The White House’s cybersecurity coordinator during President Barack Obama’s second term confirmed some provocative passages from a recent book about the Russian effort to influence American politics.
According to Yahoo News, Michael Daniel appeared before members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday to testify on issues regarding the Obama administration’s reaction to evidence of Russian meddling prior to the 2016 election.
In one of his questions to Daniel, Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, asked about a meeting described in “Russian Roulette,” a 2018 book by veteran journalists Michael Isikoff and David Corn. Isikoff also wrote the Yahoo article detailing the exchange this week on Capitol Hill.
According to Daniel Prieto, a staffer quoted in the book, then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice gave an order to “stand down” when confronted with evidence of Russian cyberattacks.
She reportedly felt any decisive action on the part of the administration would “box the president in” ahead of an important election.
Prieto said he was “incredulous and in disbelief” when he heard the order and went to Daniel for confirmation.
“Why the hell are we standing down?” he asked his superior. “Michael, can you help us understand?”
Daniel confirmed that the passage represented “an accurate rendering of what happened” during the meeting, though he offered some context and said he could provide even more details in a classified session scheduled for later in the day.
According to the former Obama official, the administration and his department continued to work toward a general goal of keeping the electoral system safe from attack.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported, Daniel said that his department shifted its focus “in that September and October time frame to focus heavily on better protecting and assisting the states in better protecting the electoral infrastructure and ensuring that we had the greatest visibility as possible into what the Russians were doing and developing essentially an incident response plan for Election Day.”
.@CyberAlliance President Michael Daniel told me it's "highly likely" Russian cyber actors looked for vulnerabilities in election systems in all 50 states. Congress should pass the Secure Elections Act I introduced with bipartisan group to protect U.S. from foreign interference. pic.twitter.com/YDYsUwomw8
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) June 21, 2018
Risch followed up by asking specifically about the administration’s “cyber response,” seeking to confirm that Daniel was “told to stand down” by his superiors.
“Those actions were put on a back burner, yes,” he said.
“That was not the focus of our activity during that time period,” Daniel added.
As for the reasoning behind that order, Daniel broadly cited the opinion of his superiors that the best course of action was to “neck down the number of people that were involved in developing our ongoing response options.”
He said concerns about “how many people were working on the options” led to the ultimate order to stand down and refocus his department’s efforts.
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