In his keynote speech to the Texas National Security Forum at the University of Texas on Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo called Iran a “thuggish police state” and “despotic theocracy” similar to the Islamic State.
Most of Pompeo’s remarks concerned the mission of the Central Intelligence Agency and its importance in a world of terrorism and nation-state skulduggery. Pompeo acknowledged that many people have a sinister impression of the CIA, in part because they do not (and cannot) know exactly what the agency does on a daily basis.
He teased a few classified missions that would surely blow the minds of his audience if he could divulge the details, including one carried out by a very young CIA officer that “would be rejected as implausible by any worthy publisher,” were it submitted as an espionage novel.
Then he segued into a comparison between the CIA’s operations and the conduct of Iranian intelligence, arguing that early Americans were understandably reluctant to “get into the spy business,” but the modern CIA defends the Constitution, strictly abides by American law, and works with “a sense of duty, purpose, and righteous resolve.”
“Let’s compare this with the intelligence service of the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, the Islamic Republic of Iran,” invited Pompeo. “The MOIS and IRGC intel services simply can’t be as effective as the CIA. They serve multiple purposes. In fact, defending Iran from foreign entities is but a very small part of what they do.”
“Iranian intelligence has the task of assisting in enforcing the rule of law in a thuggish police state. They can’t be as effective when they’re also spying on and providing support to the imprisonment of their own people. And they’ll never prevail when their fundamental purpose is to perpetuate tyranny,” he asserted.
“Put another way, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the cudgels of a despotic theocracy, with the IRGC accountable only to a Supreme Leader. They’re the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East,” he said.
Pompeo directly compared the Islamic Republic of Iran to “ISIS and its mirage of a caliphate,” arguing that Iran is the real deal, “a powerful nation-state that remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
“The Islamic Republic is Iran’s version of what the caliphate ought to look like under the control of an Ayatollah and his praetorian guard, the IRGC,” he said, referring to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration is considering formally designating as a terrorist organization. Pompeo’s remarks suggest he would have few quibbles with such a designation.
“In recent years, the IRGC has become more reckless and provocative, seeking to exploit the vacuum left by instability in the Middle East to aggressively expand its influence,” he said. “It openly vows to annihilate Israel. And when you look at the death and destruction inflicted in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq by Tehran and its proxies, the threat is clear: Iran is mounting a ruthless drive to be the hegemonic power in the region.”
Furthermore, Pompeo noted that both American civilians and military personnel are “put in danger by the Islamic Republic,” citing the Revolutionary Guards’ attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. four years ago, and the killing of Spec. Alexander Missildine by a roadside bomb in Iraq this month. Pompeo said Missildine was killed in an “an area controlled by a Shia militia aligned with Iran,” but conceded investigators have not yet established a direct link between the attack and the IRGC.
“Capturing American sailors and taking Americans hostage, abusing human rights on a massive scale and oppressing its own people—these are the goals in which Iranian intelligence finds purpose,” said Pompeo, contrasting this with the CIA’s support of a “Republic founded on deeply moral principles,” working within the bounds of the Constitution.
“It makes us more effective in our mission because our officers and agents understand that their goal is moral and noble, and not repressive and destructive. The CIA’s power is increased by this singular focus, and we and our country benefit from it,” he said.
During the Q&A session after his prepared speech, Pompeo added that Iran’s affiliate Hezbollah in Lebanon is a “perfect example” of the kind of non-state actor the CIA must defeat.
“Not U.N.-recognized as a state, it has an incredibly capable counterintelligence effort against the United States of America. We have to beat them,” he said.
NBC News was greatly displeased with Pompeo’s speech, deeming it “hardline” (the same word the media uses for the theocratic wing of the Iranian government) and filled with “unusually harsh language.”
NBC took pains to challenge Pompeo’s depiction of the assassination plot against Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington as the work of the IRGC, nebulously citing unnamed “Iranian experts inside and outside the U.S. government” who believe it was a “rogue operation.” Federal prosecutors, however, were confident that would-be assassin Manssor Arbabsiar worked with members of the IRGC’s Quds Force based in Iran to carry out the plot. Among other details, prosecutors noted he had no trouble coming up with a $100,000 down payment on a $1.4 million price tag for securing the assistance of Mexican drug cartels, which would be impressive financing for a “rogue operation.”
Also, after his arrest, Arbabsiar was induced to contact a known member of the Quds Force in a wiretapped phone call and was given clear instructions by the Iranian officer to quickly proceed with the killing.
An unnamed senior intelligence official told NBC News that Pompeo’s speech was meant to “set the stage” for the Trump administration’s actions on Friday concerning the Iran nuclear deal and designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization.