CIA Chief Pompeo Can't Limit Free Speech -- Assange

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CIA Director Pompeo with Vice President Pence after his swearing in

In his first speech [extract, full] 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”.

The CIA Director's targeted WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange by name claiming that the new U.S Administration will not be "squeamish about going after [WikiLeaks] under some concept of this right to publish", and invoking "less constitutional law and a lot more of a philosophical understanding" that WikiLeaks is a "non-state hostile intelligence agency" to which "no First Amendment Freedoms apply".

It is improper for the CIA director to suggest that he has the authority to proscribe any new limits on freedom of expression. Pompeo's absurd redefinition would have many media organizations and human rights groups transformed into "non-state intelligence services"— with the explicitly stated goal of stripping away their First Amendment rights.

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, prudent or lawful. Otherwise every day might see a repeat of the many foolish CIA actions which have led to death, displacement, dictatorship, terrorism and torture.

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 analysis and primary source publications and its millions of readers.

Unsurprisingly it is the strength of WikiLeaks’ publications relating to the CIA’s illegal activities, including espionage against France’s last presidential election 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 Director's attempts to demonize a publisher as a “fraud” and a “coward”—the public can judge what is fraudulent about a decade-long record for publishing the truth and what is cowardly about 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 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.

The CIA's attempts 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.

Julian Assange
Editor-in-chief & Publisher
WikiLeaks

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