Former Obama administration National Security Council cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel confirmed on Wednesday that a "stand down" order was given to counter Russian cyberattacks during the 2016 election.
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho) asked Daniel about a passage in the book Russian Roluette. The passage was about a staffer from Daniel's team, Daniel Prieto, retelling the time that Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice told Daniel and his team to halt their efforts and to "stand down" in countering Russia's cyberattacks.
Daniel was quoted saying to his team that they had to stop working on options to counter the Russian attack: "We've been told to stand down." Prieto is quoted as being "incredulous and in disbelief" and asking, "Why the hell are we standing down?"
"That is an accurate rendering of the conversation at the staff meeting but the larger context is something that we can discuss in the classified session," Daniel said. "But I can say there were many concerns about how many people were involved in the development of the options so the decision at that point was to neck down the number of people that were involved in our ongoing response options. It's not accurate to say all activities ceased at that point. "
Daniel and his team were tasked in developing options to Russia's cyberattacks on the United States. Russian hacked the Democratic National Committee servers in 2015 and into voter registration systems of several U.S. states in 2016.
Risch asked if Daniel's area of supervision completely ceased after the "stand down" order.
"No, we shifted our 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," Daniel said.
"But as far as your cyber response, you were told to stand down. Is that correct?" Risch asked.
"Those actions were put on the back burner, yes. That was not the focus of our activity during that time period," Daniel said.
In the same hearing, former Obama State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Russian President Vladimir Putin expected deterrent measures when Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election but didn't see them so he felt he could "keep pushing."
During eight years of the Obama administration, Russia was able to invade Ukraine, annex Crimea, prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and interfere in the 2016 election. In response to its aggressive behavior, Obama personally warned Putin to "cut it out." As his presidency was coming to an end, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the implementation of new sanctions against the country.