SolarWinds hack and election meddling

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The Biden administration completed an intelligence review of alleged Russian meddling in the SolarWinds cybersecurity attack and interference in US elections, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

The review could set the stage for possible retaliatory actions like enacting sanctions or expulsion of Russian intel officers in the US, three people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. 

In January, a joint US intelligence task force issued a rare initial public statement to the SolarWinds hack that it was “likely Russian in nature,” Insider’s Azmi Haroun reported.

The White House, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The action will add a new chill to the already frosty relations between Washington and Moscow, which has tested the West’s patience with a military build-up near Ukraine.

The wide-ranging sanctions would come in response to a cybersecurity breach affecting software made by SolarWinds Corp that the U.S. government has said was likely orchestrated by Russia. The breach gave hackers access to thousands of companies and government offices that used the company’s products.

Microsoft President Brad Smith described the attack, which was identified in December, as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.”

The United States also intends to punish Moscow for alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In a report last month, U.S. intelligence agencies said Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed efforts to try to swing the election to then-President Donald Trump and away from now-President Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden told Putin this week in their second call to “de-escalate tensions” following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and said the U.S. would “act firmly in defense of its national interests” regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.

In a television interview last month, Biden replied “I do” when asked if he thought Putin was a “killer.” He said the days of the U.S. “rolling over” to Putin were done. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the U.S. and pointed at the U.S. history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. actions would actually result in changed behavior, especially since past measures by the U.S. have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking. The Obama administration expelled diplomats from the U.S. in 2016 in response to interference in that year’s presidential election. And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin, his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.