CIA Director Michael Pompeo delivered a speech on April 13 that amounted to a detailed declaration of war against both Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Aside from Fox News Channel, which covered the speech live, the media largely ignored the CIA director’s first major policy address. Which is a shame, because there was a lot of information in it.
Equates Julian Assange with Philip Agee
In the speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pompeo equated Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with a former CIA agent who made his name outing CIA covert operators. The DCI related that Philip Agee helped found Counterspy magazine, which in 1973 called for the exposure of CIA undercover operatives. In its first issue, Counterspy unmasked Richard Welch as the agency’s station chief in Athens. Less than a year later, Welch was assassinated by a terrorist group while returning home from a Christmas party.
The DCI said,
“Today, there are still plenty of Philip Agees in the world, and the harm they inflict on U.S. institutions and personnel is just as serious today as it was back then. They don’t all come from the Intelligence Community, share the same background, or use precisely the same tactics as Agee, but they are certainly his soulmates. Like him, they choose to see themselves in a romantic light—as heroes above the law, saviors of our free and open society. They cling to this fiction, even though their disclosures often inflict irreparable harm on both individuals and democratic governments, pleasing despots along the way. The one thing they don’t share with Agee is the need for a publisher. All they require now is a smart phone and internet access. In today’s digital environment, they can disseminate stolen US secrets instantly around the globe to terrorists, dictators, hackers and anyone else seeking to do us harm.”
Paraphrasing an op-ed that Assange wrote in the Washington Post, Pompeo said the Wikileaks founder claimed to be a legitimate news organization, and that Assange compared his Website’s contributions to the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of leading newspapers. “Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong,” he said
Wikileaks Is “A Hostile Intelligence Service”
The reality, Pompeo said, is much different. The DCI declared that Wikileaks was effectively a hostile intelligence service:
“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.”
Snowden’s Links to Russians & Aid to Terrorist
As we previously have commented on these pages, the intelligence community has long believed that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who passed on materials to Wikileaks, is a Russian agent. Pompeo made that allegation – not exactly earth-shattering news given that he is living in Moscow – but this marked the first time that a senior CIA official has said so publicly.
The DCI said:
“When Snowden absconded to the comfortable clutches of Russian intelligence, his treachery directly harmed a wide range of US intelligence and military operations. 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. In fact, a colleague of ours at NSA recently explained that 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.”
Pompeo said that, as a result of Snowden’s disclosures, terrorists are better at hiding their communications.
“[T]he bottom line is that it became harder for us in the Intelligence Community to keep Americans safe. It became harder to monitor the communications of terrorist organizations that are bent on bringing bloodshed to our shores. Snowden’s disclosures helped these groups find ways to hide themselves in the crowded digital forest. Even in those cases where we were able to regain our ability to collect, the damage was already done. We work in a business with budgetary and time constraints. The effort to earn back access that we previously possessed meant that we had less time to look for new threats.”
Assange Has Assisted Terrorists
Pompeo said Assange was either complicit with al Qaeda or a willing idiot – to use a Russian phrase that means someone who unwillingly is being used by an intelligence service.
The DCI said Assange’s “actions have attracted a devoted following among some of our most determined enemies. Following a recent WikiLeaks disclosure, an al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula member posted a comment online thanking WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned. AQAP represents one of the most serious terrorist threats to our country and the world. It is a group that is devoted not only to bringing down civilian passenger planes, but our way of life as well. That Assange is the darling of terrorists is nothing short of reprehensible.”
The Declaration of War
The DCI then effectively declared a three-step war against Assange and Wikileaks. Pompeo said, “First, it is high time we called out those who grant a platform to these leakers and so-called transparency activists. We know the danger that Assange and his not-so-merry band of brothers pose to democracies around the world. Ignorance or misplaced idealism is no longer an acceptable excuse for lionizing these demons.”
Second, Pompeo said, the intelligence community had to boost its own systems, and “improve internal mechanisms that help us in our counterintelligence mission.” Finally, he said, “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.”
First Shots Fired in War
Exactly a week after Pompeo’s speech that denounced Wikileaks and implied that the administration would not idly stand by, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department opened an investigation into Wikileaks.
The newspaper, in its April 21st print edition, reported, “Federal prosecutors are weighing whether to bring criminal charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, taking a second look at a 2010 leak of diplomatic cables and military documents and investigating whether the group bears criminal responsibility for the more recent revelation of sensitive CIA cyber-tools, according to people familiar with the case.”
Interestingly, the article note, “The Justice Department under President Barack Obama decided not to charge WikiLeaks for revealing some of the government’s most sensitive secrets — concluding that doing so would be akin to prosecuting a news organization for publishing classified information. Justice Department leadership under President Trump, though, has indicated to prosecutors that it is open to taking another look at the case, which the Obama administration did not formally close.”
The Post reported that the DoJ is also looking at the leaks from Chelsea Manning, the Army soldier who was convicted in 2013 of revealing sensitive diplomatic cables. The paper noted, “Manning chatted with Assange about a technique to crack a password so Manning could log on to a computer anonymously, and that conversation, which came up during Manning’s court-martial, could be used as evidence that WikiLeaks went beyond the role of publisher or journalist.”
When asked to comment on the reopened investigation, Attorney General Sessions said, “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. Whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”
Assange and Wikileaks may be in for some interesting times ahead.