CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned former agency workers who are now "talking heads on TV" not to leak and said Thursday that WikiLeaks represents "an enormous threat" that the agency is "working to take down."
Pompeo made the remarks during a discussion of international affairs and domestic policy at a Foundation for the Defense of Democracies event.
"There are an awful lot of former CIA talking heads on TV and I just urge everyone who has sworn to protect this information to understand that their obligation far extends beyond the day you turn in your badge at the CIA," Pompeo said in response to a question about leaks.
The former Kansas congressman countered a suggestion that leaks — most of which have not led to prosecution under President Trump — have gained an unstoppable momentum.
"We're good. We're America. We're the CIA. We can protect our stuff," Pompeo said. "I'm confident we can do it. We will devote the resources to it, we will make sure that the people who are working for the agency have an understanding of what that means."
Later, Pompeo — who has controversially called WikiLeaks a "non-state hostile intelligence service" — described the primary-source publisher as an "enormous threat."
"It's not just the Russian info ops," he said. "I talked about these non-state actors, and it's not just Wikileaks. Indeed I may have overemphasized them — they are an enormous threat, we are working to take down that threat to the United States as well, to reduce the threat from all of it. But Hezbollah, ISIS, al Qaeda, none of them sit at the U.N., these are all non-state actors."
Wikileaks has been called a journalism outlet by its backers.
Pompeo did not say how the CIA was working "to take down" WikiLeaks, but has previously said there are no First Amendment protections for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — who oversaw publication of U.S. diplomatic and military documents shared by Chelsea Manning in 2010 and last year published hacked Democratic emails that the U.S. government claims came from Russia.
"Is there a recording or transcript? A very serious statement, if true," WikiLeaks tweeted after a journalist shared Pompeo's remarks.
In response to a request for clarification, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said: "Today, CIA Director Pompeo described the counterintelligence threats posed by WikiLeaks and other non-state hostile intelligence services – including Hezbollah and ISIS – and the need to counteract the counterintelligence efforts that these groups employ against the United States."Gabe Rottman, Washington director of PEN America, a group that supports freedom of expression, said he's concerned that "the continued use of terms like 'non-state intelligence' services seems to be designed to give the intelligence community greater leeway to go after not just groups like Wikileaks, but any foreign media organization reporting on things the CIA doesn't like.""Say what you will about Wikileaks, we can't be conflating news organizations with spies," Rottman said.