Multiple Investigations Underway On Russian Ties To U.S. Election

Dec 13, 2016
Originally published on December 13, 2016 9:32 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We're going to take a moment now to check in on the latest twists involving Russia, the CIA and Donald Trump. Specifically, what we know and what we don't know about the CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the November election to tip it to Trump. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has been working her sources, and she's with us now. Welcome.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Let's start with the various investigations underway. The White House has ordered a review of what's known. Senators on Capitol Hill said that they'll do the same. Where do things stand there?

KELLY: Well, they certainly are gearing up. There are three Senate committees so far. The Intelligence Committee is leading the way, but Armed Services also says they're going to investigate. And just today, we heard the Foreign Relations Committee also plans to join the bandwagon. Now, we don't know what form that will take. Are we talking hearings? Or - will they be public hearings, closed hearings? Will we see a report - all to be determined.

SIEGEL: What exactly is Congress trying to learn? What are the biggest outstanding questions at this point?

KELLY: Well, at this point, go back to the issue that has been making news this week of - that there are maybe differing opinions between the CIA and the FBI, if that is in fact true. If they have reached different views on Russian motives, why? What's informing that? Also, key question - was the RNC, the Republican National Committee - were they hacked? U.S. intelligence agencies say yes, they were. The RNC says no, we weren't. I mean, that would seem, Robert, to be a question that a cybersecurity expert could answer. And that basic technical question could be put out there and you put that to rest. But this is still a question.

Other key questions - what's the timeline? What do we know about when this all started? Is it ongoing? Does it continue at this moment? And the biggie, which is attribution - that's always a challenge in cyber cases. The DNI, the director of National Intelligence, has said with confidence that only Russia's most senior officials could have authorized these hacks. Donald Trump, as we keep hearing, says that is ridiculous. He doesn't believe it. He says the DNI has no idea if this was Russia.

SIEGEL: And with confidence is a term of art here. It's a...

KELLY: It is a term of art. It's a very different thing to say we believe this or we have confidence in this, we have high, confidence, medium confidence. These are things that the intelligence community agonizes over, the precise wording to give a sense of how sure they are.

SIEGEL: As you mentioned, we don't know if the hearings are going to be public or not. How likely is it that more evidence will be made public? Can the CIA actually share more of what it knows without revealing, as they say, sources and methods of gathering intelligence?

KELLY: Right, the classic question, sources and methods. And the CIA, as we know, is an agency that by definition operates in the shadows. Making things public does not come easily to them. As someone who tries to crack them every day, I can you that firsthand. I will say based on calls that I was making today, I heard - let's call it a growing view - that the agency has a responsibility to be more specific about how they have reached certainty in this case. I mean, protecting sources is something that the CIA takes very seriously for obvious reasons. There are lives at stake.

But here's one scenario, how this could unfold, that a former senior CIA official outlined for me today. This is an official who has testified before Congress, who has faced questions about this type - thing before. And he - and this official said, look, start with the fact there's never 100 percent certainty in the intelligence world. Sources lie to you. Intercepted messages can be misunderstood. Even if you happen to hear a conversation, overheard conversations can be misinterpreted.

But in a case like this, the official said you could imagine saying the information I'm sharing with you came from a human source who is one of the most reliable sources I've seen in my career as CIA station chief. Boom. That would not reveal any sources. And it would have the added bonus in the Russia case, this official said, of driving Russia's spy services crazy trying to figure out who it was.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) Donald Trump gets sworn in next month. It's a big deal for a president to openly question his intelligence officers. How...

KELLY: It is.

SIEGEL: How is all that playing at the CIA?

KELLY: There is anxiety at the CIA, as you would imagine. I don't think alarm is too strong a word - also soul-searching. A couple of former senior CIA officers I reached today said, look, if there is a trust deficit between the CIA and the incoming president, which it appears there is, it's the CIA's job to fix that. He is the customer-in-chief. The stakes are too high not to work with him.

SIEGEL: That's NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Thanks.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.