelled 35 Russian diplomats stationed in the US, giving them only 72 hours to leave the country. Two Russian-owned facilities, in San Francisco and Maryland, are being shut down with less than 24 hours' notice.
"These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia's aggressive activities," Obama declared. "We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized." This indicates that secret retaliatory measures, possibly including cyber-warfare actions to disrupt Russia's economy, finances or infrastructure, are being taken.
The text of the executive order, as posted on the White House website, contains vague, sweeping language that has ominous implications for the democratic rights of the American people. Any political activist opposed to the official two-party system could face sanctions or even criminal charges for actions "with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions."
Is uncovering internal documents of the Democratic National Committee or the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta "interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions"? Evidently so, since that is the principal crime alleged against the Russian government.
It is quite possible, however, that the documents were made public thanks to leaks by disgruntled DNC staff, perhaps angry about the content of the emails, which showed a deliberate effort by the DNC leadership to block the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and insure Clinton's nomination. Would such leaks now be criminalized?
What about making those documents widely available, as the WikiLeaks organization did? What about publishing excerpts or the full texts of those documents, as virtually the entire American media did? Where do "interfering with or undermining" end and freedom of speech and freedom of the press begin? Obama's executive order makes no distinction.
The corporate-controlled media, ever compliant with the dictates of the US military-intelligence apparatus, has made no challenge to the legality or constitutionality of Obama's order. It has not criticized the refusal of the White House to provide a single fact to substantiate its claims of Russian hacking directed against the Democrats.
Obama's executive order takes the form of an amendment to a previous executive order, issued in April 2015, in response to alleged North Korean hacking of Sony Corporation offices in Los Angeles, after the company made a film whose plot revolved around a CIA assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
With little publicity, Obama declared a "national emergency with respect to significant malicious cyber-enabled activities" on April 1, 2015. Under the terms of Executive Order 13694, the secretary of the treasury, in consultation with the attorney general and the secretary of state, may designate for economic sanctions, including freezing of all property and bank accounts in the United States, any person they designate as a target.
Anyone "responsible for or complicit in, or... engaged in, directly or indirectly, cyber-enabled activities" directed or originating "from outside the United States," whose purpose, in the judgment of these officials, would harm the US infrastructure, disrupt computer networks, cause misappropriation of funds or affect the US elections, is a potential target for US government retaliation.
Given that virtually all human interaction in economically developed countries is "cyber-enabled," and that the World Wide Web is by definition a global entity "outside the United States," this language is a mandate for the exercise of essentially unlimited, arbitrary power.
While the executive order details a series of measures that US officials are empowered to impose on anyone they see fit to target, Obama provided no evidence of the Russian hacking which is the supposed cause of this "national emergency."
Instead, he refers to the finding of the US intelligence agencies, issued October 7, declaring they were "confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations."