Former President Barack Obama’s cybersecurity czar confirmed Wednesday that former national security adviser Susan Rice told him to “stand down” in response to Russian cyber attacks during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Michael Daniel, whose official title was “cybersecurity coordinator,” confirmed the stand-down order during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing held to review the Obama and President Donald Trump’s administrations’ policy response to Russian election interference.
Rice’s order to Daniel was first reported in “Russian Roulette,” a book published in March that details Russia’s meddling in the election.
In the book, authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn reported that Daniel was developing strategies to respond to Russian cyber attacks on U.S. companies and political campaigns. He proposed using what’s known as denial of service attacks to take down Russian propaganda news sites and to attack Russian intelligence agencies.
Another idea was to announce a bogus “cyber exercise” against a Eurasian country. The goal was to put the Kremlin on notice that its infrastructure could easily be targeted by the U.S.
Rice opposed the proposals, according to “Russian Roulette.”
“Don’t get ahead of us,” she told Daniel in a meeting in August 2016, according to the book.
Daniel informed his staff of the order, much to their frustration.
“I was incredulous and in disbelief,” Daniel Prieto, who worked under Daniel, is quoted saying in “Russian Roulette.”
“Why the hell are we standing down? Michael, can you help us understand?” Prieto asked.
Daniel confirmed the exchange on Wednesday, during a round of questions from Idaho Sen. Jim Risch.
“That is an accurate rendering of the conversation at the staff meeting,” he testified.
“You were told to stand down, is that correct?” Risch, a Republican, asked Daniel.
“Those actions were put on the back burner, yes. That was not the focus of our activity during that time period,” Daniel replied.
He noted the White House cybersecurity team did continue working to respond to Russia, but with a smaller staff and a less aggressive approach.
“It’s not accurate to say that all activity ceased at that point,” he said, declining to describe the activities in an unclassified hearing.