CIA Director Mike Pompeo, speaking at the University of Texas Thursday, called WikiLeaks a hostile non-state intelligence agency bent on the destruction of the United States, and also identified Hezbollah as another “perfect example” of a non-state threat that has to be defeated.
As Pompeo was answering questions at the 2017 Texas National Security Forum at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center Ballroom, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, responded to an American-Statesman tweet reporting Pompeo’s comment, with his own tweet mocking Pompeo’s likening his organization to the Shiite militant group and political party based in Lebanon.
“Trump CIA head Pompeo says that publishing details of CIA incompetence and illegality is the same as having 20k troops and 150k missiles pointed at Israel. Yes, our staff are just that good. Go team!” Assange tweeted.
WikiLeaks, which has published secret CIA documents in the past, is at the center of claims about Russian attempted interference in the 2016 presidential election to benefit Donald Trump’s campaign
At an October 2016 rally in Pennsylvania, Trump, pleased with WikiLeaks’ release of Hillary Clinton emails, told the crowd, “I love WikiLeaks.”
Pompeo, a former Republican member of Congress from Kansas, had also once spoken favorably about disclosures by WikiLeaks.
But in his first speech as CIA director in April, Pompeo identified WikiLeaks as a stateless hostile intelligence unit ready to do the bidding of Russia and other adversaries of the United States.
He also described Assange, who has found sanctuary living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, as a narcissist, a fraud and a coward.
In the question-and-answer portion of what was a rare public appearance by the CIA boss, Stephen Slick, director of the Intelligence Study Project, which hosted the event together with the Robert Strauss Center and the Clements Center for National Security, asked Pompeo why he singled out WikiLeaks.
“You went out of your way to single out the WikiLeaks organization, its founder and very precisely describe them as a hostile intelligence service,” Slick said.
“It seemed to many of us that was very precise,” Slick said. “What’s the meaning that attaches to this organization, that regards itself as a media outlet. I would be the last one to take up their brief for any purpose, but that’s what they claim to be.”
“Yet you and others in the administration are keen to give them this designation,” Slock said. “What does the mean in a practical and legal and operational sense?”
“For an awful long time the CIA’s adversaries were nation states and nearly exclusively nation states,” Pompeo said. “That’s simply no longer the case. So much of our structure, and a good deal of our legal authority, was built around the idea that we would collect intelligence against actors of nation states.”
“Today, there’s another category of intelligence service that has done and continues to work to destroy the United States of America,” Pompeo said. “And you mention WikiLeaks, they are one of several. In fact, in my remarks I regret I focused on them a bit too much, I singled them out in a way that doesn’t do justice to all the other bad actors that I intend to take on as well.”
Pompeo said he was identifying this new breed of enemy because, at the CIA, “We need to develop a structure, an analytical rubric, and an operational methodology to go take down these non-state intelligence services in the same way the CIA has perfected its ability to do it against those who are state actors.”
Who else aside from WikiLeaks is on that list?
“How about this perfect example — Hezbollah,” Pompeo said. “Not U.N.-recognized as a state, it has an incredibly capable counterintelligence effort against the United States of America. We have to beat them.”
“Every place we find organizations of that nature, state or not state, we are going to take them on and that was the message of the day,” he said, referring to his maiden speech as director.
Slick asked whether he meant that it was the CIA’s mission to “take down” organizations like Hezbollah, or rather to “penetrate and report on” them. Pompeo said it was the latter and while, “I used the term, `take down,’ I’ll try to strike that from my vocabulary.”
“They present a threat. They are trying to steal our stuff, so we do have to take down their capacity to do intelligence against us,” Pompeo said. “We need a robust CI — counterintelligence effort — against them in addition to against our hostile intelligence services who are state actors.”