CIA Director Pledges to Ramp Up Digital Defenses Against WikiLeaks, Insider Threats

CIA Director Mike Pompeo

CIA Director Mike Pompeo Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Mike Pompeo characterized WikiLeaks and others as anti-democratic celebrity seekers in his first public remarks as director.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Thursday lashed out against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and pledged a relentless focus on data security to prevent them and likeminded activists from stealing and releasing U.S. intelligence information.

“While I can’t go into detail about the exact steps, I can assure you our defenses will not be static, our approach to security must be constantly evolving,” Pompeo said during an address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, his first since taking office.

“We need to be as clever and innovative as the enemies we face because they will not relent,” he said, promising “defense in depth,” a “fundamental change in how we address digital problems” and an “understanding [of] best practices that evolve in real time.”

The agency is also “constantly reviewing” its digital protections against insider threats, he said.

Pompeo declined to comment on the veracity of a series of alleged internal documents about CIA hacking tools published by WikiLeaks recently and dubbed Vault 7.

The CIA director focused the majority of his address on WikiLeaks, Snowden and other transparency advocates he accused of acting like “nonstate hostile intelligence services,” particularly citing links between WikiLeaks and state-run Russian media.

“They try unsuccessfully to cloak themselves and their actions in the language of liberty and privacy; in reality, however, they champion nothing but their own celebrity,” he said. “Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent. Their mission: personal self-aggrandizement through the destruction of Western values.”

Pompeo also signaled a tougher line against those organizations, saying the Obama administration had been “squeamish about going after these folks under some concept of this right to publish” and pledging “no one has the right to actively engage in the theft of secrets from America with the intent to do harm to it.”

Pompeo’s focus on transparency groups far overshadowed other topics, such as Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions and Russian meddling in the U.S. and European elections.

He declined to comment during a question-and-answer session on congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Russian government officials and campaign staff for President Donald Trump, saying only the CIA will provide investigators with any documents they seek.

Pompeo also declined to comment on whether he’ll carry on with a CIA reorganization plan launched by his predecessor John Brennan that ramped up the agency’s cyber focus among other changes.

“I’ve decided to tell my workforce before I tell all of you,” he said. 

When asked about the intelligence community relationship with Trump, who has frequently questioned intelligence officers’ neutrality on Twitter, Pompeo said the relationship is “fantastic.”

The president always makes time for his daily intelligence briefing, he said, even on busy days and when the briefings run long.