Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault – Washington Post

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The White House debated various options to punish Russia, but facing obstacles and potential risks, it ultimately failed to exact a heavy toll on the Kremlin for its election meddling.

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Hacking Democracy

Timeline

The White House debated various options to punish Russia, but facing obstacles and potential risks, it ultimately failed to exact a heavy toll on the Kremlin for its election interference.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.


SECRET CIA REPORT ARRIVES AT THE WHITE HOUSE

CIA Director John Brennan first alerts the White House in early August that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an operation to defeat or at least damage Hillary Clinton and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

The president instructs aides to assess vulnerabilities in the election system and get agencies to agree on the intelligence that Putin was seeking to influence the election.

Brennan calls Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s main security agency, and warns him about interfering in the U.S. presidential election.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s efforts to secure the U.S. voting systems run aground when some state officials reject his plan, calling it a federal takeover.

SECRET CIA REPORT ARRIVES AT THE WHITE HOUSE

CIA Director John Brennan first alerts the White House in early August that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an operation to defeat or at least damage Hillary Clinton and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

The president instructs aides to assess vulnerabilities in the election system and get agencies to agree on the intelligence that Putin was seeking to influence the election.

Brennan calls Alexander Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s main security agency, and warns him about interfering in the U.S. presidential election.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s efforts to secure the U.S. voting systems run aground when some state officials reject his plan, calling it a federal takeover.

But at the highest levels of government, among those responsible for managing the crisis, the first moment of true foreboding about Russia’s intentions arrived with that CIA intelligence.

The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.

It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Putin was working to elect Trump.

Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.

(Whitney Leaming,Osman Malik/The Washington Post)

But in the end, in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues — expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds — with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic.

Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.

In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.

Those closest to Obama defend the administration’s response to Russia’s meddling. They note that by August it was too late to prevent the transfer to WikiLeaks and other groups of the troves of emails that would spill out in the ensuing months. They believe that a series of warnings — including one that Obama delivered to Putin in September — prompted Moscow to abandon any plans of further aggression, such as sabotage of U.S. voting systems.



Denis McDonough

Denis McDonough
White House chief of staff. McDonough was one of the first few officials to discuss details of the intelligence.

, who served as Obama’s chief of staff, said that the administration regarded Russia’s interference as an attack on the “heart of our system.”

“We set out from a first-order principle that required us to defend the integrity of the vote,” McDonough said in an interview. “Importantly, we did that. It’s also important to establish what happened and what they attempted to do so as to ensure that we take the steps necessary to stop it from happening again.”

But other administration officials look back on the Russia period with remorse.

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” said a former senior Obama administration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

The post-election period has been dominated by the overlapping investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia before the election and whether the president sought to obstruct the FBI probe afterward. That spectacle has obscured the magnitude of Moscow’s attempt to hijack a precious and now vulnerable-seeming American democratic process.

Beset by allegations of hidden ties between his campaign and Russia, Trump has shown no inclination to revisit the matter and has denied any collusion or obstruction on his part. As a result, the expulsions and modest sanctions announced by Obama on Dec. 29 continue to stand as the United States’ most forceful response.

“The punishment did not fit the crime,” said Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia for the Obama administration from 2012 to 2014. “Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy — electing our president. The Kremlin should have paid a much higher price for that attack. And U.S. policymakers now — both in the White House and Congress — should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions.”

The Senate this month passed a bill that would impose additional election- and Ukraine-related sanctions on Moscow and limit Trump’s ability to lift them. The measure requires House approval, however, and Trump’s signature.

This account of the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s interference is based on interviews with more than three dozen current and former U.S. officials in senior positions in government, including at the White House, the State, Defense and Homeland Security departments, and U.S. intelligence services. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

The White House, the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

‘Deeply concerned’

The CIA breakthrough came at a stage of the presidential campaign when Trump had secured the GOP nomination but was still regarded as a distant long shot. Clinton held comfortable leads in major polls, and Obama expected that he would be transferring power to someone who had served in his Cabinet.

The intelligence on Putin was extraordinary on multiple levels, including as a feat of espionage.

For spy agencies, gaining insights into the intentions of foreign leaders is among the highest priorities. But Putin is a remarkably elusive target. A former KGB officer, he takes extreme precautions to guard against surveillance, rarely communicating by phone or computer, always running sensitive state business from deep within the confines of the Kremlin.

The Washington Post is withholding some details of the intelligence at the request of the U.S. government.

In early August,

Brennan

John Brennan
CIA director. Brennan first alerts the White House to the Putin intelligence and later briefs Obama in the Oval Office.

alerted senior White House officials to the Putin intelligence, making a call to deputy national security adviser

Avril Haines

Avril Haines
Deputy national security adviser and former deputy director of the CIA under Brennan.

and pulling national security adviser

Susan E. Rice

Susan Rice
National security adviser. Rice orders the National Security Council to finalize a list of options to use against Moscow.

aside after a meeting before briefing Obama along with Rice, Haines and

McDonough

Denis McDonough
White House chief of staff. McDonough was one of the first few officials to discuss details of the intelligence.

in the Oval Office.

Officials described the president’s reaction as grave. Obama “was deeply concerned and wanted as much information as fast as possible,” a former official said. “He wanted the entire intelligence community all over this.”

Concerns about Russian interference had gathered throughout the summer.

Russia experts had begun to see a troubling pattern of propaganda in which fictitious news stories, assumed to be generated by Moscow, proliferated across social-media platforms.

Officials at the State Department and FBI became alarmed by an unusual spike in requests from Russia for temporary visas for officials with technical skills seeking permission to enter the United States for short-term assignments at Russian facilities. At the FBI’s behest, the State Department delayed approving the visas until after the election.

Meanwhile, the FBI was tracking a flurry of hacking activity against U.S. political parties, think tanks and other targets. Russia had gained entry to DNC systems in the summer of 2015 and spring of 2016, but the breaches did not become public until they were disclosed in a June 2016 report by The Post.

Even after the late-July WikiLeaks dump, which came on the eve of the Democratic convention and led to the resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) as the DNC’s chairwoman, U.S. intelligence officials continued to express uncertainty about who was behind the hacks or why they were carried out.

At a public security conference in Aspen, Colo., in late July, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. noted that Russia had a long history of meddling in American elections but that U.S. spy agencies were not ready to “make the call on attribution” for what was happening in 2016.

“We don’t know enough . . . to ascribe motivation,” Clapper said. “Was this just to stir up trouble or was this ultimately to try to influence an election?”


RUSSIA AND THE CONVENTIONS

GOP convention, July 18 to 21

Democratic convention, July 25 to 28

Trump staffers alter

GOP platform on Ukraine

 

During the Republican National Convention, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak speaks with Trump advisers J.D. Gordon and Carter Page. Gordon would later say he was part of the push to soften the GOP’s national security platform regarding U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists. Kislyak meets with Jeff Sessions at a panel at the convention hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

WikiLeaks publishes about 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, days before the party’s national convention. Julian Assange tells NBC there is “no proof” that the information his anti-secrecy group received came from Russia. U.S. officials say WikiLeaks received the data from Russia.

RUSSIA AND THE CONVENTIONS

GOP convention, July 18 to 21

Democratic convention, July 25 to 28

DNC information

exposed

 

Trump staffers alter GOP

platform on Ukraine

WikiLeaks publishes about 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, days before the party’s national convention. Julian Assange tells NBC there is “no proof” that the information his anti-secrecy group received came from Russia. U.S. officials say WikiLeaks received the data from Russia.

During the Republican National Convention, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak speaks with Trump advisers J.D. Gordon and Carter Page. Gordon would later say he was part of the push to soften the GOP’s national security platform regarding U.S. support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists. Kislyak meets with Jeff Sessions at a panel at the convention hosted by the Heritage Foundation.



Brennan

John Brennan
CIA director. Brennan first alerts the White House to the Putin intelligence and later briefs Obama in the Oval Office.

convened a secret task force at CIA headquarters composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.

The unit functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community. Those brought in signed new non-disclosure agreements to be granted access to intelligence from all three participating agencies.

They worked exclusively for two groups of “customers,” officials said. The first was Obama and fewer than 14 senior officials in government. The second was a team of operations specialists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direction from the task force on where to aim their subsequent efforts to collect more intelligence on Russia.

Don’t make things worse

The secrecy extended into the White House.



Rice

Susan Rice
National security adviser. Rice orders the National Security Council to finalize a list of options to use against Moscow.

,

Haines

Avril Haines
Deputy national security adviser and former deputy director of the CIA under Brennan.

and White House homeland-security adviser Lisa Monaco convened meetings in the Situation Room to weigh the mounting evidence of Russian interference and generate options for how to respond. At first, only four senior security officials were allowed to attend:

Brennan

John Brennan
CIA director. Brennan first alerts the White House to the Putin intelligence and later briefs Obama in the Oval Office.

,

Clapper

James R. Clapper
Director of national intelligence and one of four senior administration officials to participate in meetings in of the Situation Room on how to retaliate against Russia. Clapper would eventually release the Obama administration’s first statement concluding Russia interfered in the election.

, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and FBI Director James B. Comey. Aides ordinarily allowed entry as “plus-ones” were barred.

Gradually, the circle widened to include Vice President Biden and others. Agendas sent to Cabinet secretaries — including John F. Kerry at the State Department and Ashton B. Carter at the Pentagon — arrived in envelopes that subordinates were not supposed to open. Sometimes the agendas were withheld until participants had taken their seats in the Situation Room.

Throughout his presidency, Obama’s approach to national security challenges was deliberate and cautious. He came into office seeking to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was loath to act without support from allies overseas and firm political footing at home. He was drawn only reluctantly into foreign crises, such as the civil war in Syria, that presented no clear exit for the United States.

Obama’s approach often seemed reducible to a single imperative: Don’t make things worse. As brazen as the Russian attacks on the election seemed, Obama and his top advisers feared that things could get far worse.

They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow’s meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day.

They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

Before departing for an August vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Obama instructed aides to pursue ways to deter Moscow and proceed along three main paths: Get a high-confidence assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies on Russia’s role and intent; shore up any vulnerabilities in state-run election systems; and seek bipartisan support from congressional leaders for a statement condemning Moscow and urging states to accept federal help.

The administration encountered obstacles at every turn.

Despite the intelligence the CIA had produced, other agencies were slower to endorse a conclusion that Putin was personally directing the operation and wanted to help Trump. “It was definitely compelling, but it was not definitive,” said one senior administration official. “We needed more.”

Some of the most critical technical intelligence on Russia came from another country, officials said. Because of the source of the material, the NSA was reluctant to view it with high confidence.



Brennan

John Brennan
CIA director. Brennan first alerts the White House to the Putin intelligence and later briefs Obama in the Oval Office.

moved swiftly to schedule private briefings with congressional leaders. But getting appointments with certain Republicans proved difficult, officials said, and it was not until after Labor Day that Brennan had reached all members of the “Gang of Eight” — the majority and minority leaders of both houses and the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Jeh Johnson, the homeland-security secretary, was responsible for finding out whether the government could quickly shore up the security of the nation’s archaic patchwork of voting systems. He floated the idea of designating state mechanisms “critical infrastructure,” a label that would have entitled states to receive priority in federal cybersecurity assistance, putting them on a par with U.S. defense contractors and financial networks.

On Aug. 15, Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials, hoping to enlist their support. He ran into a wall of resistance.

The reaction “ranged from neutral to negative,” Johnson said in congressional testimony Wednesday.

Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, used the call to denounce Johnson’s proposal as an assault on state rights. “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration,” Kemp said in a recent interview, adding that he remains unconvinced that Russia waged a campaign to disrupt the 2016 race. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said.

Stung by the reaction, the White House turned to Congress for help, hoping that a bipartisan appeal to states would be more effective.

In early September,

Johnson

Jeh Johnson
Homeland security secretary. Johnson is tasked with securing voting systems and arranges meetings with dozens of state officials.

,

Comey

James B. Comey
FBI director appointed by Obama. Comey was one of four senior officials to participate in meetings in the Situation Room on how to respond to Russia’s interference. Comey particpates in a briefing for members of Congress on Russia’s activities, but the meeting disolves into partisan bickering.

and

Monaco

Lisa Monaco
Homeland security adviser. Monaco briefs key members of Congress on the intelligence.

arrived on Capitol Hill in a caravan of black SUVs for a meeting with 12 key members of Congress, including the leadership of both parties.

The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble.

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.

Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

On Sept. 22, two California Democrats — Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam B. Schiff — did what they couldn’t get the White House to do. They issued a statement making clear that they had learned from intelligence briefings that Russia was directing a campaign to undermine the election, but they stopped short of saying to what end.

A week later, McConnell and other congressional leaders issued a cautious statement that encouraged state election officials to ensure their networks were “secure from attack.” The release made no mention of Russia and emphasized that the lawmakers “would oppose any effort by the federal government” to encroach on the states’ authorities.

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes.

With Obama still determined to avoid any appearance of politics, the statement would not carry his signature.

On Oct. 7, the administration offered its first public comment on Russia’s “active measures,” in a three-paragraph statement issued by

Johnson

Jeh Johnson
Homeland security secretary. Johnson is tasked with securing voting systems and arranges meetings with dozens of state officials.

and

Clapper

James R. Clapper
Director of national intelligence and one of four senior administration officials to participate in meetings in of the Situation Room on how to retaliate against Russia. Clapper would eventually release the Obama administration’s first statement concluding Russia interfered in the election.

.

Comey

James B. Comey
FBI director appointed by Obama. Comey was one of four senior officials to participate in meetings in the Situation Room on how to respond to Russia’s interference. Comey particpates in a briefing for members of Congress on Russia’s activities, but the meeting disolves into partisan bickering.

had initially agreed to attach his name, as well, officials said, but changed his mind at the last minute, saying that it was too close to the election for the bureau to be involved.

“The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” the statement said. “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Early drafts accused Putin by name, but the reference was removed out of concern that it might endanger intelligence sources and methods.

The statement was issued around 3:30 p.m., timed for maximum media coverage. Instead, it was quickly drowned out. At 4 p.m., The Post published a story about crude comments Trump had made about women that were captured on an “Access Hollywood” tape. Half an hour later, WikiLeaks published its first batch of emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

To some, Obama’s determination to avoid politicizing the Russia issue had the opposite effect: It meant that he allowed politics to shape his administration’s response to what some believed should have been treated purely as a national security threat.

Schiff said that the administration’s justifications for inaction often left him with a sense of “cognitive dissonance.”

“The administration doesn’t need congressional support to issue a statement of attribution or impose sanctions,” Schiff said in a recent interview. He said many groups inadvertently abetted Russia’s campaign, including Republicans who refused to confront Moscow and media organizations that eagerly mined the troves of hacked emails.

“Where Democrats need to take responsibility,” Schiff said, “is that we failed to persuade the country why they should care that a foreign power is meddling in our affairs.”

‘Ample time’ after election

The Situation Room is actually a complex of secure spaces in the basement level of the West Wing. A video feed from the main room courses through some National Security Council offices, allowing senior aides sitting at their desks to see — but not hear — when meetings are underway.

As the Russia-related sessions with Cabinet members began in August, the video feed was shut off. The last time that had happened on a sustained basis, officials said, was in the spring of 2011 during the run-up to the U.S. Special Operations raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

The blacked-out screens were seen as an ominous sign among lower-level White House officials who were largely kept in the dark about the Russia deliberations even as they were tasked with generating options for retaliation against Moscow.

Much of that work was led by the Cyber Response Group, an NSC unit with representatives from the CIA, NSA, State Department and Pentagon.

The early options they discussed were ambitious. They looked at sectorwide economic sanctions and cyberattacks that would take Russian networks temporarily offline. One official informally suggested — though never formally proposed — moving a U.S. naval carrier group into the Baltic Sea as a symbol of resolve.

What those lower-level officials did not know was that the principals and their deputies had by late September all but ruled out any pre-election retaliation against Moscow. They feared that any action would be seen as political and that Putin, motivated by a seething resentment of Clinton, was prepared to go beyond fake news and email dumps.

The FBI had detected suspected Russian attempts to penetrate election systems in 21 states, and at least one senior White House official assumed that Moscow would try all 50, officials said. Some officials believed the attempts were meant to be detected to unnerve the Americans. The patchwork nature of the United States’ 3,000 or so voting jurisdictions would make it hard for Russia to swing the outcome, but Moscow could still sow chaos.

“We turned to other scenarios” the Russians might attempt, said Michael Daniel, who was cybersecurity coordinator at the White House, “such as disrupting the voter rolls, deleting every 10th voter [from registries] or flipping two digits in everybody’s address.”

The White House also worried that they had not yet seen the worst of Russia’s campaign. WikiLeaks and DCLeaks, a website set up in June 2016 by hackers believed to be Russian operatives, already had troves of emails. But U.S. officials feared that Russia had more explosive material or was willing to fabricate it.

“Our primary interest in August, September and October was to prevent them from doing the max they could do,” said a senior administration official. “We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures.”

The assumption that Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency.

Instead, the administration issued a series of warnings.



Brennan

John Brennan
CIA director. Brennan first alerts the White House to the Putin intelligence and later briefs Obama in the Oval Office.

delivered the first on Aug. 4 in a blunt phone call with

Alexander Bortnikov

Alexander Bortnikov
Director of the FSB, the post-Soviet successor to the KGB. CIA Director John Brennan is one of the first to warn Bortnikov over Russia’s election interference in a telephone call. Brennan said Bortnikov denied it but told him he would pass on his message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

, the director of the FSB, Russia’s powerful security service.

A month later, Obama confronted Putin directly during a meeting of world leaders in Hangzhou, China. Accompanied only by interpreters, Obama told Putin that “we knew what he was doing and [he] better stop or else,” according to a senior aide who subsequently spoke with Obama. Putin responded by demanding proof and accusing the United States of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs.

In a subsequent news conference, Obama alluded to the exchange and issued a veiled threat. “We’re moving into a new era here where a number of countries have significant capacities,” he said. “Frankly, we’ve got more capacity than anybody both offensively and defensively.”

There were at least two other warnings.

On Oct. 7, the day that the Clapper-Johnson statement was released,

Rice

Susan Rice
National security adviser. Rice orders the National Security Council to finalize a list of options to use against Moscow.

summoned Russian Ambassador

Sergey Kislyak

Sergey Kislyak
Russian ambassador to the United States since 2008, a career diplomat not considered especially close to Putin.

to the White House and handed him a message to relay to Putin.

Then, on Oct. 31, the administration delivered a final pre-election message via a secure channel to Moscow originally created to avert a nuclear exchange. The message noted that the United States had detected malicious activity, originating from servers in Russia, targeting U.S. election systems and warned that meddling would be regarded as unacceptable interference. Russia confirmed the next day that it had received the message but replied only after the election through the same channel, denying the accusation.

As Election Day approached, proponents of taking action against Russia made final, futile appeals to Obama’s top aides:

McDonough

Denis McDonough
White House chief of staff. McDonough was one of the first few officials to discuss details of the intelligence.

,

Rice

Susan Rice
National security adviser. Rice orders the National Security Council to finalize a list of options to use against Moscow.

and

Haines

Avril Haines
Deputy national security adviser and former deputy director of the CIA under Brennan.

. Because their offices were part of a suite of spaces in the West Wing, securing their support on any national security issue came to be known as “moving the suite.”

One of the last to try before the election was Kerry. Often perceived as reluctant to confront Russia, in part to preserve his attempts to negotiate a Syria peace deal, Kerry was at critical moments one of the leading hawks.

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