It was in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign that Susan Rice proved to be a pivotal figure preventing the United States from countering Russian attempts at election meddling.
The former National Security Adviser, who chaired a number of high-ranking intelligence principals, told an official to “stand down” on developing cyber-espionage countermeasures because they had not been approved by President Obama.
A new book co-authored by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, previewed at Mother Jones, divulges the background of the Obama decision not to aggressively resist Russian attempts at meddling in the US election.
At one pivotal point during the presidential campaign, Susan Rice directly told the White House director of cybersecurity Michael Daniel to cease and desist from developing further technological options to thwart apparent Russian attempts to create havoc in the digital elections infrastructure.
“One day in late August, national security adviser Susan Rice called Daniel into her office and demanded he cease and desist from working on the cyber options he was developing. ‘Don’t get ahead of us,’ she warned him. The White House was not prepared to endorse any of these ideas. Daniel and his team in the White House cyber response group were given strict orders: ‘Stand down.’ She told Daniel to ‘knock it off,’ he recalled,” the book recounts.
“That was one pissed-off national security adviser,” Daniel would say to one of his aides.
The cybersecurity analyst would complain about the Rice incident to other intelligence officials. The book passage describes how it shook out.
At his morning staff meeting, Daniel matter-of-factly said to his team that it had to stop work on options to counter the Russian attack: “We’ve been told to stand down.” Daniel Prieto, one of Daniel’s top deputies, recalled, “I was incredulous and in disbelief. It took me a moment to process. In my head I was like, ‘Did I hear that correctly?’” Then Prieto spoke up, asking, “Why the hell are we standing down? Michael, can you help us understand?” Daniel informed them that the orders came from both Rice and Monaco. They were concerned that if the options were to leak, it would force Obama to act. “They didn’t want to box the president in,” Prieto subsequently said.
It was a critical moment that, as Prieto saw it, scuttled the chance for a forceful immediate response to the Russian hack—and keenly disappointed the NSC aides who had been developing the options.
President Obama has been questioned by even his own former security officials for not acting more aggressively to counteract Russian active measures during the 2016 presidential campaign.
As the New York Times related in an exculpatory piece, “Some former Obama officials now confess to misgivings about Mr. Obama’s reluctance to act, or speak out more forcefully, even as the evidence piled up during the spring and summer of 2016 that the Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee and were behind the leak of damaging emails about Hillary Clinton.”
The plausible rationale for the former president’s reluctance to act was poignantly captured by the subsequent president Donald Trump.
“That’s because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn’t want to ‘rock the boat,’ ” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems.”
Susan Rice also exhibited suspicious behavior as she departed the Obama administration. The former National Security Adviser sent a cryptic email to herself providing political cover to the former president regarding a meeting on Russian election interference with former FBI Director James Comey, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“President Obama began the conversation by stressing his continued commitment to ensuring that every aspect of this issue is handled by the Intelligence and law enforcement communities ‘by the book.’ The president stressed that he is not asking about, initiating or instructing anything from a law enforcement perspective. He reiterated that our law enforcement team needs to proceed as it normally would by the book,” Rice wrote to herself.
It is remarkable that Susan Rice would so repeatedly turn up at critical junctures in the Russia investigation. It raises numerous questions: Why did Susan Rice issue the “stand down” order”?
Wouldn’t a national security adviser normally want to explore all options and go through extraordinary lengths to ensure the integrity of our national elections? And why did Rice send an email to herself that ostensibly exonerates the president in highly scripted language?
This is highly questionable behavior from a once-influential security official whose actions are reverberating from her time in office still to this very day.