Thursday, 20 September, 2018

Trump Executive Order Would Punish Foreigners Linked To Election Interference

AFP  Getty Images AFP Getty Images
Ellis Copeland | 16 September, 2018, 06:59

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to help protect the United States from foreign interference in domestic elections by laying out a process for putting sanctions on countries and other actors who seek to meddle.

"It includes not just the interference with election or campaign infrastructure, but it also covers the distribution of propaganda, disinformation", US National Security Advisor John Bolton said.

Under the order, the intelligence community would have 45 days to determine whether meddling occurred.

The sanctions authority would be the latest effort by the Trump administration to address to concerns raised by USA intelligence agencies that Russian Federation is seeking to interfere in the 2018 US elections after doing so two years ago.

In the order, the president declared a national emergency, an action required under sanctions authority, to deal with the threat of foreign meddling in USA elections.

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Wednesday that the government is now treating the 2016 incident as a "warning signal" for the 2018 and 2020 elections.

With the midterm elections now two months away, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said the USA is not currently seeing the intensity of Russian intervention that was experienced in 2016, but didn't rule it out.

"It's more than Russian Federation", he said, noting potential threats from China, North Korea and Iran.

Coates said that the administration acknowledges that there was interference in the 2016 election, and "we've learned our lessons". "We must make sure Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation, or any other foreign actor, understands that we will respond decisively and impose punishing consequences against those who interfere in our democracy".

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The threatened sanctions are notable because they aim not just at foreign companies and individuals seeking to disrupt United States electoral infrastructure - electoral databases, vote tabulation processes and the like - but also of propaganda campaigns and leaks of sensitive political information.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., the vice-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also criticized the executive order, which he said puts too much power in the hands of a president who has previously failed to demand accountability from Russian Federation on the issue. It would base decisions on implementing sanctions on any US intelligence community conclusion that meddling occurred.

Bolton had previously warned that there were signs of election meddling from China, North Korea, and Iran, though he offered no specific evidence.

"It has been a touchy subject", one White House official said last month, when the Post reported on a draft of the executive order.

Then the United States attorney general and Department of Homeland Security will have a further 45 days to decide whether to go forward with sanctions. "I don't see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server".

"If we are going to actually deter Russian Federation and others from interfering in our elections in the future, we need to spell out strong, clear consequences, without ambiguity", Mr. Warner said.

The move appears created to be a shot across the bows of hostile countries, warning them off attempting to influence the midterm elections which are now just eight weeks away.

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, said have put forward the DETER Act, which would set mandatory sanctions on anyone involved in election interference.

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