New CIA chief slams WikiLeaks as 'hostile intelligence service'

CIA director Mike Pompeo speaking during a discussion on national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on April 13, 2017, in Washington, DC.
CIA director Mike Pompeo speaking during a discussion on national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on April 13, 2017, in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • In his first speech as CIA director, Mr Mike Pompeo, the former Republican congressman who once applauded disclosures by WikiLeaks, has attacked the group as a stateless hostile intelligence unit eager to do the bidding of Russia and other US adversaries.

"WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service," Mr Pompeo said at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, an independent research group, on Thursday. He cited how the group had encouraged followers to join the Central Intelligence Agency and steal secrets, and how "it overwhelmingly focuses on the US while seeking support from anti- democratic countries".

But Mr Pompeo's harshest words were reserved for Mr Julian Assange, calling the WikiLeaks founder a "narcissist" and "a fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen".

"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... they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, non-existent."

Mr Pompeo and President Donald Trump, who chose him to head the CIA, have not always been so critical of WikiLeaks.

During the presidential campaign last year, Mr Trump praised the group for releasing hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Convention (DNC) by saying: "I love WikiLeaks."

In July, Mr Pompeo, then a member of the House of Representatives, mentioned it in a Twitter post, referring to claims that the DNC had slanted the candidate-selection process to favour Mrs Hillary Clinton.

"Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by Wikileaks."

While it has released secret materials from around the world, WikiLeaks' notoriety comes from its US-related scoops. In 2010, it published 251,000 classified cables from US embassies around the world. And most recently, WikiLeaks embarrassed the CIA and damaged its operations by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the agency's top secret hacking operations.

Mr Pompeo also had harsh words for former National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden, who downloaded thousands of documents revealing some of the agency's most sensitive electronic eavesdropping programmes and shared them with journalists.

"More than a thousand foreign targets, people, groups, organisations, more than a thousand of them changed or tried to change how they communicated as a result of the Snowden disclosures," Mr Pompeo said. "That number is staggering."

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'New CIA chief slams WikiLeaks as 'hostile intelligence service''. Print Edition | Subscribe