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White House Cyber Adviser: I Wish We Saw Election Hacking Coming

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel // Ann Heisenfelt/AP

Russian cyber meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was an “almost inevitable” evolution of international conflict in cyberspace, and it won’t be the last time a nation uses hacking to disrupt a U.S. election, White House cyber adviser Michael Daniel predicted Thursday.

Daniel defended the government response to Russian government-backed hacks of Democratic political organizations during a panel discussion. He also expressed regret the government wasn’t better prepared in advance for such a cyber-enabled influence operation, which he described as a “logical outcome” of hacking and influence operations by other nation-states and nonstate groups such as the Islamic State group.

“I think it was almost inevitable that we were headed in this direction,” Daniel told reporters after the panel discussion hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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“I think figuring out how to have those conversations earlier would have been valuable,” he said, “but it’s easy to say in retrospect.”

The U.S. experience might be instructive for politicians in France and Germany as they approach elections in the coming months, said Tim Maurer, co-lead of Carnegie’s Cyber Policy Initiative.  

With several months to go before elections, parties in those countries have an opportunity to reach an agreement about how to respond to influence operations and blunt the operations’ political effect, Maurer said.

There was little opportunity for such cooperation in the U.S., Maurer said, partly because the hacked information leaked from the Democratic National Committee came out in the middle of an already brutal campaign.

French intelligence agencies have begun sharing cyber intelligence with political parties as a result of the U.S. experience, the Associated Press reported Thursday. German officials are similarly concerned about Russian election meddling.

President-elect Donald Trump has insisted he does not believe U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia was responsible for the breaches and that that conclusion was politically motivated. He tweeted Thursday: “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”

In truth, intelligence agencies concluded Russia was responsible for the breaches Oct. 7, a month before the election, and numerous federal officials denounced the hacking.

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