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Perspective From A Former CIA Russia Chief

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, it also seemed worth bringing a spy's perspective to bear on all this, so we've invited Steve Hall to join us. He spent 30 years in the CIA's clandestine service. He used to run the CIA's Russia operations, and he is on the line now from Tucson. Good morning, Steve.

STEVE HALL: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I want to ask you just to walk us through the way a spy is thinking about this. If you were back at your old desk at Langley, what would be - what would be the big outstanding questions you would be trying to answer?

HALL: Well, I mean, you know, some of the questions that Scott and Greg raised, of course, are, I think, the critical questions. But, you know, if I had that magic intelligence asset, if I had that magic spy, you know, sitting inside the Kremlin who could tell me, you know, what's going on, I would, you know, I would set aside several hours, if not several days, and sit down with that magic spy and say to him, walk me through this. I mean, there's so many fascinating questions. There's so many fascinating characters, and we know so little, oftentimes, in terms of what they were actually doing. I mean, take, for example, Mike Flynn, all right? This is a, you know, a career intelligence guy. He used to head, you know, DIA, the - you know, the American military and intelligence unit...

KELLY: Sure.

HALL: ...Who, you know, who clearly, you know, not only thinks very well of himself but thinks he has, you know, a significant career in the national security, you know, structure at the highest levels in the United States. And he takes an invitation on the part of RT, you know, a Russian propaganda outlet that's basically controlled by the Kremlin, and thinks it's OK to take an all-expenses-paid trip, you know, to Moscow to sit next to Putin and, you know, have - I mean, were there other meetings that happened in Moscow, discrete ones between Flynn and the Russians? You know, what - was there an offer there? Was there money paid? We know he accepted funds for his, you know, for his presentations, but - so what's that all about I would ask my magic spy. I'd ask him about guys like Paul Manafort who, you know, makes a...

KELLY: The former campaign manager for Trump.

HALL: Yeah - makes his living, you know, going over to places like Ukraine and basically, you know, bartering and working, you know, influence. That's his stock and trade is who do you know, and he worked for, you know, former Ukrainian President Yanukovych who was pretty much a puppet of the Kremlin's, of Putin's, who must have known that Manafort was, you know - so what role did he play? What about - you know, what about Trump's private lawyer, Cohen? Did he take any of the trips that there have been - that have been mentioned of him making, and what was that all about? And of course...

KELLY: So lots of questions you still have about the various personalities involved in this. You said something that interested me, which is you would love to have your magic spy in the Kremlin, your magic asset in the Kremlin. Is that still you think the best source of intelligence on what the Russians are up to in this era of wiretapping and communications intercept and everything else?

HALL: Well, look, I mean, I think it's probably not unlike perhaps the business that you guys do, Mary Louise, in terms of journalism. I mean, yeah, I still think if you can have a human source who can, you know, who you can protect and - just like you guys do - and get, you know, this is - you know, I was in the room when this happened. A spy can tell you that. He can tell you more than just, you know, what an intercepted transcript can tell you. That, you know, that tells you the content of a conversation. But what you really want is somebody behind the scenes who can tell you, well, this is what Putin said or this is what, you know, another senior Russian official said, but this is what was really going on. Let me explain that to you and put some context. So yeah, having that magic asset would really get to the key question here, which is, you know, I think as Greg and Scott were saying earlier, was there any collusion or cooperation because that's really the central question here.

KELLY: Well, in a few seconds we have left, let me put the same question to you I put to them. Do you think it's possible this is all smoke, no fire, that there's no there there?

HALL: Well, one thing we know - at least I'm convinced of - is the intelligence community's assessment that there was indeed a multi-pronged influence. So there can be - then that's very serious. But the most serious thing, of course, is was there any collusion? And that we do not have any - we don't have confirmation of yet. Is it possible...

KELLY: OK.

HALL: ...As Greg stated? Yeah, it's possible to get to the end of it and there's nothing. But we got to get to the bottom of it. I mean, there's no doubting that.

KELLY: Thank you. That's Steve Hall, former chief of Russia operations for the CIA. Thanks for talking to us.

HALL: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIS WILL DESTROY YOU'S "THEY MOVE ON TRACKS OF NEVER-ENDING LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.