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Obama's cyber chief confirms he was told to stand down when he tried to counter Russian cyberattacks

A new report from former President Barack Obama's White House cyber official said that former national security adviser Susan Rice instructed him to "stand down" when he tried to develop a countermeasure to Russian cyberattacks. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former President Barack Obama's onetime cyber chief confirmed at a Senate Intelligence hearing this week that he had tried to come up with countermeasures to Russian cyberattacks in 2016 — and been told to "stand down." The order, he said, came from former national security adviser Susan Rice.

Does this sound familiar?

Michael Daniel, cybersecurity coordinator from 2012 through the end of Obama's presidency, previously provided this information for the book “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” written by Yahoo's Michael Isikoff and Mother Jones's David Corn.

What are the details?

Daniel testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that he had asked his team to come up with options countermeasures against Russian cyberattacks. He did not elaborate on what those options were, but said that they could be sued “to impose costs on the Russians — both openly to demonstrate that we could do it as a deterrent and also clandestinely to disrupt their operations as well.”

Daniel confirmed that one of his staff members, Daniel Prieto, had been ordered by Rice to "stand down," because she worried that the countermeasures could “box the president in.” Daniel said that his superiors had decided to “neck down the number of people that were involved in developing our ongoing response options.”

In the book, Isikoff and Corn detailed how Daniel was called into Rice's office and told to “knock it off.” Daniel reportedly described Rice to one of his aides as being “pissed-off.” Daniel was asked specifically about these passages in the book by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he confirmed that this was an accurate retelling of events.

He added that while the efforts to come up with a plan to combat the Russian interference weren't stopped completely, any plans to create cyber deterrence options “were put on a back burner and that was not the focus of our activity during that time period.”

What else?

Daniel wasn't the only Obama official to make claims like this. Obama's assistant secretary of state for Europe, Victoria Nuland, revealed that she was aware of Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee in December 2015 — months before DNC officials knew about it — and that Secretary of State John Kerry had authorized her and other State Department officials to come up with a proposal to deter them.

Nuland told the Senate committee, “I believe there were deterrence measures we could have taken and should have taken,” but added that most of the steps that the team proposed were ignored.

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