The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Virginia, Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thank you. I’m honored to be here today.

This has been a good month for the intelligence community. And while operations have gotten a lot of attention lately – and rightly so – we analysts still have our place. One of the lessons I took from my years at CIA was to take a hard look at what appear to be clever or elegant operations – the kind that supposedly can’t go wrong. When I was deputy DCI in the 1980s, I was briefed on a plan to launch balloons into Libya dropping leaflets telling the people to overthrow the government. I told them to make sure the leaflets specifically said that it was Qaddafi they were to overthrow. I could imagine strong westerly winds carrying balloons with a generic “overthrow your government” right across Libya and into Egypt. I thought President Mubarak would not be pleased.

Clearly a few things have changed since then – and I certainly have some empathy for those caught by surprise. I’ve had my own embarrassing moments on that front, one of which came early in my career, when I was in Geneva, Switzerland as an intelligence adviser in the fall of 1973. I was giving Ambassador Paul Nitze his morning intelligence briefing, and his eye was caught by one item in particular – CIA’s analysis that Egypt would not attack Israel. Nitze asked me if I spoke French. I said no. He asked if I listened to the radio. I said no. He said, “Well, if you listened to the radio and understood French you would have known before you came in here that Egypt has already attacked Israel.” Unbeknownst to me, the Yom Kippur War had begun that morning.

But history aside, I’d most like to speak just about the progress we’ve made –the critical importance of cooperation and interaction between the military and the intelligence community, an area that has vastly improved in the past decade. After Vietnam, the CIA and military cultures had diverged – at least until September 11, 2001. Indeed, when I was in Baghdad with the Iraq study group in September 2006, I spent an hour or so with the COS. And I asked him about the CIA-military relationship. He replied, ‘oh sir, it’s so much better than when you were DCI.”

It a lot of took work and a lot of talent to get us here. As you may know, I was opposed to the creation of the DNI position and apparatus back in 2004. I was convinced that the DCI could be strengthened to accomplish the goals set forth by the 9/11 commission. I was very surprised, then, to be asked in January 2005 by President Bush to become the first DNI. After much soul-searching, I declined, and then told my wife I never again would need to worry about being asked to return to government. Another of my great analytical successes.

The formal bureaucratic set-up and lines of authority for the community are not ideal, and the defense department is still the 800 pound gorilla of our interagency system that it always was and probably always will be. But, what I’ve found over the years is that what matters most to make government function are not organization charts, but people and relationships. In particular, what’s key to making the DNI office work is the chemistry between the DNI and the other leaders of the intelligence community. And in that regard, especially moving forward, I think we’ve got something of dream team.

First and foremost, Jim Clapper. I’ve known him for over twenty years, and he was actually the only person that I hired and brought with me when I became Secretary of Defense, to fill the job of Under Secretary for Intelligence. He’s also the only person who had only one condition before he would accept the position – I had to call his wife and explain why he was going back into government. He also after he got this job gave me a little sign that hangs in my office with a quote from the great philosophers Laurel and Hardy “It’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” Now when the DNI post was created, some were looking for a “big boss” authority figure, but structurally that’s impossible, because virtually none of the heads of the intelligence agencies actually work for the DNI. But largely due to Jim’s efforts, both at DOD and as DNI, over the past few years we’ve worked out arrangements to strengthen the DNI’s role by various side agreements between the Secretary of Defense, Director of CIA, and the DNI, regarding personnel appointments, division of responsibility, and similar issues. Jim is the consummate intelligence professional who has the respect of virtually everyone in intelligence, no small feat in our sometime fractious community.

And he has an able collaborator in the current Under Secretary for Intelligence, Mike Vickers. Like Jim, Mike has an ideal blend of military and intelligence experience – he had a legendary career as an Army Special Forces officer and at CIA. I must tell you that when Charlie Wilson’s War the movie version came out, Mike told me his daughters were very distressed – they were hoping Brad Pitt would play him. But at Defense, Mike has proven a master at breaking down bureaucratic walls and overcoming parochial obstacles to forge a close working relationship between the military and the intelligence community. The result of this collaboration has been a rout of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the relentless – and recently especially fruitful – assault on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership in central Asia.

I believe the close working relationship that Mike, Jim, Leon Panetta, and I have established is replicated and even stronger in the field. The incredibly successful joint CIA-Defense operation that brought down Bin Laden is without a doubt going to prove a model for future operations. Maintaining chemistry of the command team that got us here is one of the reasons I advocated for Leon as my successor at Defense, because our efforts – and our interagency cooperation – can still improve.

While at the tactical and operational level we have seen real innovation and gains, I remain concerned about the quality of our intelligence at the political and strategic level. Our ability to “see” into other nations with our constellations of satellites is second to none, but, as Clausewitz noted, “the map is not the territory.” Knowing what other governments – and as we’ve seen recently, populations – are capable of and, more importantly, what they intend, has always been a serious challenge for American intelligence – and it will remain so. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad to see Dave Petraeus take over at CIA – understanding the broader economic and cultural climate in which our troops and the enemy operate has been priority of his in Afghanistan, and he knows better than anyone that we’ll have to expand beyond traditional intelligence sources and methods to get the information we’ll need going forward.

As I prepare to leave our mission to these capable men – and to all of you here – I’m reminded that what hasn’t changed from those grim years of the cold war when I began my career is that we still face a dangerous world, one that grows ever more complex and unpredictable. A world that calls on America’s best and brightest to come forward and endure dangers and hardships in service to their country.

I’d like to close with something the wise Richard Helms had to say about the role of the intelligence community – that “the nation to a degree must take it on faith that we are honorable men devoted to her service.” Helms, of course, was referring to the necessary secrecy with which the men and women in American Intelligence do their jobs. We all know that some of the greatest victories of U.S. intelligence will never be known by our fellow citizens. Attacks, plots, and schemes that died anonymous, quiet, deserved deaths. These victories were celebrated with perhaps a raised coffee cup in salute or a quiet “well done” behind closed doors. And then, without fanfare, the silent, unending work of keeping our country safe begins again. It was a great privilege of my life to be part of your ranks for many years. I salute you for what you do every day to keep our country safe.

Thank you. Now I’ll take some questions.

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias