WASHINGTON — In his first public remarks since taking the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, Director Mike Pompeo assured the American public that the CIA is not spying on them and tore into WikiLeaks as a morally bankrupt “non-state hostile intelligence service” that sides with global tyrants.
Speaking today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pompeo also implied that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would have sided with the Nazis during World War II.
Pompeo said he’s “surrounded by talented and committed patriots” in his new job at the agency, who “quietly go about their work and try not to get too worked up over the headlines, including the fanciful notion that they spy on their fellow citizens via microwave ovens” — a jab at White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway’s interpretation of WikiLeaks’ March data dump about CIA methods.
“But they are not at liberty to stand up to these false narratives and explain our mission to the American people,” he said of his workforce, adding “it is time to call these voices out — the men and women of CIA deserve a real defense.”
“…We are a foreign intelligence agency. We focus on collecting information about foreign governments, foreign terrorist organizations, and the like — not Americans. A number of specific rules keep us centered on that mission and protect the privacy of our fellow Americans. To take just one important example, CIA is legally prohibited from spying on people through electronic surveillance in the United States. We’re not tapping anyone’s phone in Wichita.”
Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, added that “regardless of what you see on the silver screen, we do not pursue covert action on a whim without approval or accountability… there is oversight and accountability every step of the way.”
President Trump praised WikiLeaks repeatedly on the campaign trail as stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were published. Pompeo noted today that “we at CIA find the celebration of entities like WikiLeaks to be both perplexing and deeply troubling.”
“Because while we do our best to quietly collect information on those who pose very real threats to our country, individuals such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden seek to use that information to make a name for themselves. As long as they make a splash, they care nothing about the lives they put at risk or the damage they cause to national security,” he said.
“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations. It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
The director ripped an op-ed Assange wrote for the Washington Post this week, in which the WikiLeaks editor argued that “consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media.”
Pompeo called it “a convoluted mass of words wherein Assange compared himself to Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of legitimate news organizations such as the New York Times and the Washington Post — one can only imagine the absurd comparisons that the original draft contained.”
“Assange claims to harbor an overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America. But I assure you that this man knows nothing of America and our ideals. He knows nothing of our third president, whose clarion call for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness continue to inspire us and the world. And he knows nothing of our 34th president, a hero from my very own Kansas, who helped to liberate Europe from fascists and guided America through the early years of the Cold War,” he continued. “No, I am quite confident that had Assange been around in the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, he would have found himself on the wrong side of history.”
“We know this because Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today. Yes, they try unsuccessfully to cloak themselves and their actions in the language of liberty and privacy; in reality, however, they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent. Their mission: personal self-aggrandizement through the destruction of Western values.”
Pompeo added that WikiLeaks does “not care about the causes and people they claim to represent.”
“If they did, they would focus instead on the autocratic regimes in this world that actually suppress free speech and dissent. Instead, they choose to exploit the legitimate secrets of democratic governments — which has, so far, proven to be a much safer approach than provoking a tyrant,” he said. “Clearly, these individuals are not especially burdened by conscience.”
NSA leaker Snowden, he said, should have used “the well-established and discreet processes in place to voice grievances” but as a result of the leaks “more than a thousand foreign targets—people, groups, organizations—more than a thousand of them changed or tried to change how they communicated as a result of the Snowden disclosures — that number is staggering.”
“And the bottom line is that it became harder for us in the intelligence community to keep Americans safe,” he added.
Pompeo also noted an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula member posting an online comment “thanking WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned… that Assange is the darling of terrorists is nothing short of reprehensible.”
While there is no “quick fix” to fight “so-called transparency activists,” the director said, he stressed that “ignorance or misplaced idealism is no longer an acceptable excuse for lionizing these demons.”
“We’ve got to strengthen our own systems; we’ve got to improve internal mechanisms that help us in our counterintelligence mission. All of us in the Intelligence Community had a wake-up call after Snowden’s treachery. Unfortunately, the threat has not abated,” he said. “I can’t go into great detail, but the steps we take can’t be static. Our approach to security has to be constantly evolving.”
Pompeo declared that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us — to give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.”
“And finally — and perhaps most importantly — we need to deepen the trust between the Intelligence Community and the citizens we strive to protect,” he concluded. “At CIA, I can assure you that we are committed to earning that trust every day. We know we can never take it for granted.”