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Treasury changes Obama sanctions on Russian security agency

By Doug G. Ware
Treasury changes Obama sanctions on Russian security agency
The U.S. Department of the Treasury said Thursday it has amended sanctions against the Russian government that were imposed by former President Barack Obama at the end of December, as punishment for Moscow's supposed interference in the American presidential election. The changes permit U.S. technology companies to export some cybersecurity products to Russia's Federal Security Service. File Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The U.S. Treasury on Thursday revised sanctions on Russia imposed by former President Barack Obama five weeks ago that banned cybersecurity sales to Russia's Federal Security Service -- the agency that supposedly meddled in the American presidential election with a series of Internet hackings.

The Treasury Department amended the sanctions against the FSB, the main successor agency to the KGB, to authorize U.S. sales of tech tools to the agency "that are necessary and ordinarily incident to requesting certain licenses and authorizations for the importation, distribution, or use of certain information technology products in the Russian Federation."

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Obama first issued sanctions against the FSB in 2015 and reinforced them with a supplemental order on Dec. 29 to punish Moscow for its purported interference in the U.S. presidential election. On that same day, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had released a joint report alleging that Russia was involved in the cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee.

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Thursday's change by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Treasury's fiscal intelligence and enforcement arm, allows American technology firms to export products to Russia as long as they aren't used in the Crimean Peninsula, and don't violate existing sanctions.

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The FSB, along with Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, replaced the Soviet-era KGB after the communist regime's 1991 collapse.

At a news briefing Thursday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that the move was not an easing of sanctions, but rather a routine reevaluation.

"We're not easing," he said. "From what I understand, [it is] a regular course of action the Treasury does quite often."

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"It's a fairly common practice for the Treasury Department, after sanctions are put in place, to go back and to look at whether or not there needs to be specific carve-outs for different industries or products and services that need to be going back and forth," Spicer continued.

Trump echoed that stance, saying he's "not easing anything."

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Some policy experts say the move is effectively a cleanup effort to address unforeseen side effects.

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"This isn't Trump weakening sanctions," Eric Lorber, a consultant at Financial Integrity Network, said Thursday. "Unintended consequences popped up, OFAC dealt with them. Looks like good job by OFAC."

Some critics, though, have characterized the change as rewarding Moscow for interfering in November's election.

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"[Russia] attacked our democracy. They should pay a price," Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., tweeted Thursday. "[Trump] rewards them by rolling back sanctions against their team of hackers."

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to questions about the amendment. Trump's treasury secretary nominee, Steven Mnuchin, won approval Wednesday from the Senate Finance Committee and will now receive a vote in the full chamber.

For months, critics have expressed concern about possible ties between Trump and Russia in the past, and some have even asked for the FBI to investigate potential connections.

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