CIA Director Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks a “non-state, hostile intelligence service” that is “often abetted by state actors like Russia” in his first public speech since becoming the head of the intelligence agency.
Pompeo said Thursday during an address at the the Center for Strategic and International Studies that WikiLeaks and other similar non-state actors present an “unprecedented challenge” to the United States and its allies, and he vowed that the U.S. will now “pursue them with great vigor.”
WikiLeaks, the director said, “walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” encouraging followers to find jobs at the CIA to obtain information and overwhelmingly focusing on the United States “while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations.”
Pompeo noted that in January, the Intelligence Community (IC) assessed that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, had used WikiLeaks “to release data of U.S. victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee.” Pompeo also noted the IC assessment found that Russian state-owned media outlet RT actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.
Before the election, candidate Donald Trump proclaimed to be a fan of leaks — he said in October, “I love WikiLeaks” — but since entering office has often railed against what he claims are leaks from within the federal government, including the intelligence community.
According to the declassified report on Russian hacking and efforts to meddle in the election, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a cyber and influence campaign aimed at interfering in the 2016 election and boosting Trump’s chances. Pompeo did not mention the assessment’s findings that the operation sought not only to interfere in the election, but also to help Trump.
The Director said he would not comment on the current inquiries by Congress into the Russian meddling, but said the CIA would do “our duty” to provide the information necessary to carry out the investigations. In addition to the probes in the House and the Senate, the FBI is conducting an investigation into whether there was any coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Pompeo did note the threat from Russian active measures “will continue,” adding that this is not a new part of the Kremlin playbook. European partners are worried about interference in their own elections, he said, adding that they have seen it and know “it’s not imaginary, it’s real.”
WikiLeaks has also released thousands of documents it claims describe secret CIA hacking techniques. WikiLeaks said the files came from either a current or former CIA contractor. Officials told Reuters that intelligence agencies have known of the breach since late last year and that it is currently suspected to be the work of agency contractors.
Pompeo said he would not address the authenticity of any recent disclosures, but sought instead to both explain the CIA’s role as an intelligence agency that engages in foreign espionage and to push back against the “fictions out there that demean and distort the work and achievements of CIA and of the broader Intelligence Community.”
The CIA is “constantly reviewing” the insider threat problem, the Director noted. “If there was one thing that doesn’t evolve, it’s the threat from insiders in intelligence,” Pompeo said, noting the need to be “ever vigilant.”
Addressing the IC’s relationship with the White House, the CIA Director amused some in the packed audience with his characterization.
“It’s fantastic,” Pompeo said, to laughter from the crowd. “Don’t laugh, I mean that.”
Trump repeatedly questioned U.S. intelligence information both during and after the election. He accused intelligence agencies of allowing information to be leaked to the public, asking, “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” and claimed before entering office he did not need daily intelligence briefings because “I’m, like, a smart person.”
Pompeo said he presents the President’s Daily Brief to Trump almost daily, and praised him for asking “hard questions” about the information and how the CIA develops and sources data.
Pompeo also addressed the issue of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
“When Snowden absconded to the comfortable clutches of Russian intelligence, his treachery directly harmed a wide range of U.S. intelligence and military operations,” Pompeo said. “Despite what he claims, he is no whistleblower. True whistleblowers use the well-established and discreet processes in place to voice grievances; they do not put American lives at risk.”
The former Republican congressman from Kansas said although WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange, “and his ilk” claim to act in the name of liberty and privacy, they only seek to achieve “personal self-aggrandizement through the destruction of Western values” and “make common cause with dictators.”
Pompeo said there is “no quick fix” for the threat posed by entities such as WikiLeaks and individuals like Snowden, but he highlighted several steps to take to undercut them. The CIA Director said the U.S. must “call out” anyone who grants a platform to leakers and to “so-called transparency activists” and cease allowing Julian Assange and others “the latitude to use free speech values against us.”
“It ends now,” he said.
Mackenzie Weinger is a national security reporter at The Cipher Brief. Follow her on Twitter @mweinger.