Washington (AFP) - Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo on Thursday branded WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service," saying it threatens democratic nations and joins hands with dictators.
In his first public remarks since becoming chief of the US spy agency in February, Pompeo focused on the anti-secrecy group and other leakers of classified information like Edward Snowden as one of the key threats facing the United States.
"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... And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations," said Pompeo.
"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."
Pompeo compared WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange to leakers of the pre-internet days like former CIA official Philip Agee.
Agee's exposing the identities of undercover CIA agents was blamed for the assassination of the agency's Athens station chief in 1974.
On Wednesday, Assange published an opinion piece in the Washington Post in which he said his group's mission was the same as America's most respected newspapers: "to publish newsworthy content."
"WikiLeaks's sole interest is expressing constitutionally protected truths," he said, professing "overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America."
- CIA hacking files leaked -
While it has released secret materials from around the world, WikiLeaks's notoriety comes from its US-related scoops. In 2010 it published 251,000 classified cables from US embassies around the world.
Last year it published files and communications from the Democratic Party, damaging presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign. US intelligence says that release was part of a Russian plot to aid eventual election victor Donald Trump.
The FBI and other US agencies are in fact investigating alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The Guardian newspaper in Britain reported Thursday that British intelligence played a critical role in alerting the US government to contacts between members of Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives.
Quoting a source close to British intelligence, the paper said that in late 2015 the British intelligence organization known as GCHQ became aware of suspicious "interactions" between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, and passed this information along to the Americans.
Last month, WikiLeaks embarrassed the CIA and damaged its operations by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the agency's top secret hacking operations.
The data showed how the CIA exploits vulnerabilities in popular computer and networking hardware and software to gather intelligence.
Counterintelligence investigators continue to try to find out who stole the files and handed them to WikiLeaks.
Assange meanwhile criticized the US agency for not telling the tech industry and authorities about those vulnerabilities so they can be fixed.
Pompeo said Assange portrays himself as a crusader but in fact helps enemies of the United States, including aiding Russia's interference in last year's presidential election.
"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."
However, Pompeo did not comment on how Trump has previously lavished praise on Assange for the information he has made public.
Nor did Pompeo mention that he himself had cited and linked to WikiLeaks in a tweet attacking the Democratic Party. Pompeo at the time was a Republican congressman and member of the House Intelligence Committee.
The CIA declined to comment on that.