On Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo delivered his first public speech. As a preliminary matter, Pompeo should provide some confidence that regardless of the temperament and views of the president, the CIA remains a professional, serious organization with a clear sense of its mission. He believes in and can attest to the professionalism of CIA employees. Moreover, he is prepared to defend them, no matter who the accusers.
“There are fictions out there that demean and distort the work and achievements of CIA and of the broader intelligence community. And in the absence of a vocal rebuttal, these voices — ones that proclaim treason to be public advocacy — gain a gravity they do not deserve.
“It is time to call these voices out. The men and women of CIA deserve a real defense. And the American people deserve a clear explanation of what their Central Intelligence Agency does on their behalf.”
Debunking claims from antagonists of information gathering on the far right and left, he assured his audience: “We are a foreign intelligence agency. We focus on collecting information about foreign governments, foreign terrorist organizations and the like — not Americans. A number of specific rules keep us centered on that mission and protect the privacy of our fellow Americans. To take just one important example, CIA is legally prohibited from spying on people through electronic surveillance in the United States. We’re not tapping anyone’s phone in Wichita.” Or Trump Tower.
Disagreeing with the president?
What is remarkable in just these generic remarks is the degree to which he is debunking the hysterical claims of the president, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and much of the right-wing media who’ve convinced themselves that the intelligence community was spying on President Trump both before and after the election. His forceful rebuttal should be sufficient for fair-minded Americans to conclude the conspiracy fear-mongering is patently absurd. Indeed, when one gives only a moment’s thought to the tale Trump spins, one cannot help but acknowledge its impossibility given the “comprehensive process that starts with the president and consists of many levels of legal and policy review and reexamination.” As a former member of Congress he is well qualified to attest, “When it comes to covert action, there is oversight and accountability every step of the way.”
Pompeo continued, taking up another fable that has found an audience again on both the far left and right, namely that WikiLeaks is some public-spirited outfit. He argued:
“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. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence — the GRU — had used WikiLeaks to release data of U.S. victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks. …
“I am quite confident that had (WikiLeaks founder Julian) Assange been around in the 1930s and ’40s and ’50s, he would have found himself on the wrong side of history.
“We know this because Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today.”
Pushing back against WikiLeaks
Again, this is quite extraordinary given that WikiLeaks is at the heart of the Russian election meddling scandal. The outfit that was directly sabotaging one candidate, and thereby helping to elect Pompeo’s boss, is nothing more than a cut-out for our enemies, according to Pompeo.
Pompeo was speaking of hard realities — the role of non-state actors, the loss of trust between Americans and the intelligence community, a lack of appreciation for the restraints on intelligence gathering and the danger to our democratic institutions. But it is impossible to do so without implicating the president since it is he who has done so much to defame the intelligence community. It’s Trump who has been the biggest proponent of far-fetched plots and who relied upon WikiLeaks — which works to advantage our enemies.
Pompeo’s heartfelt defense of his agency was reassuring. “At CIA, I can assure you that we are committed to earning that trust every day. We know we can never take it for granted,” he said. “We must continue to be as open as possible with the American people so that our society can reach informed judgments on striking the proper balance between individual privacy and national security… . The men and women I work with at Langley are patriots, and I am honored to lead them. They have my trust. They have my faith.”
But his implicit condemnation of the president’s actions and attack on rhetoric Trump has made his calling card is and should be deeply disturbing. Just whose side is the president on, and whose help did he gladly receive? That’s a question, a legitimate one, Americans have never had to ponder seriously.
“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service.” — CIA Director Mike Pompeo