CIA Director Mike Pompeo blasted The New York Times Thursday for publishing the name of the undercover officer in charge of the agency’s Iran operations.
During a question-and-answer session at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of intelligence and national security officials and experts, Pompeo said the decision to publish the operative’s name was “unconscionable.” The audience applauded his statement after a brief period of silence.
The operative’s name, which Fox News is withholding, was published in a June 2 story. The Times said it was publishing the name because the officer had previously been identified in other news reports and because the operative is “leading an important new administration initiative against Iran.”
The Times story cited “current and former intelligence officials,” who the report said spoke on condition of anonymity because the officer was undercover.
Reached for comment, a Times spokesperson said in an email that despite the CIA’s request not to publish the name, editors decided to publish because the individual is “a senior official who runs operations from Langley, not out in the field. He is the architect of the drone program, one of the government’s most significant paramilitary programs. The American public has a right to know who is making life-or-death decisions in its name.”
Pompeo had criticized Iran earlier in his appearance, saying Tehran’s work to gain a foothold in Syria was only one example of its aim to become the “kingpin” of the Middle East. Pompeo also likened Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal to, as he put it, “a bad tenant bouncing checks.”
In a wide-ranging conversation, Pompeo also told the audience that Russia is interested in keeping forces in Syria in part because they “love to stick it to America.”
Pompeo added that he had seen no strong evidence that Moscow was determined to defeat ISIS in Syria and called their engagement in that fight “minimal.” However, Pompeo added that he was happy to work with Moscow on counterterrorism issues.
When asked if Russia is America’s friend or adversary, Pompeo replied: “It’s complicated,” and added that it was clear that Russians “find anyplace they can to make our lives more difficult.”
Pompeo also renewed his criticism of Wikileaks, saying that he believed the website would “take down America any way it can.”
WikiLeaks is happy to work with Russia, China, Iran — or even young American students at U.S. colleges and universities, Pompeo said, adding that on its website, the anti-privacy group urges students to become a CIA intern so they can become whistleblowers.
Despite his criticism, Pompeo acknowledged that President Trump had not shared his view during the campaign. “I don’t love WikiLeaks,” Pompeo said, referencing one of Trump’s statements as a candidate while the website was publishing hacked emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Besides Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents revealing extensive U.S. government surveillance, WikiLeaks has released nearly 8,000 documents that it says reveal secrets about the CIA’s cyberespionage tools for breaking into computers. WikiLeaks previously published 250,000 State Department cables and embarrassed the U.S. military with hundreds of thousands of logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.