CIA Informant Extracted From Russia Over Growing Security Concerns
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The CIA reportedly had a very valuable spy in Russia, a Russian citizen who allegedly operated for years inside the Kremlin with access to President Vladimir Putin. We are also hearing the CIA had to pull this spy out of Russia in 2017 as the agency grew concerned he might be discovered.
NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here. Hello, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: What else do we know about this reported spy?
MYRE: Well, he's being described as someone who provided a wealth of inside information to the CIA for many years. And this includes details on how President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Now, CNN reported this story first. The New York Times has followed with some additional details. A key one - it says the CIA initially wanted to pull the spy out in late 2016, but the spy refused - wanted to stay in Russia at that point. Then the CIA pressed him again in 2017, and he agreed to leave with his family.
KELLY: Is the Trump administration confirming any, all of this?
MYRE: No, they are not. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was the CIA director back in 2017, had this to say.
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MIKE POMPEO: The reporting is materially inaccurate. And you should know, as a former CIA director, I don't talk about things like this very often. It is only the occasions when there's something that I think puts people at risk or the reporting is so egregious as to create enormous risk to the United States of America that I even comment in the way that I just did.
KELLY: All right. So Mike Pompeo is saying the story is an accurate but not telling us in what way. Is Russia confirming any or all of this?
MYRE: Well, this is where it gets even stranger. It seems there have been some hints sitting out there for the past couple years. Let's go back two years to 2017. There was a Russia media report that an official in Putin's administration had disappeared while his family was on vacation in Montenegro. At first they even thought to open a murder investigation. But then that sort of dropped, faded away. And then one year ago, last summer, the Washington Post property section has, just as a routine listing of a man by this same name, purchasing a house in the Washington area. Very strange that he might be buying a house under his own name - it would seem pretty risky.
KELLY: Under his own name - that does seem risky. This is reminding me of the case of Sergei Skripal, the ex-Russian intelligence officer last year in Britain poisoned. He and his daughter nearly died.
MYRE: Right. Ex-Russian spies don't have the longest life expectancy.
MYRE: And so the Kremlin gave an official response today. It says these U.S. media stories appear to refer to a low-level official who was fired a couple years ago from the Putin administration. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says these reports that he had access to Putin or high-level information was, quote, "pulp fiction."
KELLY: Talk about the impact on the CIA because, as we know, getting a human source inside the top level of a foreign government is not easy - and inside the top level of Russia's government, definitely not easy. How big a loss to the CIA would this be if they had one there and they had to pull him out?
MYRE: Well, it would be very big. I mean, getting someone at that level in the Soviet or Russian government - always been very hard. This is one of the most difficult places to spy. It's only been getting harder in the age of omnipresent surveillance. I spoke about this with George Beebe. He's the former head of Russia analysis at the CIA, author of a new book "The Russia Trap."
GEORGE BEEBE: Now, it is becoming more difficult to collect intelligence in the old-fashioned, you know, human cloak-and-dagger way. Technology is making that more difficult.
MYRE: So spying methods may change, but the spying is eternal.
KELLY: NPR's Greg Myre.
Thank you, Greg.
MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.