In a week of head-snapping policy reversals by the Trump administration, new CIA chief Mike Pompeo delivered an unexpected broadside at WikiLeaks and Russia, both of which were once praised by his boss on the campaign trail—and even Pompeo himself once tweeted out WikiLeaks stories.
“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” he told the crowd at a Washington, D.C. think tank in his first public remarks as head of the intelligence agency Thursday. He accused WikiLeaks of endangering lives and acting as a veritable arm of Russian intelligence.
He said Russian military intelligence, the GRU, “had used WikiLeaks to release data… obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee,” a one-two punch that added up to another cold blast aimed at Moscow from President Donald Trump’s administration.
The speech clearly marked Pompeo as one of the Team Trump newcomers who brought along a hawkish attitude toward Russia, much like the secretaries of state and defense. It marked yet another break from the warming trend toward Moscow that Trump had promised on the campaign trail, when he was being advised by his former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, and campaign team members Paul Manafort and Carter Page, all now under federal investigation for alleged ties to Russia.
A former congressman, Army officer, and Harvard-trained lawyer, Pompeo is among the cabinet-level officials Trump is growing to rely on and trust, according to multiple U.S. officials speaking anonymously to describe the relationship.
Pompeo called the relationship between Trump and the intelligence community “fantastic,” in a turnaround from the rocky start when Trump talked about the size of his inauguration crowd in front of the CIA’s hallowed Memorial Wall honoring those lost in service to the nation, and launched tweet storms accusing U.S. intelligence of leaking damaging material about his campaign. Now Pompeo says he’s at the White House almost daily, briefing Trump and often Vice President Mike Pence as well.
“They are voracious consumers of the product we develop. They ask really hard questions,” Pompeo said, adding that Trump is “completely prepared to hear things that run counter” to his hypothesis.
But the CIA has been under siege since Pompeo took the helm, after WikiLeaks released thousands of documents that it says show how the CIA spies via everything from laptops, smart phones to smart TVs. The CIA has declined to confirm the authenticity of the documents, but current and former intelligence officials say they are legitimate though mostly dated.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called such leaks “truths regarding overreaches and abuses conducted in secret by the powerful,” in an opinion piece in several newspapers this week.
The new CIA chief struck back, calling Assange a coward, a narcissist and a hero for al Qaeda, which has praised the leaks of former NSA contractor-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden exposing American and British spycraft, and he lamented that roughly a 1,000 CIA targets had changed how they communicated after the WikiLeaks-spread disclosures.
“While we do our best to quietly collect information on those who present very real threats to our country, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden seek to use that information to make a name for themselves,” Pompeo said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies event. “As long as they make a splash they care nothing about the lives they put at risk or the damage they cause to national security.”
Yet Pompeo himself once found such documents useful—or his Congressional staff did, depending on who was running the Kansas Republican’s @repmikepompeo Twitter account. A now-deleted tweet gleefully shared a report of WikiLeaks disclosures on hacked DNC emails that were so damaging to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down?” Pompeo’s now-deleted tweet asked rhetorically, linking to a conservative blog.
The CIA declined to comment.