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Director Pompeo Delivers Remarks at CSIS

April 13, 2017

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Good afternoon, it is a great pleasure to be here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, home to some of the sharpest minds that Washington has to offer. I am honored to deliver my first public remarks as CIA Director at such a distinguished institution.

Let me start today by telling you a story.

He was a bright, well-educated young man. He was described as industrious, intelligent, and likeable, if inclined toward impulsiveness and impatience.

At some point, he became disillusioned with intelligence work and angry at his government. He left government and decided to devote himself to what he regarded as public advocacy—exposing the intelligence officers and operations he had sworn to keep secret.

He appealed to Agency employees to send him “leads, tips, suggestions.” He wrote in a widely circulated bulletin: “We are particularly anxious to receive, anonymously if you desire, copies of US diplomatic lists and US Embassy staff.”

That man was Philip Agee, one of the founding members of the magazine Counterspy, which in its first issue in 1973 called for the exposure of CIA undercover operatives overseas. In its September 1974 issue, Counterspy publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA Chief of Station in Athens. Later, Richard’s home address and phone number were outed in the press in Greece.

In December 1975, Richard and his wife were returning home from a Christmas party in Athens. When he got out of his car to open the gate in front of his house, Richard Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist cell. At the time of his death, Richard was the highest-ranking CIA officer killed in the line of duty.

Richard led a rich and honorable life, one that is celebrated with a star on the Agency’s Memorial Wall. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and remains dearly remembered by his family and colleagues.

Meanwhile, Agee propped up his dwindling celebrity with an occasional stunt, including a Playboy interview. He eventually settled down as the privileged guest of an authoritarian regime—one that would have put him in front of a firing squad without a second thought had he betrayed their secrets as he betrayed ours.

Today, there are still plenty of Philip Agees in the world, and the harm they inflict on U.S. institutions and personnel is just as serious today as it was back then.

They don’t all come from the Intelligence Community, share the same background, or use precisely the same tactics as Agee, but they are certainly his soulmates.

Like him, they choose to see themselves in a romantic light—as heroes above the law, saviors of our free and open society. They cling to this fiction, even though their disclosures often inflict irreparable harm on both individuals and democratic governments, pleasing despots along the way.

The one thing they don’t share with Agee is the need for a publisher. All they require now is a smart phone and internet access. In today’s digital environment, they can disseminate stolen US secrets instantly around the globe to terrorists, dictators, hackers and anyone else seeking to do us harm.

* * * *

Our nation’s first line of defense against complicated and fast-moving threats like these is the US Intelligence Community. I feel deeply privileged—and still a bit amazed—that as CIA Director, I get to be a part of this great group of men and women. I’m the son of a machinist from Orange County, California. I had never been east of the Mississippi until college, spending most of my summers working on the family farm in Winfield, Kansas.

To be entrusted with leading the greatest intelligence organization in the world is something that I still can’t wrap my head around. And just as I did at West Point, I feel that I stand on the shoulders of giants, atop a long tradition of courage, ingenuity, and dedication.

After I was nominated for this post by President Trump, I talked with nearly every living former CIA Director. They spoke of the need to call things as you see them, and of the apolitical nature of the job. Above all, they spoke of their admiration and respect for our workforce. From what I’ve seen so far, they were spot on in their assessment.

* * * *

I am today surrounded by talented and committed patriots. These are men and women who signed up for a life of discretion and impact—for a career in service to their country.

These officers have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. They have signed secrecy agreements. They quietly go about their work and try not to get too worked up over the headlines, including the fanciful notion that they spy on their fellow citizens via microwave ovens. But they are not at liberty to stand up to these false narratives and explain our mission to the American people.

Fortunately, I am. In my first meeting with CIA’s workforce, I promised that I would serve them and the American people—both at home and abroad—with the same passion and vigor that I displayed as a tank platoon leader in the Army, a business owner in Kansas, and a Congressman representing my constituents back home.

That is the reason I chose to speak here today.

As a policy, we at CIA do not comment on the accuracy of purported intelligence documents posted online. In keeping with that policy, I will not specifically comment on the authenticity or provenance of recent disclosures.

But the false narratives that increasingly define our public discourse cannot be ignored. There are fictions out there that demean and distort the work and achievements of CIA and of the broader Intelligence Community. And in the absence of a vocal rebuttal, these voices—ones that proclaim treason to be public advocacy—gain a gravity they do not deserve.

It is time to call these voices out. The men and women of CIA deserve a real defense. And the American people deserve a clear explanation of what their Central Intelligence Agency does on their behalf.

* * * *

First and foremost, we are an intelligence organization that engages in foreign espionage. We steal secrets from foreign adversaries, hostile entities, and terrorist organizations. We analyze this intelligence so that our government can better understand the adversaries we face in a challenging and dangerous world.

And we make no apologies for doing so. It’s hard stuff and we go at it hard.

Because when it comes to overseas threats, CIA is aggressive in our pursuit of the information we need to help safeguard our country. We utilize the whole toolkit at our disposal, fully employing the authorities and capabilities that Congress, the courts, and the Executive Branch have deemed lawful and appropriate, and consistent with our American ideals.

We do these things because it’s our job. It’s what we signed up to do. And if we didn’t, we’d have a tough time justifying our budget to the American taxpayer.

One of the few heartening things to come out of the disclosures debate is the realization that much of America does understand the important role we play. As the CEO of a security research firm recently noted, CIA appears to be doing “exactly what we pay them to do—exploit specific targets with limited attacks to support our national interests.”

Our mission is simple in concept yet difficult in practice. We work to provide the best information possible to the President and his administration so that they can advance our national interests and protect our country.

It is a mission that CIA has carried out for years, quietly and effectively. Our accomplishments generally remain classified, but a few special ones are known to the world.

For example, CIA has been a crucial player in the global campaign against nuclear proliferation. We’ve helped unravel the nuclear smuggling network used by A.Q. Khan, assisted in exposing a covert nuclear facility in Syria, and gathered intelligence—with the help of our liaison partners—that persuaded Libya to abandon its nuclear program.

CIA has also been at the cutting edge of incredible technological innovation throughout our history. We led efforts to develop the U-2 aircraft and orbiting satellites—endeavors that allowed us to surveil activities in rival states that were otherwise closed to us.

We’ve pushed back the boundaries of the possible in ways that have benefitted both the security and welfare of the American public. For example, when we needed long-lasting power sources for certain operational missions, in the 1960s our scientists helped to develop the lithium-ion battery—technology that ultimately has powered pacemakers and cell phones alike. More recently, CIA investment in a technology venture in 2003 led to the development of what we know today as Google Earth.

My first few months on the job have only reaffirmed for me that this innovative spirit is very much alive and well at CIA.

* * * *

So I’d now like to make clear what CIA doesn’t do. We are a foreign intelligence agency. We focus on collecting information about foreign governments, foreign terrorist organizations, and the like—not Americans. A number of specific rules keep us centered on that mission and protect the privacy of our fellow Americans. To take just one important example, CIA is legally prohibited from spying on people through electronic surveillance in the United States. We’re not tapping anyone’s phone in Wichita.

I know there will always be skeptics. We need to build trust with them. But I also know firsthand, from what I saw as a member of a Congressional oversight committee and from what I see now as Director, that CIA takes its legal restrictions and responsibilities with the utmost seriousness. We have stringent regulations, an engaged and robust Office of the General Counsel, and an empowered and independent Office of Inspector General to make sure of that.

Moreover, regardless of what you see on the silver screen, we do not pursue covert action on a whim without approval or accountability. There is a comprehensive process that starts with the President and consists of many levels of legal and policy review and reexamination. Let me assure you: When it comes to covert action, there is oversight and accountability every step of the way.

I inherited an Agency that has a real appreciation for the law and for the Constitution. Despite fictional depictions meant to sell books or box-office tickets, we are not an untethered or rogue agency. So yes, while we have some truly awesome capabilities at our disposal, our officers do not operate in areas or against targets that are rightfully and legally off-limits to us.

At our core, we are an organization committed to uncovering the truth and getting it right. We devote ourselves to perfecting our tradecraft. We work hard to maintain truly global coverage, operating in austere, far-flung areas that demand both expeditionary capabilities and spirit. We spend hours upon hours collecting information, and poring over reports and data. We experiment and innovate so we can dominate our adversaries in both the physical and cyber realms.

And sure—we also admit to making mistakes. In fact, because CIA is accountable to the free and open society we help defend, the times in which we have failed to live up to the high standards our fellow citizens expect of us have been catalogued over the years, even by our own government. These mistakes are public, to an extent that I doubt any other nation could ever match. But it is always our intention—and duty—to get it right.

* * * *

And that is one of the many reasons why we at CIA find the celebration of entities like WikiLeaks to be both perplexing and deeply troubling. Because while we do our best to quietly collect information on those who pose very real threats to our country, individuals such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden seek to use that information to make a name for themselves. As long as they make a splash, they care nothing about the lives they put at risk or the damage they cause to national security.

WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations.

It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.

Now, for those of you who read the editorial page of the Washington Post—and I have a feeling that many of you in this room do—yesterday you would have seen a piece of sophistry penned by Mr. Assange. You would have read a convoluted mass of words wherein Assange compared himself to Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of legitimate news organizations such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. One can only imagine the absurd comparisons that the original draft contained.

Assange claims to harbor an overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America. But I assure you that this man knows nothing of America and our ideals. He knows nothing of our third President, whose clarion call for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness continue to inspire us and the world. And he knows nothing of our 34th President, a hero from my very own Kansas, who helped to liberate Europe from fascists and guided America through the early years of the Cold War.

No, I am quite confident that had Assange been around in the 1930s and 40s and 50s, he would have found himself on the wrong side of history.

We know this because Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today. Yes, they try unsuccessfully to cloak themselves and their actions in the language of liberty and privacy; in reality, however, they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent. Their mission: personal self-aggrandizement through the destruction of Western values.

They do not care about the causes and people they claim to represent. If they did, they would focus instead on the autocratic regimes in this world that actually suppress free speech and dissent. Instead, they choose to exploit the legitimate secrets of democratic governments—which has, so far, proven to be a much safer approach than provoking a tyrant.

Clearly, these individuals are not especially burdened by conscience. We know this, for example, because Assange has been more than cavalier in disclosing the personal information of scores of innocent citizens around the globe. We know this because the damage they have done to the security and safety of the free world is tangible. And the examples are numerous.

When Snowden absconded to the comfortable clutches of Russian intelligence, his treachery directly harmed a wide range of US intelligence and military operations. Despite what he claims, he is no whistleblower. True whistleblowers use the well-established and discreet processes in place to voice grievances; they do not put American lives at risk.

In fact, a colleague of ours at NSA recently explained that more than a thousand foreign targets—people, groups, organizations—more than a thousand of them changed or tried to change how they communicated as a result of the Snowden disclosures. That number is staggering.

And the bottom line is that it became harder for us in the Intelligence Community to keep Americans safe. It became harder to monitor the communications of terrorist organizations that are bent on bringing bloodshed to our shores. Snowden’s disclosures helped these groups find ways to hide themselves in the crowded digital forest.

Even in those cases where we were able to regain our ability to collect, the damage was already done. We work in a business with budgetary and time constraints. The effort to earn back access that we previously possessed meant that we had less time to look for new threats.

As for Assange, his actions have attracted a devoted following among some of our most determined enemies. Following a recent WikiLeaks disclosure, an al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula member posted a comment online thanking WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned.

AQAP represents one of the most serious terrorist threats to our country and the world. It is a group that is devoted not only to bringing down civilian passenger planes, but our way of life as well. That Assange is the darling of terrorists is nothing short of reprehensible.

Have no doubt that the disclosures in recent years caused harm—great harm—to our nation’s security, and they will continue to do so over the long term. They threaten the trust we’ve developed with our foreign partners when trust is a crucial currency among allies. They risk damaging morale for the good officers of the Intelligence Community who take the high road every day. And I can’t stress enough how these disclosures have severely hindered our ability to keep all Americans safe.

No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.

Assange is a narcissist who has created nothing of value. He relies on the dirty work of others to make himself famous. He is a fraud—a coward hiding behind a screen.

And in Kansas, we know something about false Wizards.

But I’m not the only one who knows what Assange really is. Even those who often benefit from Assange’s leaks have called him out for his overblown statements. The Intercept, which in the past has gleefully reported on unauthorized disclosures, accused WikiLeaks in late March of “stretching the facts” in its comments about CIA. In the same article, the Intercept added that the documents were “not worth the concern WikiLeaks generated by its public comments.”

* * * *

So we face a crucial question: What can we do about this? What can and should CIA, the United States, and our allies do about the unprecedented challenge posed by these hostile non-state intelligence agencies?

While there is no quick fix—no foolproof cure—there are steps that we can take to undercut the danger. First, it is high time we called out those who grant a platform to these leakers and so-called transparency activists. We know the danger that Assange and his not-so-merry band of brothers pose to democracies around the world. Ignorance or misplaced idealism is no longer an acceptable excuse for lionizing these demons.

Second, there are steps that we have to take at home—in fact, this is a process we’ve already started. We’ve got to strengthen our own systems; we’ve got to improve internal mechanisms that help us in our counterintelligence mission. All of us in the Intelligence Community had a wake-up call after Snowden’s treachery. Unfortunately, the threat has not abated.

I can’t go into great detail, but the steps we take can’t be static. Our approach to security has to be constantly evolving. We need to be as clever and innovative as the enemies we face. They won’t relent, and neither will we.

We can never truly eliminate the threat but we can mitigate and manage it. This relies on agility and on dynamic “defense in depth.” It depends on a fundamental change in how we address digital problems, understanding that best practices have to evolve in real time. It is a long-term project but the strides we have taken—particularly the rapid and tireless response of our Directorate of Digital Innovation—give us grounds for optimism.

Third, we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.

And finally—and perhaps most importantly—we need to deepen the trust between the Intelligence Community and the citizens we strive to protect.

At CIA, I can assure you that we are committed to earning that trust every day. We know we can never take it for granted. We must continue to be as open as possible with the American people so that our society can reach informed judgments on striking the proper balance between individual privacy and national security.

As CIA Director, it is my sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and defend national security. And as somebody who practiced law, built businesses, and ran for public office to represent my neighbors and fellow citizens, I fully understand why nobody should have to blindly place their trust in government.

Granted, the intelligence arena can never be as transparent as other parts of government. Secrecy is essential to us because we have hardworking officers and foreign agents in harm’s way, doing dangerous work on behalf of our country.

But even if we can’t share everything with the people, we can share it with the President they elected and with the overseers they sent to Congress. Having served on the committee myself, I am a CIA Director who fully understands the imperative of oversight. Doing right by the American people is as important to me as carrying out our Agency’s mission. And I will hold our officers to the same standard.

But remember, these officers grew up loving this country and the ideals it represents. They are Americans just like you, devoted to their jobs, trying to do their best.

The men and women I work with at Langley are patriots, and I am honored to lead them. They have my trust. They have my faith. And as long as I’m lucky enough to have the best job in the world, I promise you that CIA will be tireless in our mission to keep our country safe and, yes, to get it right.

Thank you all very much.