Title: Pompeo Delivers Remarks at CSIS
Document Date: 2017-04-13
Description: In this speech, Pompeo goes on a tirade against WikiLeaks, which he describes as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”
Text: Good afternoon, it is a great pleasure to be here at the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, home to some of the sharpest minds that Washington
has to offer. I am honored to deliver my first public remarks as CIA Director
at such a distinguished institution.
Let me start today by telling you a story.
He was a bright, well-educated young man. He was described as industrious,
intelligent, and likeable, if inclined toward impulsiveness and impatience.
At some point, he became disillusioned with intelligence work and angry at his
government. He left government and decided to devote himself to what he
regarded as public advocacy—exposing the intelligence officers and operations
he had sworn to keep secret.
He appealed to Agency employees to send him “leads, tips, suggestions.” He
wrote in a widely circulated bulletin: “We are particularly anxious to
receive, anonymously if you desire, copies of US diplomatic lists and US
That man was Philip Agee, one of the founding members of the magazine
Counterspy, which in its first issue in 1973 called for the exposure of CIA
undercover operatives overseas. In its September 1974 issue, Counterspy
publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA Chief of Station in
Athens. Later, Richard’s home address and phone number were outed in the press
In December 1975, Richard and his wife were returning home from a Christmas
party in Athens. When he got out of his car to open the gate in front of his
house, Richard Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist cell. At the time
of his death, Richard was the highest-ranking CIA officer killed in the line
Richard led a rich and honorable life, one that is celebrated with a star on
the Agency’s Memorial Wall. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and
remains dearly remembered by his family and colleagues.
Meanwhile, Agee propped up his dwindling celebrity with an occasional stunt,
including a Playboy interview. He eventually settled down as the privileged
guest of an authoritarian regime—one that would have put him in front of a
firing squad without a second thought had he betrayed their secrets as he
Today, there are still plenty of Philip Agees in the world, and the harm they
inflict on U.S. institutions and personnel is just as serious today as it was
They don’t all come from the Intelligence Community, share the same
background, or use precisely the same tactics as Agee, but they are certainly
Like him, they choose to see themselves in a romantic light—as heroes above
the law, saviors of our free and open society. They cling to this fiction,
even though their disclosures often inflict irreparable harm on both
individuals and democratic governments, pleasing despots along the way.
The one thing they don’t share with Agee is the need for a publisher. All they
require now is a smart phone and internet access. In today’s digital
environment, they can disseminate stolen US secrets instantly around the globe
to terrorists, dictators, hackers and anyone else seeking to do us harm.
* * * *
Our nation’s first line of defense against complicated and fast-moving threats
like these is the US Intelligence Community. I feel deeply privileged—and
still a bit amazed—that as CIA Director, I get to be a part of this great
group of men and women. I’m the son of a machinist from Orange County,
California. I had never been east of the Mississippi until college, spending
most of my summers working on the family farm in Winfield, Kansas.
To be entrusted with leading the greatest intelligence organization in the
world is something that I still can’t wrap my head around. And just as I did
at West Point, I feel that I stand on the shoulders of giants, atop a long
tradition of courage, ingenuity, and dedication.
After I was nominated for this post by President Trump, I talked with nearly
every living former CIA Director. They spoke of the need to call things as you
see them, and of the apolitical nature of the job. Above all, they spoke of
their admiration and respect for our workforce. From what I’ve seen so far,
they were spot on in their assessment.
* * * *
I am today surrounded by talented and committed patriots. These are men and
women who signed up for a life of discretion and impact—for a career in
service to their country.
These officers have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. They have signed
secrecy agreements. They quietly go about their work and try not to get too
worked up over the headlines, including the fanciful notion that they spy on
their fellow citizens via microwave ovens. But they are not at liberty to
stand up to these false narratives and explain our mission to the American
Fortunately, I am. In my first meeting with CIA’s workforce, I promised that I
would serve them and the American people—both at home and abroad—with the same
passion and vigor that I displayed as a tank platoon leader in the Army, a
business owner in Kansas, and a Congressman representing my constituents back
That is the reason I chose to speak here today.
As a policy, we at CIA do not comment on the accuracy of purported
intelligence documents posted online. In keeping with that policy, I will not
specifically comment on the authenticity or provenance of recent disclosures.
But the false narratives that increasingly define our public discourse cannot
be ignored. 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.
* * * *
First and foremost, we are an intelligence organization that engages in
foreign espionage. We steal secrets from foreign adversaries, hostile
entities, and terrorist organizations. We analyze this intelligence so that
our government can better understand the adversaries we face in a challenging
and dangerous world.
And we make no apologies for doing so. It’s hard stuff and we go at it hard.
Because when it comes to overseas threats, CIA is aggressive in our pursuit of
the information we need to help safeguard our country. We utilize the whole
toolkit at our disposal, fully employing the authorities and capabilities that
Congress, the courts, and the Executive Branch have deemed lawful and
appropriate, and consistent with our American ideals.
We do these things because it’s our job. It’s what we signed up to do. And if
we didn’t, we’d have a tough time justifying our budget to the American
One of the few heartening things to come out of the disclosures debate is the
realization that much of America does understand the important role we
play. As the CEO of a security research firm recently noted, CIA appears to be
doing “exactly what we pay them to do—exploit specific targets with limited
attacks to support our national interests.”
Our mission is simple in concept yet difficult in practice. We work to provide
the best information possible to the President and his administration so that
they can advance our national interests and protect our country.
It is a mission that CIA has carried out for years, quietly and
effectively. Our accomplishments generally remain classified, but a few
special ones are known to the world.
For example, CIA has been a crucial player in the global campaign against
nuclear proliferation. We’ve helped unravel the nuclear smuggling network used
by A.Q. Khan, assisted in exposing a covert nuclear facility in Syria, and
gathered intelligence—with the help of our liaison partners—that persuaded
Libya to abandon its nuclear program.
CIA has also been at the cutting edge of incredible technological innovation
throughout our history. We led efforts to develop the U-2 aircraft and
orbiting satellites—endeavors that allowed us to surveil activities in rival
states that were otherwise closed to us.
We’ve pushed back the boundaries of the possible in ways that have benefitted
both the security and welfare of the American public. For example, when we
needed long-lasting power sources for certain operational missions, in the
1960s our scientists helped to develop the lithium-ion battery—technology that
ultimately has powered pacemakers and cell phones alike. More recently, CIA
investment in a technology venture in 2003 led to the development of what we
know today as Google Earth.
My first few months on the job have only reaffirmed for me that this
innovative spirit is very much alive and well at CIA.
* * * *
So I’d now like to make clear what CIA doesn’t do. 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.
I know there will always be skeptics. We need to build trust with them. But I
also know firsthand, from what I saw as a member of a Congressional oversight
committee and from what I see now as Director, that CIA takes its legal
restrictions and responsibilities with the utmost seriousness. We have
stringent regulations, an engaged and robust Office of the General Counsel,
and an empowered and independent Office of Inspector General to make sure of
Moreover, regardless of what you see on the silver screen, we do not pursue
covert action on a whim without approval or accountability. There is a
comprehensive process that starts with the President and consists of many
levels of legal and policy review and reexamination. Let me assure you: When
it comes to covert action, there is oversight and accountability every step of
I inherited an Agency that has a real appreciation for the law and for the
Constitution. Despite fictional depictions meant to sell books or box-office
tickets, we are not an untethered or rogue agency. So yes, while we have some
truly awesome capabilities at our disposal, our officers do not operate in
areas or against targets that are rightfully and legally off-limits to us.
At our core, we are an organization committed to uncovering the truth and
getting it right. We devote ourselves to perfecting our tradecraft. We work
hard to maintain truly global coverage, operating in austere, far-flung areas
that demand both expeditionary capabilities and spirit. We spend hours upon
hours collecting information, and poring over reports and data. We experiment
and innovate so we can dominate our adversaries in both the physical and cyber
And sure—we also admit to making mistakes. In fact, because CIA is accountable
to the free and open society we help defend, the times in which we have failed
to live up to the high standards our fellow citizens expect of us have been
catalogued over the years, even by our own government. These mistakes are
public, to an extent that I doubt any other nation could ever match. But it is
always our intention—and duty—to get it right.
* * * *
And that is one of the many reasons why we at CIA find 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. 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. 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
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 US 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.
Now, for those of you who read the editorial page of the Washington Post—and I
have a feeling that many of you in this room do—yesterday you would have seen
a piece of sophistry penned by Mr. Assange. You would have read a convoluted
mass of words wherein Assange compared himself to Thomas Jefferson, Dwight
Eisenhower, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of legitimate news
organizations such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. One can only
imagine the absurd comparisons that the original draft contained.
Assange claims to harbor an overwhelming admiration for both America and the
idea of America. But I assure you that this man knows nothing of America and
our ideals. He knows nothing of our third President, whose clarion call for
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness continue to inspire us and the
world. And he knows nothing of our 34th President, a hero from my very own
Kansas, who helped to liberate Europe from fascists and guided America through
the early years of the Cold War.
No, I am quite confident that had 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. Yes, 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. Their currency is clickbait; their moral
compass, nonexistent. Their mission: personal self-aggrandizement through the
destruction of Western values.
They do not care about the causes and people they claim to represent. If they
did, they would focus instead on the autocratic regimes in this world that
actually suppress free speech and dissent. Instead, they choose to exploit the
legitimate secrets of democratic governments—which has, so far, proven to be a
much safer approach than provoking a tyrant.
Clearly, these individuals are not especially burdened by conscience. We know
this, for example, because Assange has been more than cavalier in disclosing
the personal information of scores of innocent citizens around the globe. We
know this because the damage they have done to the security and safety of the
free world is tangible. And the examples are numerous.
When Snowden absconded to the comfortable clutches of Russian intelligence,
his treachery directly harmed a wide range of US intelligence and military
operations. Despite what he claims, he is no whistleblower. True
whistleblowers use the well-established and discreet processes in place to
voice grievances; they do not put American lives at risk.
In fact, a colleague of ours at NSA recently explained that more than a
thousand foreign targets—people, groups, organizations—more than a thousand of
them changed or tried to change how they communicated as a result of the
Snowden disclosures. That number is staggering.
And the bottom line is that it became harder for us in the Intelligence
Community to keep Americans safe. It became harder to monitor the
communications of terrorist organizations that are bent on bringing bloodshed
to our shores. Snowden’s disclosures helped these groups find ways to hide
themselves in the crowded digital forest.
Even in those cases where we were able to regain our ability to collect, the
damage was already done. We work in a business with budgetary and time
constraints. The effort to earn back access that we previously possessed meant
that we had less time to look for new threats.
As for Assange, his actions have attracted a devoted following among some of
our most determined enemies. Following a recent WikiLeaks disclosure, an al
Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula member posted a comment online thanking
WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not
AQAP represents one of the most serious terrorist threats to our country and
the world. It is a group that is devoted not only to bringing down civilian
passenger planes, but our way of life as well. That Assange is the darling of
terrorists is nothing short of reprehensible.
Have no doubt that the disclosures in recent years caused harm—great harm—to
our nation’s security, and they will continue to do so over the long
term. They threaten the trust we’ve developed with our foreign partners when
trust is a crucial currency among allies. They risk damaging morale for the
good officers of the Intelligence Community who take the high road every
day. And I can’t stress enough how these disclosures have severely hindered
our ability to keep all Americans safe.
No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in
improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended
that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may
have believed that, but they are wrong.
Assange is a narcissist who has created nothing of value. He relies on the
dirty work of others to make himself famous. He is a fraud—a coward hiding
behind a screen.
And in Kansas, we know something about false Wizards.
But I’m not the only one who knows what Assange really is. Even those who
often benefit from Assange’s leaks have called him out for his overblown
statements. The Intercept, which in the past has gleefully reported on
unauthorized disclosures, accused WikiLeaks in late March of “stretching the
facts” in its comments about CIA. In the same article, the Intercept added
that the documents were “not worth the concern WikiLeaks generated by its
* * * *
So we face a crucial question: What can we do about this? What can and should
CIA, the United States, and our allies do about the unprecedented challenge
posed by these hostile non-state intelligence agencies?
While there is no quick fix—no foolproof cure—there are steps that we can take
to undercut the danger. First, it is high time we called out those who grant a
platform to these leakers and so-called transparency activists. We know the
danger that Assange and his not-so-merry band of brothers pose to democracies
around the world. Ignorance or misplaced idealism is no longer an acceptable
excuse for lionizing these demons.
Second, there are steps that we have to take at home—in fact, this is a
process we’ve already started. We’ve got to strengthen our own systems; we’ve
got to improve internal mechanisms that help us in our counterintelligence
mission. All of us in the Intelligence Community had a wake-up call after
Snowden’s treachery. Unfortunately, the threat has not abated.
I can’t go into great detail, but the steps we take can’t be static. Our
approach to security has to be constantly evolving. We need to be as clever
and innovative as the enemies we face. They won’t relent, and neither will we.
We can never truly eliminate the threat but we can mitigate and manage
it. This relies on agility and on dynamic “defense in depth.” It depends on a
fundamental change in how we address digital problems, understanding that best
practices have to evolve in real time. It is a long-term project but the
strides we have taken—particularly the rapid and tireless response of our
Directorate of Digital Innovation—give us grounds for optimism.
Third, we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his
colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the
space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our
great Constitution stands for. It ends now.
And finally—and perhaps most importantly—we need to deepen the trust between
the Intelligence Community and the citizens we strive to protect.
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. 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
As CIA Director, it is my sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and defend
national security. And as somebody who practiced law, built businesses, and
ran for public office to represent my neighbors and fellow citizens, I fully
understand why nobody should have to blindly place their trust in government.
Granted, the intelligence arena can never be as transparent as other parts of
government. Secrecy is essential to us because we have hardworking officers
and foreign agents in harm’s way, doing dangerous work on behalf of our
But even if we can’t share everything with the people, we can share it with
the President they elected and with the overseers they sent to
Congress. Having served on the committee myself, I am a CIA Director who fully
understands the imperative of oversight. Doing right by the American people is
as important to me as carrying out our Agency’s mission. And I will hold our
officers to the same standard.
But remember, these officers grew up loving this country and the ideals it
represents. They are Americans just like you, devoted to their jobs, trying to
do their best.
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. And as long as I’m lucky
enough to have the best job in the world, I promise you that CIA will be
tireless in our mission to keep our country safe and, yes, to get it right.
Thank you all very much.