Earlier this week, CIA Director John Brennan sat down with a CIA public affairs officer to talk about the significance of the CIA's Annual Memorial Ceremony, which was held on May 19, 2014. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Carolyn: Good morning John. Thank you for joining us today.
D/CIA Brennan: Good morning Carolyn.
Carolyn: So preparations are underway for the Annual Memorial Ceremony to take place on Monday. We’re sitting today in the CIA Museum Afghanistan gallery. Since September 11th, 2001, we’ve lost numerous officers in Afghanistan. Why is it important to understand the history and impact of our work in Afghanistan?
D/CIA Brennan: Well Carolyn, as you know, the CIA has had a rich history over the last 67 years working in numerous countries. And we have really helped shape the course of world events and protect US interests in a variety of locations—Southeast Asia and Vietnam for many, many years, throughout the Middle East, and in Afghanistan over the course of two chapters of its history. In the first decade after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Agency worked with our Afghan partners and our regional partners to try to push the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan and to allow the Afghan people to live in freedom. After that first chapter, Afghanistan went through a series of evolutions and revolutions. And then it was after the 9/11 attacks that so tragically occurred here in the United States that the CIA was called upon once again to respond to the President’s direction to do what we could to prevent a recurrence of these terrorist attacks here in the homeland or other areas. And so we did. Within days—weeks—of those attacks we had feet on the ground in Afghanistan. And what we tried to do was to make sure that al-Qa’ida was not able to use Afghanistan or the surrounding areas to plan and launch those attacks.
And we need to make sure that we understand just how important it was that CIA officers were asked to go to Afghanistan and the contributions that we have made over the years. Our work is not done in Afghanistan, as it is not done in many parts of the world.
Carolyn: There are now 111 stars in the Memorial Wall. There are four new additions. As Director of CIA, what is it like for you to get to know their stories and to get to know their families?
D/CIA Brennan: Dealing with the deaths of CIA officers has been the most difficult and meaningful experience that I have had as CIA Director. This past year I have had the wonderful opportunity to learn about the officers and their contributions to the Agency, as well their contributions over many years in service of their country, and the circumstances of their deaths and the heroism that they demonstrated. But also it gave me the opportunity to learn about the individuals themselves through their families.
With each of these individuals I was able to learn about them as people and learn about their tremendous contributions to this country. It made me feel so proud to be a CIA officer but also the Director of CIA. I’m very much looking forward to seeing them and seeing the other families that I’ve come to know. That’s why this occasion of our annual commemoration and this on the 40th anniversary is the most important day in the Agency’s year. It is the day that we reflect, we remember, and we pay tribute to those CIA officers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Carolyn: So you did just mention that this year marks the 40th anniversary of our Memorial Wall and Book of Honor. Originally there were 31 stars that were carved into the very fabric of our OHB lobby. Since then we’ve had to add 80 more stars to the Wall. What does that say about the role of intelligence and the sacrifices that are sometimes demanded of this profession?
D/CIA Brennan: Well I think this year more than any other it’s quite poignant that we take the opportunity to not just commemorate the sacrifices of these officers, but it’s an opportunity for us to reflect on what it is that the CIA has been asked to do throughout the course of its history.
So this is a time to pay tribute to those officers who gave their lives, those 111 over the course of our history. But also I think it’s a time for us to renew our commitment to our work, to take pride in our work, and to recognize that yes, CIA is asked to do controversial things, yes, CIA is frequently criticized for the things that people believe that we have done, yes, we need to ensure that everything we do meets a standard of excellence that we set for ourselves, but also for us to remember that what we do is integral to this country’s security.
That Wall has tremendous symbolic meaning for the people, the stars it represents, and also for the work that each and every one of use does on a daily basis and the contributions that we make. That’s why I am so much looking forward to this memorial ceremony, the opportunity to see the family members once again, and to pay tribute to the work of those 111 heroes and the work of the Agency overall.
Carolyn: Thank you. And thank you very much for taking the time to sit with us today.
D/CIA Brennan: And thank you very much Carolyn.