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CIA chief calls WikiLeaks 'non-state hostile intelligence service'

 (AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo denounced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a "narcissist" who works in concert with Russia, relying on "the dirty work of others to make him famous."

Pompeo's speech on Thursday at a preeminent Washington think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was marked by harsh accusations against the group's leaks of classified documents and other materials in what it touts as a campaign for transparency.

"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," said Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman who was tapped by President Trump to lead the CIA.

Trump himself has a complicated history with WikiLeaks, claiming during the campaign to "love" the organization, which leaked stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and others that were damaging to his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Pompeo said the intelligence community had determined that Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU, used WikiLeaks as a conduit to release data obtained by hacking the DNC and others. The FBI and intelligence committees in the House and Senate are looking into Russian cyber-interference in the U.S. election, and potential collusion by Trump campaign aides. 

The first major WikiLeaks release of Pompeo's tenure came last month, when the group made public a trove of documents that described CIA methods of hacking into phones, computers and even televisions connected to the Internet. In Thursday's speech, his first public address since assuming his post, Pompeo attacked Assange in highly personal terms. 

"Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom," he said, calling Assange a "coward hiding behind a screen."

In his appearance, Pompeo also offered fresh details about the rationale behind Trump's decision last week to launch a retaliatory cruise missile strike following a poison gas strike blamed on the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which killed dozens of villagers in northern Syria.

The president, he recounted, wanted to be sure that intelligence officers were certain that Syria was responsible for the chemical attack, which used the banned nerve agent sarin.

"'Pompeo, are you sure?'" he quoted Trump as asking him in the final moments before ordering the missile strike. 

"I can assure you we were challenged by the president," he added. The White House this week released a declassified report saying U.S. intelligence was confident Assad's forces were to blame.

Assad, in an interview published Thursday by Agence France-Presse, denied using chemical weapons against his own people. His chief patron, Russia, also has insisted the Syrian government was not responsible for the poison gas attack.

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