Fiona Hill's extraordinary career is one you don't hear about often; it has been a journey marked by enormous willpower and a strong sense of justice. It all started in Bishop Auckland – one of the many English towns that prospered during industrialisation but which later lost its footing. Hill's father was a coal miner, and the family struggled financially. To make ends meet, she contributed by doing a number of odd jobs growing up.
Hill's industriousness at school was rewarded when she was admitted to the prestigious St. Andrews University in Scotland, which, having been founded in 1413, is considered one of The Ancient Four. Here she studied history and Russian, which led first to a Master's degree and subsequently a PhD from Harvard University.
So there should be no doubt that Fiona Hill is not afraid of rolling up her sleeves. Her impressive CV includes working as an intelligence analyst under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama before becoming a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute thinktank located on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington — also known as Think Tank Row. Hill was subsequently hired by Donald Trump as Senior Director of European and Russian Affairs and thus became part of Trump's National Security Council – a council made up of the White House's senior advisers and cabinet officials who gather in the well-known Situation Room whenever a crisis threatens the United States.
Through her work, she has, among other things, come face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin. She's actually been closer to him than the rest of us would probably like: "I took in the suits, one of the finely tailored suits, the way that the little vein pulses on the left-hand side of his face," Hill said on the episode.[i]
In another interview, Hill compares Putin to the Twitter and Tesla owner Elon Musk, reducing the latter to a pawn in a game of chess: " Elon Musk has enormous leverage as well as incredible prominence. Putin plays the egos of big men, gives them a sense that they can play a role. But in reality, they’re just direct transmitters of messages from Vladimir Putin."[ii]
By virtue of her position as adviser to Donald Trump, Hill ended up on the witness stand in the first impeachment trial of the president. The impeachment was based on an accusation that Trump had asked Ukraine to find damaging information about his opponents in the US election. Hill's verdict on Trump and his political activities was clear: "Trump himself was a massive counterintelligence risk, because of his vulnerabilities and the fragility of his ego." [iii]
But what's the next step on Fiona Hill's journey? It is impossible to imagine her stopping here. She has already defied her modest working-class background and rubbed shoulders with the presidents of both the United States and Russia. At our New Year's Conference 2023, you can hear where her journey is taking her next.
[i] Putin Smelled Odd and Didn't Eat or Drink at Dinner, Fiona Hill Says (businessinsider.com)
[ii] Fiona Hill says Musk is 'transmitting a message for Putin' with peace proposal (Washington Examiner)
[iii] Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill on 'There Is Nothing for You Here' (NPR)