May 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Inside the White House response to Colonial hack

President Biden is seen arriving for an event on Wednesday.

President Biden arrives to deliver a COVID-19 update today. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top White House officials — including counselor Steve Ricchetti and National Security Council chief of staff Yohannes Abraham — briefed President Biden about the Colonial Pipeline hack at Camp David last weekend, sources familiar with the response tell Axios.

Why it matters: The high-level response, which also included daily calls from national security adviser Jake Sullivan, underscores the administration's heightened concern about fallout from the hack — both from national security and political perspectives.

What we're hearing: Biden made clear after receiving his first briefing Friday night that he wanted to be kept abreast of the status of the hack and the administration's response.

  • He requested details on both fronts, officials said.

How events unfolded: Beginning Friday, Homeland Security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and National Economic Council director Brian Deese set up an ad-hoc interagency team, made up of White House and Cabinet principals, to deal with the pipeline breakdown.

  • Deese and Sherwood-Randall, who served as deputy secretary of Energy under President Obama and previously worked on issues with the Colonial pipeline, convened a series of internal calls and Zoom meetings multiple times per day.
  • Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology, was in touch with Colonial executives, and invited Tuesday to assist their chief information officer with diagnostics and remediation.

On Tuesday morning, Sullivan and Sherwood-Randall gave Biden a more detailed briefing focused on the nature of the attack, the particular group involved and how Colonial was remediating the ransomware attack to get their network back up and running.

  • Biden received a breakdown of the capabilities of the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Homeland Security and Defense, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, to assist in mitigating supply shortages.
  • Biden urged the team to move aggressively in responding to supply shortages that would emerge from a prolonged shutdown, officials said.

On Wednesday, the White House sent its top Cabinet officials to brief members of Congress on the situation. The briefing was held shortly after Colonial announced it would begin restarting its operations.

Go deeper: The White House provided a fact sheet on its outreach to states, including waivers allowing multiple states to temporarily use noncompliant fuel to boost available supply and increase weight limits for fuel transport trucks.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the advisers who briefed President Biden at Camp David did not travel there specifically to do so but were there already.

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