- By Jenna McLaughlinJenna McLaughlin is an intelligence reporter for Foreign Policy, focusing on the culture, dynamics, and events happening in the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the other 15 members of the intelligence community—plus the way the sensitive information they gather and analyze informs and directs the White House and policy makers on the Hill. Previously, McLaughlin was a national security reporter for the Intercept where she covered everything from the FBI’s secretive subpoena powers to cybersecurity companies in the Middle East. Before that, she covered similar topics including the rise of the Islamic State at Mother Jones Magazine. You can reach her with tips and responses securely through Signal or WhatsApp at 203-537-3949, or through her email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Pompeo, the former Kansas lawmaker tapped by President Donald Trump to run the CIA, excoriated WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange in his first public remarks since taking over the spy agency.
“We at the CIA find the celebration of entities like WikiLeaks to be perplexing and deeply troubling,” he said. “WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” citing an “overwhelming” focus on the United States.
“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is — a nonstate, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said before a packed house at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. He specifically referred to U.S. intelligence officials’ conclusion that Russian military intelligence used WikiLeaks to release stolen emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, meant to help tip the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
And Pompeo, who as a representative had oversight responsibility over the CIA, seemed to threaten U.S. action against the site, saying that WikiLeaks can no longer hide behind “free speech” arguments. “It ends now,” Pompeo said.
Assange, for his part, has insisted that publishing the CIA files, as well as the DNC emails, has been a part of WikiLeaks’ mission to expose U.S. government wrongdoing. “We are an organization that has a commitment to the public to publish true information and not suppress it, and to make sure that as many people read it as possible,” he said in an interview with Democracy Now on April 12.
Pompeo’s much-anticipated remarks, uncharacteristically acerbic for a senior U.S. intelligence official, come at an awkward time for the Trump administration. On Thursday, fresh revelations were reported in the Guardian that British and other European spy services warned U.S. intelligence officials about connections between Trump associates and Russian officials as early as 2015.
The FBI and Congress are still conducting investigations into possible coordination between the Trump campaign or associates and Russian intelligence in order to release the stolen emails for maximum effect during the campaign. (Pompeo did not comment on the ongoing investigation but stated that the CIA was providing lawmakers and other investigators with all the resources they needed.)
And Pompeo’s attacks on WikiLeaks sit uncomfortably for him, too: Last summer, as Assange published fresh disclosures from hacked emails of the DNC, Pompeo gleefully tweeted them out. Trump publicly cited WikiLeaks in rally speeches dozens of times in just the last month of the election and tweeted just days before the election how much he loved the website.
Pompeo’s comments, though, come more than a month after WikiLeaks released what it calls CIA hacking tools, raising suspicions that the U.S. spy service was hoarding information about insecurities in digital products rather than sharing that information with U.S. companies so they could repair the flaws.
“The false narratives that increasingly define our public discourse cannot be ignored,” Pompeo said.
In the rest of the event, the newly minted CIA boss stressed that his agency — like the rest of the intelligence community — concluded that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against its own people. Russia has argued that the chemical release, which killed more than 70 people, came after warplanes targeted a rebel chemical weapons storage facility, claims the White House has thoroughly debunked.
On Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to the Syrian chemical attacks, Pompeo condemned his disinclination toward the truth. “This is a man from whom veracity doesn’t translate into English,” he said.
The former Kansas lawmaker, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was confirmed easily in January, after a hearing consumed by talk of Russian meddling. Pompeo, like Trump’s director of national intelligence, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, has been publicly critical of the Kremlin and its geopolitical posturing, ostensibly putting both men at odds with the commander in chief.
One lingering question for Pompeo is whether he will be willing and able to carry out a restructuring of the intelligence community, as Trump reportedly hoped to do, and if it can maintain an apolitical approach to gathering and analyzing intelligence.
The new director said he would be very open to the idea of restructuring the intelligence community, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Early reports indicated that the Presidential Transition Team hoped to eliminate or reform the office.
“This structure is worthy of review,” Pompeo said, comparing the restructuring to changes he made to his own small businesses.
In January, he vowed to tell Trump the truth and nothing but the truth, politically popular or not. “I would expect the president-elect would demand that of me,” Pompeo said at the time.
The CIA director said at CSIS on Thursday that the intelligence community’s relationship with the White House is “fantastic,” and he redoubled his earlier commitment to truth-telling, saying Trump is “prepared to hear things that run completely counter to his hypotheses.”
Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images