WASHINGTON – The Central Intelligence Agency knows the identities of the people who leaked DNC emails to the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks during the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, a former CIA officer contends.
Fred Rustmann, who served as an operations officer in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service for 24 years and was a member of the agency’s elite Senior Intelligence Service, said in an interview with WND that WikiLeaks’ ongoing release of classified information is “disgusting.”
But he said it’s likely the CIA knows who the leakers are.
“WikiLeaks says they want to protect their sources – Julian Assange said that he wouldn’t reveal his sources, but he would say that it wasn’t the Russians,” Rustmann said. “But the agency knows a lot of the information. I suspect they may have a pretty good idea of who provided that information to WikiLeaks.”
The CIA sent a vague threat to WikiLeaks and the potential sources in a tweet on Saturday evening using the CIA’s official Twitter account, referencing comments CIA Director Mike Pompeo gave at the Reagan National Defense Forum.
Pompeo warned WikiLeaks that he won’t tolerate classified secrets being stolen from the agency.
“WikiLeaks may think they are protecting those who provide them with classified information & other secrets, but they should not be certain of that,” the CIA statement said.
DCIA Pompeo: WikiLeaks may think they are protecting those who provide them with classified information & other secrets, but they should not be certain of that.#RNDF
— CIA (@CIA) December 3, 2017
Hundreds of respondents to the tweet were stunned that the agency threatened Wikileaks, and many invoked slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who is alleged to have leaked the DNC’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails during the 2016 presidential race.
The CIA’s “threat” to WikiLeaks is “unprecedented,” Robert L. Deitz, who served as senior counselor to CIA Director Michael Hayden from 2006 until February 2009, and general counsel at the National Security Agency from 1998 to 2006, told WND.
“It’s pretty unusual for the CIA to make a threat to WikiLeaks so publicly. It’s pretty unprecedented; one ought to be skeptical about this. That is not the way that CIA officials should operate,” he said. “This is not the way the CIA director ought to behave. CIA directors don’t go around threatening.”
Deitz told WND that “traditionally, CIA people have been way in the background.”
“This is the kind of thing, if somebody were to make this kind of threat it would come out of a different organization, DOD, State or maybe the White House. Traditionally it would certainly not come out of the CIA,” he said.
But the CIA’s warning to WikiLeaks is “a statement of the obvious,” said Mike Baker, a former covert operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he spent 17 years specializing in counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency operations.
“You may think you are doing the right thing, if you have access to classified information, but if you break your obligations and break the law by leaking that, no matter who you leak it to, for whatever reason, then you could will face charges,” he said.
“Saying that ‘I leaked it to WikiLeaks’ and therefore it was anonymous, isn’t somehow protection of that.”
Rustmann argued that the CIA’s warning to WikiLeaks shouldn’t be regarded as a threat or an intimidation tactic. He said the CIA is merely conveying the truth: U.S. intelligence agencies undoubtedly know who are responsible for the leaks.
“I don’t take it as a threat. I take it more as a fact,” he said. “WikiLeaks can’t protect their sources, they cannot because we have too many ways to uncover those sources – the CIA, the NSA. It’s true, WikiLeaks can’t.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., told WND that he met with Assange in August and that the WikiLeaks founder is seeking a pardon in exchange for “information that will be of dramatic importance to the United States” concerning the source of the 2016 DNC email leak.
Assange and WikiLeaks are facing three congressional probes and a federal criminal inquiry, Reuters reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources familiar with the investigations.
Leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees are investigating WikiLeaks’ role in the 2016 presidential election regarding the stolen DNC data.
Rohrabacher said he walked away from a three-hour meeting with Assange with assurances that Russia and Trump had nothing to do with leaking the emails.
Yet, in a 25-page report published in January, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed they had “high confidence” that the Kremlin directed hacks against the DNC, Clinton campaign staffer John Podesta and other top Democrats before passing on the hacked data to WikiLeaks for online publication via intermediaries.
Rustmann, who recruited spies overseas for the CIA for more than two decades, contends U.S. intelligence agencies are well aware of who the leakers are, warned that the intelligence agencies are politicized and called the Russia probe, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a “political witch hunt.”
“Russia is a major, major player in our foreign policy – we need to be aware of what they’re doing and who they are doing it to. It would be legitimate for the Trump campaign and the Trump presidency to try to have good relations with Russia – all that is legitimate,” he said. “This is a political witch hunt. When all the money is spent and all the time has been expired and all of this has expired we are going to find out that there was no connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The intelligence agencies don’t care what WikiLeaks says, they know the probe is wrong.
‘Hillary was defeated’
Rustmann acknowledged Russia would attempt to influence the U.S. election but insists Moscow was not successful.
“The election was not influenced in any great way by Russia or anybody else,” he said. “We voted. Trump got in. Hillary was defeated. It was shocker and Russia didn’t have anything to do with it.”
Nobody sincerely believes the Trump campaign is responsible for hacking and obtaining the DNC emails, Baker contended.
“The president won the election because the other side couldn’t deliver a candidate that could actually defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “The Democrats were unable to actually provide a candidate that was able to capture the hearts and minds of American voters sufficiently to win the election. That’s not rocket science.”
Federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia, are also conducting a criminal investigation into how WikiLeaks obtained thousands of classified U.S. government documents, including CIA materials. A U.S. lawyer for Assange, Barry Pollack, told Reuters the probe began several years ago.
WikiLeaks published ultra-secret technical materials from its “Vault 8” series in November, containing American spy agency hacking tools and source codes.
“This publication will enable investigative journalists, forensic experts and the general public to better identify and understand covert CIA infrastructure components,” WikiLeaks said in a press release for Vault 8. “Source code published in this series contains software designed to run on servers controlled by the CIA. Like WikiLeaks’ earlier Vault7 series, the material published by WikiLeaks does not contain 0-days or similar security vulnerabilities which could be repurposed by others.”
‘WikiLeaks is disgusting’
Rustmann said that even if Assange has proof that would exonerate Trump in the Russia probe, the WikiLeaks founder should under no condition should be pardoned. The president has no need to meet with Assange because he is well aware that he legitimately and fairly won the election, Rustmann said.
“WikiLeaks is disgusting, what they do. I understand that Julian Assange is not an American citizen, but by revealing secrets he could go to jail in America,” he said. “I don’t think the U.S. government would or should deal with Julian Assange in any way. He may have that information. If he does, I suspect he will reveal it and it won’t matter what the CIA or U.S. government thinks about it – he’s just going to do it because that is what he does.
“President Trump didn’t rig the election, he got elected. Now Julian Assange is going to gully up to him, buddy up to him and say, I can prove you didn’t rig the election,” he added. “Well, Trump knows he didn’t rig the election.”
Likewise, Baker contended that Assange does not deserve a pardon and suspects his claim of having information that would end the Russia probe should not be believed.
“Assange is a self-righteous individual who is out to better his own position. Anything Assange says, it’s all in his best interest from his perspective. I don’t think anybody is going to pardon him – I would be very surprised if that were to happen and would bet a significant part of my salary that it won’t happen,” he said.
“There are more serious issues going on in this world than Julian Assange and whether he gets to roam free again. I don’t necessarily believe anything he says. He’s just out for Julian Assange.”