The feud between Julian Assange and the CIA is growing.
After being blasted by new CIA Director Mike Pompeo yesterday as a "hostile non-state intelligence service," late on Thursday Julian Assange responded on Twitter by trolling the CIA, the "state non-intelligence agency," over its own roles in producing “al-Qaeda, ISIS, Iraq, Iran and Pinochet."
So, one day later, having let tempers cool, Julian Assange - who one month ago released the contents of its "Vault7" exposing the CIA's hacking exploits around the world in the "largest ever publication of confidential CIA documents" - issued moments ago the following statement via the Wikileaks twitter account responding to Mike Pompeo (highlights ours).
In his first speech in office, CIA Director Mike Pompeo rather than focusing on China, North Korea, or the rise of extremism, chose to announce an offensive against WikiLeaks and other publishers. In doing so Director Pompeo characterized WikiLeaks as a "non-state intelligence service". This absurd definition would have all serious media organizations (with the exception of state owned media) transformed into 'non-state intelligence services'- with the explicitly stated goal of stripping constitutional protections for publishers.
History shows the danger of allowing the CIA or any intelligence agency, whose very modus operandi includes misdirection and lying, to be the sole arbiter of what is true or what is prudent. Otherwise every day might see a repeat of the many foolish CIA actions which have led to death, displacement, dictatorship and terrorism.
All serious media organizations are in the business of obtaining information by encouraging sources to step forward. The key difference between media and intelligence is that the media is in the business of publishing what it discovers to a wide audience. WikiLeaks is an award winning media organization that is well known for the accuracy and volume of its publications and its millions of readers.
Unsurprisingly it is the strength of WikiLeaks' publications relating to the CIA's illegal activities, including its attacks on France's presidential candidates and political parties and its attempts to infect its allies and consumer products with viruses that has led to Director Pompeo's claims that its editor Julian Assange "has no First Amendment protections". These claims are dangerous and should be critically examined.
Director Pompeo's statement sought not only to threaten Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks, but to definitively subvert the First Amendment and fundamental notions that are intrinsic to American democracy. The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting free speech and the press; it is not only a right for the publisher. It is a limitation on the executive designed to check authoritarianism and guarantee the public knowledge and debate which is necessary to preserve the democratic ideals on which the idea of America was built.
As for the CIA's attempts to demonize a publisher as a "fraud" and a "coward"-the public can judge what is fraudulent about an award winning decade-long record for publishing the truth and what is cowardly about WikiLeaks standing up to years of authoritarian bullying. Director Pompeo lacks irony when he suggests "WikiLeaks should focus its fire on autocratic regimes" while simultaneously calling for a crackdown on free speech. Director Pompeo's has attempted to turn both the facts and the First Amendment on its head and finds himself in the company of Erdogan of Turkey (57,934 documents published by WikiLeaks), Assad of Syria (2.3 million documents) and the Saudi dictatorship (122,609 documents), to name but a few autocratic regimes that have attempted, and failed, to censor WikiLeaks.
Director Pompeo's speech attempting to stifle speech only serves to underscore why WikiLeaks' publications are necessary. WikiLeaks will continue to publish true, newsworthy information that contributes to the public debate.
America's Founders, with brilliant foresight, understood the absolute necessity for preservation of a free press to foster critical debate about the actions of the government. The alternative is tyranny.
While it remains unclear how far the ongoing feud between Wikileaks and the CIA will escalate, a bigger problem for Assange - who recently had a close call with losing his place of exile at the Ecuadorian embassy after the recent presidential election in Ecuador was nearly won by a challenger who had vow to evict the Australian - is that the CIA and Donald Trump appear to have unburned all bridges.
As Bloomberg reported on Friday, "not long ago Donald Trump was describing U.S. “intelligence” agencies in mocking quote marks and comparing them to Nazi Germany for damaging leaks about him. As a presidential candidate, word was he barely wanted to sit still for top-secret briefings. Not anymore, according to Trump’s CIA director.
Mike Pompeo paints a picture of his boss as an enthusiastic consumer of intelligence briefings, including top-secret assessments of threats posed by Syria, Russia and North Korea.
In his first public speech since becoming head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the former Republican House member called the Trump administration’s relationship with the intelligence community “fantastic.” That produced enough surprised titters that he told his audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, “Don’t laugh. I mean that.”
“They are voracious consumers of the product we develop,” Pompeo, who backed Trump’s presidential campaign last year, said of the president and his top advisers. “We get lots of hard questions about the product and how we developed it and how we sourced it and are we sure.”
The turning point, as was the case with many other Trump policy objectives, appears to have been the decision to launch airstrikes on Syria.
Trump initially rejected the intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia hacked into Democratic emails and leaked them last year to harm Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help him win. He continues to dismiss as “fake news” questions about whether anyone close to him collaborated with Russia, and he continues to assert without evidence that former President Barack Obama had Trump Tower under surveillance and leaked damaging information. But Trump’s decision last week to bomb a government airbase in Syria may have brought Trump closer to the intelligence community that now reports to him.
The CIA and the other U.S. intelligence agencies came up with some “hypotheses” about who was responsible for a deadly chemical attack on civilians and, “in relatively short order,” gave Trump “a high-confidence assessment” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was to blame, Pompeo said. “We were good and fast,” Pompeo said. But “I can assure you that we were challenged by the president and his team,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that we had it right and there’s not much like when the president looks at you and says, ‘Pompeo, are you sure?”
The Syria operation is the type of decision that builds bonds of trust between a president and the intelligence agencies he must depend on, said Juan Zarate, a former adviser in the Bush and Obama administrations, who was on Trump’s transition team for the Office of Director of National Intelligence. “All of that requires some faith and confidence in the intelligence being presented to him and the leadership that’s representing those views,” Zarate said in an interview. “There have been moments of maturation -- that was a really important one. We’ll see what the trajectory brings, but we’ll look back and say that was an important episode.”
All of which is clearly bad news for Assange who over the past few days has lost one of his key allies in his quest to regain his freedom: recall that it was in January that Trump tweeted "Julian Assange said "a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta" - why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!"
Four months later, at least based on Pompeo's statement, Trump's favorable view of Assange appears to be over, in the process making Assange's future, whether in the London embassy or elsewhere, increasingly unknown, especially after making the "black list" of none other than the head of the CIA, an agency perhaps best known for making its most "problem" adversaries quietly disappear.