Homeland Security Adviser Suggests U.S. May Respond To Russian Cyberactivity
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We begin this hour with an update on Russian cyber-meddling during the election. President Obama has ordered his spy chiefs to look into what exactly happened and to report back before he leaves office. The public learned about this investigation last week when Lisa Monaco announced it.
Monaco has spent nearly four years at Obama's side as his adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism. She sat down with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly this afternoon at the White House, and now Mary Louise is here to tell us about that conversation. Good to see you.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: And you, Robert.
SIEGEL: Well, what does Lisa Monaco have to say about this report?
KELLY: Well, I asked her how thorough it's going to be given that it's a bit of a rush job, has to be finished by January 20. I asked her what lessons she's actually hoping to learn and also asked her to respond to criticism of how the administration has handled the whole Russian cyber-meddling affair.
So let me play you a minute or two from the interview. This is a long clip, but I want to give you a sense of - a flavor of the conversation. So here's Monaco.
LISA MONACO: We are in a new world when it comes to cyber-vulnerability and the cyber threat. And what we want to do is compile everything we know about what's happened, put that in one place, capture some lessons learned, after-action this so we can make sure we are optimally prepared to make sure this doesn't happen again.
KELLY: You will be aware that there's been criticism that the Obama administration didn't hit back more forcefully as this was unfolding during the campaign. The New York Times has a big front page story today in which they quote a senior State Department official who says - and I'll quote - everyone agreed you had to push back at the Russians and push back hard, but it didn't happen. Lisa Monaco, why not?
MONACO: The president's been very clear. We will take steps to protect our interests, and we will do so at a time and place of our choosing. What we did over the summer is make very clear in an unprecedented statement that the director of National Intelligence and DHS issued that quite publicly and directly attributed the malicious cyber activity and the intrusions into emails and political institutions to Russian actors and quite frankly to the highest levels of the Russian government. What we also did was message quite clearly, quite directly, including at the level of the president - to Putin - our concern about this activity.
KELLY: But to follow on this, issuing a statement from the DNI - the director of national intelligence - that may be unprecedented. It is hardly responding like for like. It is hardly a forceful pushback against Russia.
MONACO: What we were concerned about was the integrity of our election system and our election process, which is why we issued that unprecedented statement, which is why the intelligence community briefed members of Congress, which is why we engaged across the government, across all levels of government. And the Russians are quite clear and can make no mistake about what our concerns are.
SIEGEL: Lisa Monaco talking with our Mary Louise Kelly. Mary Louise, did Monaco rule out President Obama perhaps hitting back hard? He's got over a month left in office.
KELLY: He does, and she did not rule it out. In fact she left that door wide open, which is interesting. The administration has always said all options remain on the table. But the clock is ticking, so let's hear her answer to that question.
MONACO: We're going to be concerned about not escalating malicious cyber activity, and we're going to be very clear and proportional in our response. And that's what the public can expect. There will always be Monday morning quarterbacking. But I guess what I would say is, the game continues.
KELLY: The game continues. So might we still see some form of retaliation between now and January 20?
MONACO: I will leave it at what we said before, which is, we will respond at a time and place of our choosing. And the other thing I would say, Mary Louise, is the public should not expect to always see every element of our response.
KELLY: And Robert, I pushed Lisa Monaco on that and said the public does have an interest in seeing that the U.S. isn't pushed around. And there is a sense that Russia has gotten the better of the U.S. in this latest round of cyber tit-for-tat. She took issue with that and said, you want proof? Look at Election Day. There was no uptick in cyber activity.
SIEGEL: But actually tampering with ballot boxes on Election Day is different from stealing documents and leaking embarrassing information during the campaign.
KELLY: It absolutely is. The horse was - I think it's safe to say - out of the barn at that point.
SIEGEL: Finally, did Lisa Monaco, who has spent four years at the White House, have any advice for her successor?
KELLY: She did. We did the interview in the basement of the White House where her office is in the West Wing. We pointed at her inbox which was overflowing. And I said, what's going to be on top for your successor? She said terrorism and the cyber threat - the big one.
SIEGEL: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly - Mary Louise, thanks.
KELLY: You're so welcome.
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