Obama Targets Russian Villains

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Reporting from David Sanger

The Obama administration was riven by an internal debate about how much of its evidence to make public. Although the announcement risks revealing sources and methods, it was the best way, some officials inside the administration argued, to make clear to a raft of other nations — including China, Iran and North Korea — that their activities can be tracked and exposed.

In the end, Mr. Obama decided to expand an executive order that he issued in April 2015, after the Sony hacking. He signed it in Hawaii on Thursday morning, specifically giving himself and his successor the authority to issue travel bans and asset freezes on those who “tamper with, alter, or cause a misappropriation of information, with a purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”

Mr. Obama used that order to immediately impose sanctions on four Russian intelligence officials: Igor Valentinovich Korobov, the current chief of a military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., and three deputies: Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov, the deputy chief of the G.R.U.; Igor Olegovich Kostyukov, a first deputy chief, and Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseyev, also a first deputy chief of the G.R.U.

But G.R.U. officials rarely travel to the United States, or keep their assets here, so the effects may be largely symbolic. It is also unclear if any American allies will impose parallel sanctions on Russia.

The administration also put sanctions on three companies and organizations that it said supported the hacking operations: the Special Technologies Center, a signals intelligence operation in St. Petersburg; a firm called Zor Security that is also known as Esage Lab; and the Autonomous Noncommercial Organization Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, whose lengthy name, American officials said, was cover for a group that provided special training for the hacking.

“It is hard to do business around the world when you are named like this,” a senior administration official with long experience in Russia sanctions said on Thursday morning. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence.