The new U.S. spy chief blasted the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in his first public comments, labeling it a hostile intelligence organization out to damage the United States as much as any terrorist organization.
“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is — a nonstate, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday.
“It overwhelmingly focuses on the United States while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations,” he added, calling the celebration of WikiLeaks in some circles “perplexing and deeply troubling.”
Pompeo went as far as to lambast WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a “darling” of terrorist groups, saying a member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) recently thanked Assange on social media for “providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned.”
Pompeo’s remarks to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington are consistent with previous comments from the U.S. intelligence community.
Watch: CIA Director Defends Secrecy of Intelligence Work
Relationship with Russia
A declassified report issued in January concluded with “high confidence” there was an ongoing relationship between Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks.
The same report also said Russia’s own propaganda outlet, RT, “has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks” dating back to a 2013 meeting between Assange and RT’s editor in chief.
Despite such findings, U.S. President Donald Trump has until recently downplayed talk of what intelligence officials have described as a Russian campaign to influence last year’s presidential election.
During the presidential campaign itself, Trump went as far to tell supporters, “I love WikiLeaks,” while encouraging the group to uncover more information.
Trump changes tone
But Trump’s tone changed following WikiLeaks’ release last month of what it described more than 8,000 classified CIA documents.
“This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our security, our country and our well-being,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters at the time, adding the president was “extremely concerned.”
Pompeo Thursday refused to comment specifically on the WikiLeaks dump known as “Vault 7,” but said damage had been done.
And he warned that WikiLeaks is only one of several hostile intelligence operations masquerading as anti-secrecy advocates.
“It’s much bigger than that. It’s much broader and deeper than that,” Pompeo said, cautioning other state actors may seek to imitate Russia’s use of WikiLeaks to strike at the U.S. “They have now found a model.”
“Our defense will not be static,” he said, citing strong support from the Trump administration. “We need to be as clever and innovative as the enemies we face.”
Earlier this week, WikiLeaks’ Assange published a defense of his organization in The Washington Post, saying its motive was to “to publish newsworthy content … irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media.”
Assange, an Australian citizen, is wanted in Sweden to face rape allegations. He has been living under asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012.