In his first public comments since a Yahoo News investigation revealed discussions within the Trump administration in 2017 about kidnapping or even killing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he makes “no apologies” for the Trump administration’s actions to protect “real national security secrets.”
“I make no apologies for the fact that we and the administration were working diligently to make sure we were able to protect this important sensitive information from whether it was cyber actors in Russia, or the Chinese military, or anyone who was trying to take this information away from us.”
Pompeo declined to deny the individual allegations in the story, saying only that Yahoo News’ “sources didn’t know what we were doing.”
Pompeo, who served as CIA director during the period when these extreme options were under consideration, spearheaded the campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks, former officials told Yahoo News.
“We’re going to become a much more vicious agency,” Pompeo said in an October 2017 talk at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
Concerned about what they believed were plans by Russia to sneak Assange out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where the WikiLeaks founder had lived since 2012, and onward to Moscow, CIA and Trump administration officials also discussed crashing a car into a Russian diplomatic vehicle carrying Assange and ripping him out of it; potential gunfights with Kremlin operatives on the streets of London; and shooting out the tires of a Russian plane carrying Assange before it could take off, among other measures, according to former officials.
Pompeo did not respond to multiple interview queries by Yahoo News, and a detailed request for comment, sent over a two-month period prior to the story’s publication.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki also declined to comment Tuesday on the Trump-era discussions about kidnapping Assange, referring questions to the Justice Department and CIA.
Saying he was “all about a big, bold, strong First Amendment,” Pompeo told conservative media personality Glenn Beck on Monday that, as CIA director, he concluded that WikiLeaks was “one of the first non-state hostile intelligence entities” that “weren’t engaged in even crappy reporting” like Yahoo News’, but were instead working to “steal secrets themselves and pay others to do the same.”
Pompeo disparaged one of the co-authors of the Yahoo News investigation during his interview with Beck and in response to a question about the Yahoo News story at an appearance at Hillsdale College on Monday.
During his tenure as CIA director, Pompeo spoke repeatedly about the threat he believed WikiLeaks posed. “We need to develop a structure, an analytical rubric and an operational methodology to go take down these non-state intelligence services in the same way the CIA has perfected its ability to do it against those who are state actors,” Pompeo said during an October 2017 talk at the University of Texas at Austin. (He later clarified that by “take down” he had meant “penetrate and report on” organizations like WikiLeaks.)
Pompeo’s characterization of Assange and WikiLeaks may deviate from the president under whom he served. In a statement to Yahoo News denying that he ever discussed killing Assange, former President Donald Trump seemed to express sympathy for the WikiLeaks founder, saying he had “been treated very badly.”
Assange was indicted during the Trump presidency, after the Obama administration declined to do so.
Pompeo’s anger at WikiLeaks was sparked in March 2017 when the organization began publishing highly classified materials from the CIA’s hacking division, which WikiLeaks dubbed “Vault 7.”
Pompeo seemed to allude to the Vault 7 leaks in his interview with Beck on Monday. “We were very worried about the fact that we had bad actors who were stealing really, really sensitive material from the United States,” he said.
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