In case you missed it, new Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Michael Richard “Mike” Pompeo delivered his first public remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Thursday. Over 3,750 words—remarks of about 35 minutes or so—Director Pompeo touched on everything from Winfield, Kansas to West Point and Wikileaks, and from microwave ovens to making mistakes. He even leverages the Wizard of Oz. Here are some highlights from the Director’s remarks.
ABSOLUTISM and the bright white line
Summary of a speech will never do justice to the speech itself, of course. But here are a few points to watch for as you read it for yourself. Director Pompeo’s world is one of absolutes. He’s an absolutist. There is no grey area, and between the good and the bad, the white hats and black, there’s a very, very bright line. On one side of the line is the goodness of the CIA and its mission. On the other side of the bright line are those who subvert the CIA’s work for selfish ends—these are the Philip Agees, the Julian Assanges, the Edward Snowdens of the world, all part of the network of “hostile non-state intelligence agencies” pitted against the United States and our values. The common denominator between the good and the evil is the technological advantage that empowers them. For Pompeo, the side that wins the technology race is at a significant advantage. That’s why CIA innovation is so critical to its success. That same technology, however, is a vulnerability, as well, and Pompeo seems to hope Julian Assange will further expose that vulnerability.
why the cia isn’t perfect
Director Pompeo, understandably, shares high praise for the CIA, its mission, and the people who carry out that mission. According to Pompeo, the CIA is the “greatest intelligence organization in the world.” And the mission is pretty simple: “we are an intelligence organization that engages in foreign espionage,” Pompeo says. “We steal secrets from foreign adversaries, hostile entities, and terrorist organizations.” As noted, Pompeo’s interpretation of the complexity of the CIA’s work boils down to very simple, understandable terms. It’s dirty work, he explains, and “we make no apologies for doing so. It’s hard stuff and we go at it hard.” As innovative, committed, and patriotic as they may be, the people performing the CIA mission are not perfect: “we admit to making mistakes,” Director Pompeo says. But beyond that human fallibility, the men and women of the CIA are “talented and committed patriots.” “[I]t is always our intention—and duty—to get it right.”
Director Pompeo’s first public remarks to CSIS and, by extension, the world, tend to portray the CIA as victims of some sort of injustice that he intends to right. Director Pompeo presents the CIA as a vulnerable agency under widespread attack —whether the attacks are actual leaks of information that compromise CIA operations or attacks on the morale and credibility of the Agency and its people.
“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.” Pompeo declares near the end of his remarks, aligning himself with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1994 interpretation of Wyatt Earp, “It ends now.” Kevin Costner as Wyatt Earp declared when faced with an insurmountable challenge in Dodge City, “It all ends now.”
Given that these are Director Pompeo’s first public remarks, we can expect the Director to focus on threats most dangerous to the CIA and the United States. In fact, he focuses on just one threat—exposure. Exposure, Pompeo indicates, is the greatest threat to the CIA. It’s the threat posed by the likes of Julian Assange, committed to defeating the CIA’s greatest strength and advantage, secrecy.
Pompeo clearly intends to change the discussion about what he calls “hostile intelligence service[s].” Assange and “his ilk,” Pompeo says, “make common cause with dictators,” “champion nothing but their own celebrity.” Pompeo critiques Assange’s recent op-ed Why WikiLeaks Publishes , calling it “a convoluted mass of words.”
In reading and re-reading Pompeo’s remarks, you realize that besides the CSIS audience, Pompeo’s speaking directly to Assange, very likely hoping Assange will respond—not because Pompeo intends to get into any sort of productive argument, but to get Assange to expose the lines of communications he’s using. Indeed, Director Pompeo says that “it is high time we called out those who grant a platform to these leakers and so-called transparency activists,” and “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”
the cia versus the technosphere
To read Director Pompeo’s speech as simply a celebration of the CIA and a condemnation of those who would oppose it is, I think, shortsighted. There’s much more going on here. Let’s see how the Agency’s fight with Julian Assange and the technosphere in which Assange and his team operate unfolds. Pompeo’s remarks are a mark on the wall.
Read Director Pompeo’s full remarks at the CIA News & Information site.