CIA director calls WikiLeaks Russia-aided "non-state hostile intelligence service"

Last Updated Apr 13, 2017 7:09 PM EDT

CIA Director Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks Thursday as a “hostile” intelligence service often aided by questionable actors like Russia.

“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,” the former Republican congressman from Kansas said in his prepared remarks, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in his first major appearance since taking the post. 

Pompeo said the intelligence community’s determination that Russian military intelligence used WikiLeaks to release data of U.S. victims obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee points to that conclusion, as does the intelligence community’s discovery that Russia’s “primary propaganda outlet,” RT, “actively collaborated” with WikiLeaks. The DNC hack in 2016 exposed thousands of emails of top Democratic party and campaign officials, possibly contributing to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss in the presidential race. 

Pompeo also said in his prepared remarks the CIA finds the “celebration of entities like WikiLeaks to be both perplexing and deeply troubling.”

“Because while we do our best to quietly collect information on those who pose very real threats to our country, individuals such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden seek to use that information to make a name for themselves,” Pompeo said. “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.”

“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” Pompeo continued. “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.

Pompeo decided to go public with his comments against WikiLeaks and Assange in the last few weeks, after WikiLeaks released CIA hacking tools last month. His intent, according to an intelligence official familiar with the matter, was to push back on the building narrative that Assange was an anti-secrecy crusader. 

During the presidential election, however, Pompeo espoused a different line on WikiLeaks. 

In July 2016, he tweeted, “Need further proof that the fix was in from President Obama on down? Busted, 19,252 e-mails from DNC leaked by WikiLeaks.” He was later questioned about the tweet in his confirmation hearings. Maine Sen. Angus King wanted to know whether he thought Twitter was a “credible” source of knowledge. Pompeo said he didn’t recall the tweet and told King, “I’d have to go back and take a look at that.” He  then assured the Senate and denied he considered WikiLeaks trustworthy. “I have some deep understanding of WikiLeaks, and I have never viewed it as a credible source of information for the United States or for anyone else.”

The CIA had no comment on Pompeo’s July tweet.  

Pompeo’s most recent remarks on WikiLeaks contradict Mr. Trump’s tweets praising the organization in January for revealing the DNC’s inner-workings. Mr. Trump has been reluctant to acknowledge any Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The White House was briefed on Pompeo’s speech, although it is unclear if Mr. Trump was made aware of it. 

Pompeo’s comments come as the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating any Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Western and U.S. intelligence officials have said that Russia Today (RT) officials met with Assange at the Ecuadoran embassy, and that RT has deep contacts within Russian intelligence. RT, a Russian government-funded television news network, was founded by Russian president Vladimir Putin 12 years ago to be the Russian version of outlets like Great Britain’s BBC. But the RT’s information can be misleading, and the network faced increasing scrutiny during the 2016 election. 

Andres Triay contributed to this report.