WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange responded to CIA director Mike Pompeo's characterization of WikiLeaks as a "hostile non-state intelligence agency" and other remarks in an interview with journalist Jeremy Scahill, released Wednesday on Scahill's Intercepted podcast.
Although he said he "quite liked the phrase" Pompeo used, Assange said the CIA director betrayed his lack of leadership skills and spoke outside the bounds of his role when he declared that the whistleblowing organization had launched an assault on the First Amendment after it published a trove of intelligence documents that exposed yet more mass surveillance programs and plans to circumvent privacy apps such as Signal and WhatsApp.
Pompeo's speech last week at the Washington, D.C. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies "put the CIA in a position where they looked like they were frightened and worried that we were the better intelligence service," Assange told Scahill from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has lived in asylum since 2012.
CIA directors "should have gravitas," not engage in "pompous name-calling," he continued. "That's not what intelligence services should be about."
As Glenn Greenwald reported at the time:
[President Donald] Trump's CIA director stood up in public and explicitly threatened to target free speech rights and press freedoms, and it was almost impossible to find even a single U.S. mainstream journalist expressing objections or alarm, because the targets Pompeo chose in this instance are ones they dislike—much the way that many are willing to overlook or even sanction free speech repression if the targeted ideas or speakers are sufficiently unpopular.
In the wide-ranging interview, Assange also noted the irony of Trump praising WikiLeaks during the campaign—when it was releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton's former chairman John Podesta—and criticizing it during his presidency after the organization published the Vault 7 files exposing more CIA mass surveillance documents.
During his speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pompeo made reference to the CIA "shutting down" WikiLeaks, which Assange told Scahill amounted to a threat.
"So how does he propose to conduct this ending? He didn't say," Assange said. "But the CIA is only in the business of collecting information, kidnapping people, and assassinating people. So, it's quite a menacing statement that he does need to clarify."
"The reason why...Pompeo is launching this attack, is because he knows we're in this series exposing all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA," Assange continued. Pompeo is "trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a preemptive defense."
Moreover, it's the climate of public debate that keeps governments from becoming authoritarian, Assange continued. "For the head of the CIA to pronounce what the boundaries are, of reporting or not reporting—is a very disturbing precedent," he said. "The head of the CIA determining who is a publisher, who's not a publisher, who's a journalist, who's not a journalist, is totally out of line."