U.S. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order on Wednesday to punish any foreign interference in U.S. elections, a latest attempt by the administration to show its resolution to fight against elections meddling, said U.S. officials.
According to national security adviser John Bolton, the sanctions are aimed at targeting anyone who attacks the election infrastructure or distributes propaganda.
Joining Bolton, the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that this is an ongoing effort.
"It's more than Russian Federation here that we are looking at", National Intelligence Director Dan Coats told reporters on a conference call, specifying that United States intelligence agencies are concerned about the ability of Iran, North Korea and China to interfere in the election, and threatening an "automatic response to that".
At the same time, outside experts have warned for more than a year that Russian efforts to manipulate USA voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect.
While Coates said that "we have not seen the intensity of activity from 2016", the intelligence community has seen signs that there are efforts underway by a number of actors to manipulate the political process this year.
"We're taking nothing for granted here", Mr Coats said.
"They, within another 45 days, will assess the validity and the impact of the intelligence".
Congress has been purposefully left out of the executive order drafting process, the official said, because the administration wants to preempt legislation being considered in the House and Senate that addresses similar issues.
Among other things, it would require federal agencies aware of foreign election meddling to relay the information to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
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Media outlets were not allowed in to view - or roll video while - the president signed the order.
Amid serious backlash from both sides of the aisle, the Republican president later explained that he "misspoke" and said he had "great confidence" in U.S. intelligence. "You don't know who broke into [the] DNC".
"Obviously we're looking at having evidence that interference has occurred", he said, but added: "The executive order is not country-specific". "I think his actions speak for themselves".
Some lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the new executive order.
"Mandatory sanctions on anyone who attacks our electoral systems serve as the best deterrent, which is the central tenant of the bipartisan DETER Act", the senators said. Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) criticized the measure for not going far enough.
"By mandating the imposition of sanctions against any individual or entity that seeks to interfere in our elections, we are sending a clear signal that the U.S. government will not tolerate interference of any kind and will use every tool at our disposal to protect our democratic process", she said.
The sanctions would block USA financial activities by those implicated in the election interference and those individuals would be prohibited from entering this country.
Any individual, entity or country which authorises, directs, sponsors or supports interference could be hit with economic penalties under the USA president's new order. If they agree with the assessment, it would trigger automatic sanctions.
"The United States government - the whole of government", the North Carolina Republican added, "has taken a very tough stand on Russian Federation". Those departments would then determine whether to move ahead with sanctions. If that judgement is affirmative, the penalties would go in place immediately.