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Biden Administration Says Russian Intelligence Obtained Trump Campaign Data

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration revealed on Thursday that a business associate of Trump campaign officials in 2016 provided campaign polling data to Russian intelligence services, the strongest evidence to date that Russian spies had penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The revelation, made public in a Treasury Department document announcing new sanctions against Russia, established for the first time that private meetings and communications between the campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and their business associate were a direct pipeline from the campaign to Russian spies at a time when the Kremlin was engaged in a covert effort to sabotage the 2016 presidential election.

Previous government investigations have identified the Trump aides’ associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, as a Russian intelligence operative, and Mr. Manafort’s decision to provide him with internal polling data was one of the mysteries that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, sought to unravel during his two-year investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

“During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy,” the Treasury Department said in a news release. “Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

new sanctions against Russia are in response to the Kremlin’s election interference, efforts to hack American government agencies and companies, and other acts of aggression against the United States.

The sanctions now make it extremely difficult for Mr. Kilimnik, who was indicted by the Justice Department in 2018 on charges of obstruction of justice, to engage in financial transactions that may involve the United States.

It is unclear how long American spy agencies have held the conclusion about Mr. Kilimnik. Senior Trump administration officials, fearing Mr. Trump’s wrath, repeatedly tried keep from the public any information that seemed to show Mr. Trump’s affinity for Russia or its president, Vladimir V. Putin.

that scrutinized the links between the Trump campaign and Russia — calling Mr. Kilimnik a “Russian intelligence officer.”

The report contained several significant redactions that appeared related to Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik but said that Mr. Manafort’s willingness to share the information with him “represented a grave counterintelligence threat.”

The report called the relationship between Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik “the single most direct tie between senior Trump campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”

The Senate report portrayed a Trump campaign stacked with businessmen and other advisers who had little government experience and “presented attractive targets for foreign influence, creating notable counterintelligence vulnerabilities.”

A New York Times article in 2017 said that there had been numerous interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence during the year before the election. F.B.I. officials had disputed the report, but both the Senate report and the Treasury Department document confirm the article’s findings.

The assertion that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that sought to disrupt the 2016 election has long been both a Kremlin talking point and a claim by Mr. Trump that foreign actors tried to help his opponent, Hillary Clinton, rather than him.

is offering $250,000 for information that could lead to his arrest.

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U.S. Imposes Stiff Sanctions on Russia, Blaming It for Major Hacking Operation

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday announced tough new sanctions on Russia and formally blamed the country’s premier intelligence agency for the sophisticated hacking operation that breached American government agencies and the nation’s largest companies.

In the broadest effort yet to give more teeth to financial sanctions — which in the past have failed to deter Russian activity — the sanctions are aimed at choking off lending to the Russian government.

In an executive order, President Biden announced a series of additional steps — sanctions on 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and for carrying out the Russian government’s interference in the 2020 presidential election. Ten Russian diplomats, most of them identified as intelligence operatives, were expelled from the Russian Embassy in Washington. The country also joined with European partners to sanction eight people and entities associated with Russia’s occupation in Crimea.

The announcement is the first time that the U.S. government had placed the blame for the “SolarWinds” hacking attack right at the Kremlin’s feet, saying it was masterminded by the SVR, one of the Russian intelligence agencies that was also involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee six years ago. The finding comports with the findings of private cybersecurity firms.

SolarWinds; to the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan; and to Russia’s longstanding effort to interfere in U.S. elections on behalf of Donald J. Trump. The key to the sanctions’ effectiveness, officials concede, will be whether European and Asian allies go along with that ban, and whether the United States decides to seek to extend the sanctions by threatening to cut off financial institutions around the world that deal in those Russian bonds, much as it has enforced “secondary sanctions” against those who do business with Iran.

In a conversation with President Vladimir V. Putin on Tuesday, Mr. Biden warned that the United States was going to act to protect its interests, but also raised the prospect of a summit meeting between the two leaders. It is unclear whether Russia will now feel the need to retaliate for the sanctions and expulsions. American officials are already alarmed by a troop buildup along the border of Ukraine and Russian naval activity in the Black Sea.

And inside American intelligence agencies there have been warnings that the SolarWinds attack — which enabled the SVR to place “back doors” in the computer networks — could give Russia a pathway for malicious cyber activity against government agencies and corporations.

Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, has often said that sanctions alone will not be sufficient, and said there would be “seen and unseen” actions against Russia. Mr. Biden, before his inauguration, suggested the United States would respond in kind to the hack, which seemed to suggest some kind of clandestine cyber response. But it may take weeks or months for any evidence that activity to come to light, if it ever does.

SolarWinds attack because that was the name of the Texas-based company whose network management software was subtlety altered by the SVR before the firms customers downloaded updated version. But the presidential statement alludes to the C.I.A.’s assessment that Russia offered bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan and explicitly links the sanctions to Russia’s longstanding effort to interfere in U.S. elections on behalf of Donald J. Trump.

In the SolarWinds breach, Russian government hackers infected network-management software used by thousands of government entities and private firms in what officials believe was, at least in its opening stages, an intelligence-gathering mission.

The SVR, also known as the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, is primarily known for espionage operations. The statement said American intelligence agencies have “high confidence in its assessment of attribution” of responsibility to Russia.

In an advisory, the United States described for private companies specific details about the software vulnerabilities that the Russian intelligence agencies used to hack into the systems of companies and governments. Most of those have been widely known since FireEye, a private security firm, first found evidence of the hack in December. Until FireEye’s discovery, the actions had been entirely missed by the U.S. government, largely because the attack was launched from inside the United States — where, as the Russians know well, American intelligence agencies are prohibited from operating.

Previous sanctions against Russia have been more narrowly drawn and have largely affected individuals. As such, the Kremlin has largely appeared to absorb or shrug off the penalties without changing its behavior.

trading in Moscow before the announcement, the ruble’s exchange rate to the dollar dropped about 1 percent, reflecting nervousness over how the sanctions would play out. The main stock index, Mosbirzhi, also fell just over 1 percent.

The fallout so far reflects years of Russian government policy to harden its financial defenses against sanctions and low oil prices by running budget surpluses and salting away billions of dollars in sovereign wealth funds.

Balanced budgets have been a core economic policy principle of Mr. Putin, who came to power more than 20 years ago during a post-Soviet debt crisis that he saw as humiliating for Russia and vowed not to repeat.

Still, analysts say strains from the past year of pandemic and the drop in the global price of oil, a major Russian export commodity, have left Russia more vulnerable to sanctions targeting sovereign debt. By the first quarter of this year, however, a recovery in oil prices had helped return the federal budget to surplus.

reported.

Michael D. Shear and David E. Sanger reported from Washington, Steven Erlanger from Brussels, and Andrew E. Kramer from Moscow.

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