Trump’s CIA Director Calls Out Rogue Information Warriors

Mike Pompeo says the U.S. must do more to protect itself on the digital battlefield, particularly against “non-state” adversaries like WikiLeaks.

CIA director Mike Pompeo

In his first public comments since taking the job as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo came out swinging against WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, and called for a “fundamental change” in how the nation addresses digital threats.

In remarks Thursday afternoon at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., Pompeo refrained from commenting specifically on the recent release by WikiLeaks of documents it claims contain details about secret CIA hacking tools. Nevertheless, he said, “it’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” The organization “overwhelmingly focuses on the United States while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations” to “use our free speech values against us,” Pompeo said.

The problem of non-state, cyberspace-based national security threats is “much broader and deeper” than WikiLeaks, said Pompeo. He added that the U.S. “has not done nearly enough” to protect its cyber infrastructure from attack, for example, and terrorist propaganda and recruitment efforts have flourished online (see "Fighting ISIS Online").

Pompeo also criticized Edward Snowden, saying a "staggering number" of terrorist groups and other foreign intelligence targets have changed the way they communicate as a direct result of the former NSA contractor’s disclosures.

The Trump administration has yet to take a specific policy stance on the hot-button issue of encryption. For his part, Pompeo said that encryption technology, which is improving and growing more prevalent, is making it more difficult for his agency to monitor terrorists. As a congressman, Pompeo was quite pro-surveillance. Becoming CIA director does not seem to have changed his mind: “We all have an obligation to make sure we don’t lose access to those foreign terrorists and the information that they are communicating.”