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Report: Obama Gives 35 Russian Operatives 72 Hours to Leave US; US Reveals Names and Imposed Sanctions for Russian Hacks; US Leaders Aware of ISIS Leader's Movements

Aired December 29, 2016 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] FREDRIKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Specifically, the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman during the 2016 race the Obama administration has named names of those believed to be responsible, six Russians and five entities including Russia's main intelligence body facing sanctions. This as Obama orders 35 Russian operatives to leave the United States and they have to do so within 72 hours. Among those sanctions, these two individuals who were wanted by the FBI for crimes including computer intrusion and computer fraud.

The President also announcing it is shutting down two Russian compounds in the U.S., one in Maryland, the other in New York. Russia will now fall victim to expanded sanctions, diplomatic measures and, later, covert actions. Russia, warning it will respond to any hostile new steps. For more on Russia's reaction now, let's go live to Moscow. CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is there. So, Matthew, what do we know about these 35 operatives and the six Russians back in Russia?

MATHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not a great deal. I mean, the 35 individuals, the Russian citizens who have been expelled from the United States, they're diplomats we understand that are mainly working in the consulate so that needs to be clarified by U.S. authorities. Vladimir Putin's spokesperson is Dimitry Peskov and he gave us the first indication of what the kremlin is going to do in retaliation for these pretty harsh sanctions that came from the state department and treasury against individuals and institutions.

They didn't come out with specific measures but said these are groundless allegations, hacking allegations and the allegations that were made by the state department that U.S. diplomats in Moscow have been mistreated and unfairly targeted. They were groundless allegations, the sanctions and the expulsions are illegal under international law. That's the other thing. Dimitry Peskov said the spokesperson of Vladimir Putin. We don't know yet what will be the exact response he said but there is no alternative to reciprocal measures so the kremlin giving indication that with the expulsion of 35 of its diplomats from the United States it will be looking at doing the same thing in terms of U.S. diplomats being expelled from here but he said it's up to Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, to decide and this is what he added at the end -- "and he is in no rush to make a decision." that was the briefing we got from the kremlin. Very thin in terms of concrete measures but a few hints at what we can expect in the days ahead from the kremlin in terms of a response to this. [15:35:00] WHITFIELD: And then there are photographs. We just

teased, you know, there are photographs of at least one person. The FBI is releasing that among those who are wanted by the FBI Alexsey Belan. When you say, they are it is against international law to go after these individuals, what to the issue of whether hacking is breaking any law and what kind of response is coming from Vladimir Putin's office on the actual notion of infiltrating cyber tacking, especially as it pertains to U.S. elections?

CHANCE: In terms of the legality of the United States putting pictures out there, the U.S. will have taken on its own advice. I'm merely passing on what the kremlin say their position. But it's an interesting development. They put these names out there, they put these photographs out there as well and I think it's interesting because it's the one thing that can't be overturned when Donald Trump comes into office in three weeks from now. He may be able to get rid of the sanctions, he may be able to kind of paper over the differences when it comes to these expulsions of diplomats and he may even be able to overturn the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia by the United States over the past several years over its annexation of Crimea and other issues as well. But he can't take those images back and that may have been done intentionally by the Obama administration to make sure there was some lasting resonance from these measures well into the Trump administration when that begins.

WHITFIELD: As cryptic as it might be from some corner, the floodgates have opened as it pertains to a response coming from many different entities. Thank you so much Matthew Chance there in Moscow, Evan Perez joining us now because now we understand there are some responses, a joint statement coming from homeland security and the FBI. What more can you tell us, Evan, about why there this backing of this kind of transparency as it pertains to a response to Russia?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think, Fred, one of the things that's happening right now is the opening of the floodgates of all of the information that the intelligence services and the FBI are collecting in the United States for now. This statement, this joint statement from the homeland security department, the DNI and the FBI says that it lays out a lot of technical analysis, a lot of joint collected data on hacking activities that targeted not only the election this past year but the last ten years. Hacking into private sector or organizations, universities, we know the FBI has been keeping an eye on these activities by the Russian security services, by the Russian spy services.

And what this represents today is essentially the unleashing of this information to show publicly since the Russians have been asking for proof that this is the proof they believe they collected. It's a highly technical information and the IT professionals in the world will spend time pouring over these documents looking over the technical aspects of this but the essence is that the United States the calling out Russia for not only the hacks but also the hacking of private sector including the important parts of our infrastructure, the United States infrastructure telling the Russians we've known what you've been up to. One of the most important parts of the sanctions lifted that the administration announced today, the six people -- you showed the picture of those two hackers, the other four are members of the GRU, including the chief of the Russian military intelligence agency. So, that is something that you don't normally see. You don't target those types of people in these organizations because, look, spies spy, that's what they do so usually there's some honor among spies, you don't normally go after their spies because you know you're doing the same thing. So, as far as what Matthew is talking about just now and the Russian response, we can expect that the Russians will out members of the U.S. intelligence community who are in Russia, who are undercover as diplomats, people who work for the CIA, people who work for the NSA who work in Russia and that's probably going to be the extent of the response it's going to be diplomatic tit for tat, the kind of things we've been seeing for decades.

WHITFIELD: So, Evan, while in this statement it's underscoring this activity "this activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens." Does this statement or even through your sources reveal that this perhaps just exemplifies the more public reaction that the U.S. has brought but not necessarily that it's the first? The other reactions U.S. may have had over the ten-year period may have been quiet. It wasn't made public like this today exemplifies.

PEREZ: That's right. From talking to official we know the U.S. has been doing the same activity. One of the things that I think has happened in the past year, a lot of people believe that what they were doing to us in the past year, what they were doing in the United States is a response to activities that the United States for a long time in Russia or in its allies, the country surrounding Russia that they view as very important parts of our security apparatus, of their security cordon to protect themselves from NATO.

[15:40:00] They believe the U.S. has been asked this game for a long time. So, they were simply responding. That's the view of the Russian government if you look at the documents the Obama administration has put out today they're saying the Russians went too far. It's gone beyond the regular spying, it's the dissemination of that information that went extraordinarily too far from what we normally see from spy services.

WHITFIELD: Evan Perez, thanks so much. This just in, this crossing our CNN international service, Russia says similar steps will be taken in response to the expulsions of 35 Russian diplomats according to Russian foreign ministry spokesperson. and our David Andelman is back with me now. So, your reaction to this statement. Your reaction of this picture of a lame duck where we hear this from Russia where they'll be doing the same thing. We're back to a cold war setting tit for tat.

DAVID ANDELMAN, CNN, EDITOR EMERITUS, WORLD POLICY JOURNAL: It is a cold war. I started covering the cold for what the late 1970s, I was the "New York Times" bureau chief for the satellite countries and in the '80s in the Soviet Union in Moscow. So, you know it has a lot of that same feeling. The difference is there's more transparency, not an iron curtain like that. The east European satellite countries are a part of NATO right now. Russia is a competitor of ours in so many different ways but cold war suggests what it is. It's not a hot war.

We don't have to worry about missiles being launched in case someone sets a catastrophic mistake. A cold war is not -- when I was at the NATO cyber command. October in Estonia they told me what makes it a cyber war is when people start getting hurt and people can if you attack the electrical grid for instance and so on. And up to that point we're not there yet right now it's tit for tat. The Russians did something bad in attacking our way of life. We have to respond in some fashion. That's how things involved in a cold war not a hot war.

WHITFIELD: So, it was a matter of relations but you just touched on the cyber activity makes it different because it's impacting day to day lives and could potentially do so further. So, should it still be called a cold war?

ANDELMAN: I think we can but for these individuals it may not be just a cold war. Those individuals, that one particular individual whose wanted poster we saw if the FBI does want them and contacts Interpol, if those people show up in any Interpol-related country they can be seized, they can be taken back and extradited to the United States. It will be interesting to see that does happen.

WHITFIELD: Just at the tip of the iceberg in this conversation. We'll take a short break for now and have much more when we come back.


WHITFIELD: A official says the U.S. is aware of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. This after no sign of the terror chief. Earlier this month, a reward was increased to $25 million for information leading to his capture. Let's go to Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you hearing about al Baghdadi's possible movements?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi Fred, a U.S. official is saying to quote directly in the last few weeks we've been aware of some of Baghdadi's movements. They're not saying what it means because it's sensitive information. It's not real-time intelligence. It's not telling where you say Baghdadi is right now but it is telling us in the last few weeks they've had some kind of report that they are really exploring much further to see if they can begin to pin down where he's been, who he might have been talking to. Where he's moving. They're not even saying at this point whether he's in Iraq or Syria. This is one of the first indications we have in many, many months of the potential of his whereabouts.

That video that shows him in the mosque in Mosul, Iraq, that's over two years old. Last month there was an audio recording of him but there's been no sign of him since that video in July, 2014, that has been verified. So now what we know is the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. military has something that they are looking into. They're hoping they can take this tip, move it forward, begin to establish some sort of pattern of where he might have been and whether or not they can go after him. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Back to our breaking news. U.S. Senator John McCain and Lindsey

Graham reacting just moments ago to the Obama administration's action against Russia. More on that after this.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. More reaction now coming from the Obama administration's imposing of 35 Russian operatives who now must leave the U.S., one in Maryland and one in New York also being used by Russian operatives in the U.S. also now must be shut down. Then there will be sanctions coming as well amongst a number of Russian operatives in the U.S. according to the Obama white house.

Let's talk more about this. We've seen and heard lots of comparisons being made to a cold war Deja vu. General Mark Hertling was doing border patrol then. General, you have some ideas about this. What are the differences when we talk about cyber-attacks and that being the impetus of why people are seeing parallels to the cold war? Do you see parallels?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is very interesting because I hear a lot of people talking about this as a new cold war. Having done multiple border patrols as a new lieutenant and then later as a major in my career, back when we were on the East German/West German border. You knew when things were happening. You knew when the other side was skirmishing with you, when they were conducting intelligence operations and sending people across.

WHITFIELD: What do you mean? It was out in the open?

HERTLING: Sure. I mean, they would cross into the no-man's land between the two borders. We would be watching each other from both sides at border outposts. It was serious business. Now what you have is that non-physicality of cyber threats, where it -- they're even called in the early stages stealth operations. The better you are, the less people know you're conducting them. And then it turns into cyber warfare in conjunction with conventional warfare and straight out cyber warfare.

You can seed mayhem and seed confusion and distrust without anyone knowing where it's coming from if you do it right. That's why I think the deterrence for this kind of a war and much more important. Because when it gets into the society itself, when the attacks come against the military, it's one thing. When they come against the society, the banking industries, the electronic grid, some of those kinds of things, it's much more difficult to detect. There are greater vulnerabilities and many more means. In a cyber war, you literally have hundreds of target sets and trillions of targets, when you are going after an enemy. That's why I think this is much more dangerous than a cold war, because it's been going on for a while. We just haven't pointed it out.

[15:55:00] WHITFIELD: In this case the Obama White House, the intelligence community is saying this kind of cyber attacking, cyber hacking, did indeed impact U.S. elections. We saw in a joint statement coming from DHS as well as the FBI that they've watched this kind of activity for ten years, but this was the breaking point, to impact U.S. elections. So, it is, in your view, important that this Obama White House was very transparent, was out in the open, made it very public that sanctions are on the horizon, that the expulsions of 35 Russian operatives, the shutting down of two compounds, that it was important for this white house to reveal all of this, or do you see potential dangers that come with all of that?

HERTLING: There are certainly dangers. Make no mistake. What you're talking about, I used the phrase cyber skirmishing. That's been going on for decades. When it takes the kinds of threat that Russia has imposed lately. Taking the data and using it to create mistrust and mayhem within our government, that's when it gets to the point where President Obama has to say, hey, let's look at what the U.S. vulnerabilities are before I announce what I'm going to do and then say here is what I'm going to do. There will certainly be a reaction between Vladimir Putin and the Russian cyber command on this. The question is, before we attack in any kind of military operation, before you attack, you have to be prepared to defend a counter-attack. That's what I think Mr. Obama has probably been doing over the last several months, ensuring that we are prepared for that kind of counter attack before he rolls out this transparent response.

WHITFIELD: So now there is a counter attack to the counter attack, according to news sources that are saying Russia is now saying they're going to do the same thing, they're going to deport or expel 35 U.S. diplomats that are in Russia. That had to be expected. And if not, what does that tell you about the next potential step in how this back and forth will seemingly go on forever.

HERTLING: I guarantee you it was expected and a topic of a great deal of discussion within the national security council. That's part of the deal. When you say, hey, we're going to expel a great number of your diplomats you expect the other country to do the same thing. When you talk about what are called branches and sequels, what comes next and how do you deal with it. I'm sure the national security council, the defense establishment and President Obama have all said, we expect to have our diplomats expelled now and we expect to be attacked again. Let's be prepared and ramp up.

WHITFIELD: General, thank you so much. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Much more straight ahead. Our CNN special live coverage continues right after this.