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NIC Chairman at the Association of Former Intelligence Officers

Remarks by John Gannon
Chairman of the National Intelligence Council
to the Association of Former Intelligence Officers

October 18, 1997

Good evening. Thank you for the kind introduction. I am honored to be your speaker tonight representing George Tenet, who sends his best wishes along with regrets that he could not be here. He especially enjoys the company of retired intelligence officers and, I know, holds AFIO in high regard.

This is the fifth time I have addressed retired intelligence officers including, AFIO, around the country over the past two years or so. I, too, enjoy mixing it up with you veterans, who are so rich in professional accomplishment and historical perspective, and who, frankly, throw a much better party than the younger--but stiffer--generation still on active duty.

Many of my retired friends who spent their final tours at Headquarters couldn’t wait to escape! But after a little time away, they, like so many of you, regained their perspective and time-tested sense of humor, and enthusiastically joined the ranks of the Intelligence Community’s most loyal and supportive constituency.

As former Deputy Director for Intelligence (DDI) and now Chairman of the National Intelligence council (NIC), I am grateful for the sound advice and moral support I have received from retirees--great folks who went before me and not only survived but often triumphed. The world and the intelligence business have changed dramatically in recent years, and we face new and different challenges ahead. But you folks are still an inspiration to us in intelligence today in the basic qualities you brought--and we must continue to bring--to the job: smarts, drive, and guts! You should be proud of the legacy you left us. It is a particular honor to speak to AFIO in this 50th anniversary year. As you may know, a few weeks ago we had our anniversary celebration at Langley. We hosted President Clinton and former President Bush. President Clinton had good things to say about the Agency’s past, and he made it very clear that our country can’t do without the Intelligence Community in the future. As the President said to the assembled intelligence officers, "you stand at the forefront of America’s defense, you embody America’s best values, and you must help to carry us into a brighter future." The next day President Bush had only one thing to say about those who want to dismantle the Intelligence Community – "you’re nuts and so’s the horse you came in on."

The same day President Bush visited, we had 4,000 retirees return to the Agency. All of this on a workday with all of our regular employees present. Despite the unprecedented crowds and the uneven floor of the tent we erected on the front lawn, the only mishap was a toupee blown off by a fan. It is always embarrassing when CIA blows its own cover!

The company store sold a lot of CIA50 souvenirs. After years of telling people that you worked with the Department of State, you can now get up, have your coffee in a CIA mug and whip up your breakfast from a recipe in the CIA cookbook. You can eat it off of CIA china while wearing a CIA sweatshirt and matching CIA sweatpants, and perhaps a CIA ballcap. If the grandchildren are over, you can tie on their CIA bibs. After checking the time on your CIA watch, you can head out for the day and play a round of golf with CIA-logo balls. If you can’t decide what to have for dinner, you can flip a commemorative CIA50 coin. After dinner, you can play bridge with CIA cards while sipping port from CIA crystal or just drinking beer from a CIA stein. We don’t have a CIA beer yet, but you could drink Corona.

In late June, I brought in nine of my predecessor DDIs, along with most of our living exDCIs and several past DO leaders, for a wonderful day of recollection and celebration. In the midst of the fun I learned two valuable lessons. First, those who have served on CIA's seventh floor generally have held humility to be a quality respected in other people. And, secondly, CIA has managed to attract to its leadership over the years a dazzling array of smart, brainy, and articulate folks. I was lucky my wife was willing to go home with me!

You get the picture the Agency, and the Intelligence Community, have been caught up in Anniversary fever for much of this year. Despite the crowds and the parking challenge and the lines at the store and the crowded exhibits and the restrooms, everybody had a great time on our special days of celebration. The consensus is: "We in intelligence did some great things. We made a critical difference. We deserve to celebrate. We are justified in our confidence that we can continue to do great things."

Let me look back for a moment on some of the great things that the Intelligence Community has done over the past 50 years. The greatest intelligence success of this century was victory in a war without shots or explosions. The great war that so many feared, the one between the United States and the Soviet Union, remained a cold war. This is remarkable. Think of the small events, accidents, miscalculations that have triggered past wars. Think back to the "red scare" that gripped this country in the 1950’s. In that overheated atmosphere, how did two superpowers with diametrically opposite beliefs, who possessed the most terrible arsenals in history, avoid taking the fatal step?

One big reason was the steady stream of intelligence from the Intelligence Community: intelligence that not only warned of real dangers but also calmed fears by giving us a realistic picture of Soviet capabilities; intelligence that told us about Soviet intentions; intelligence that helped us to negotiate and verify arms control treaties.

The story of how we produced that intelligence, how we overcame the formidable barriers thrown up by the Soviet state is also remarkable. When the CIA was formed fifty years ago, this country had never had a peacetime, civilian foreign intelligence service. While the OSS laid the foundation for CIA’s espionage and analysis effort, our experience then was limited to the wartime effort against the Axis powers.

The Soviet Union presented a vastly different intelligence target. It was a closed society that instilled in its citizens a well-founded fear of foreign contact. It spanned eleven time zones and covered some of the most inaccessible, inhospitable geography on the globe. It had an impressive endowment of natural resources, including all the raw materials necessary to build a tremendous military force. It fought not with conventional weapons, but with the slow spread of ideology.

How did the Intelligence Community, new and inexperienced, meet these challenges?

The people of the CIA, trailblazers like Richard Bissell, saw the enormous potential of technology and marshaled the talent to build the great collection platforms and cameras that revolutionized intelligence gathering. The U-2 gave us our first good look at Soviet military capabilities, blew a hole in our preconceived notions of Moscow’s military might. It told us that Soviet capabilities had not outstripped our own, as the public feared. It let our leaders base their decisions on defense spending and strategy on information rather than imagination.

One hundred and ten days after a Soviet antiaircraft missile shot down Francis Gary Powers’ plane and ended overflights of Soviet territory, we launched the first reconnaissance satellite, the Corona. Overnight, our ability to gather critical data increased exponentially.

Many things, however, fell beyond the realm of technology. Then we turned to the clandestine service. Of all the intelligence disciplines, human intelligence is the one that puts to the sternest test our human qualities of courage, creativity, and judgment. All of those qualities were tested under the harsh conditions of the Cold War. With painstaking effort, our case officers obtained information from spies like Penkovsky and Polýakov. They learned the secrets of Soviet military doctrine and strategy, the inner workings of the KGB and GRU, and other information that proved invaluable to our leaders.

The CIA, under the leadership of people like the Yale historian Sherman Kent, developed the tradecraft of all- source intelligence analysis. As you know, Kent was the long-time chairman of the National Board of Estimates, the forerunner of the National Intelligence Council, the group that I now chair. He set the professional standards and practices for intelligence analysis. Speaking of the days just before the creation of the CIA, Kent once said, "we knew almost nothing about the tens of thousands of things we were going to have to learn about in a hurry." We learned in a hurry. Analysts put together disparate pieces of information to create a coherent picture and to inform policy. They pored over embassy cables, clandestine reporting, signals intelligence, overhead imagery, and open sources from major newspapers, to obscure journals, and remote radio broadcasts. They learned to make calls on the spot, with only fragmentary data. Over long years of effort, CIA analysts built an astoundingly comprehensive picture of our Soviet adversary and other intelligence targets.

Today, we must not lose sight of the fact that intelligence is still a matter of life and death. Our job remains to warn and protect and to serve as our nation’s first line of defense. We now face a complex new world order and a range of new intelligence challenges. As in 1947, these intelligence challenges are nothing like the target we are used to facing.

Instead of the challenge of a closed society and sealed borders, we face the challenges of an open world and increasingly permeable borders.

Instead of stable cast of Kremlin leaders who acted according to a known ideology, we face an ever changing cast of terrorists, drug traffickers, and international organized crime figures. We have cruel and erratic despots like Saddam Hussein and Kim Chong Il. We have two great nuclear powers, Russia and China, still in the process of massive political, economic, and social transformation.

Instead of the painstaking search for information, we are flooded with information. Our adversaries, too, have access to the advances of the information age. Terrorists can use the Internet to acquire the expertise to build chemical and biological weapons, and they can research potential targets thousands of miles away. Drug traffickers can move their profits across continents with the stroke of a computer key.

Instead of the massive Russian military complex, which we could track closely with satellites, we have weapons of mass destruction that can be slipped into a cardboard box and left on a seat in the subway.

We must focus our resources relentlessly on those who pose serious danger to the physical security of the United States, our armed forces, and our citizens. To succeed, we must set our goals high.

First, we must remain the best espionage service in the world. We have to take the lessons learned in the hard school of the Cold War and apply them to the hard targets of today. We cannot, of course, use satellites to discover the plans and intentions of terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized crime figures, or to know the mindset of a despot. For that we need human sources, people who are willing to take risks. The only way to encourage the creativity and risk-taking that are the life blood of espionage is to give our people the unwavering support that they deserve.

And we have to remain vigilant in our counterintelligence effort. Many years ago, Nikita Khruschev turned to Allen Dulles at a State Department reception and said, "You know, I think you and I have some of the same people working for each other." That joke is funny, until you think about it. It reminds us that counterintelligence must be a constant concern in an espionage agency. We can never forget it for a moment.

We must take the spirit of innovation that gave us the U-2 and the CORONA and use it to foment the next revolution in technical collection. We must stay ahead of the technological curve to track weapons of mass destruction programs, to discover the movements of armies, and to overcome increasingly sophisticated tactics of denial and deception. To stay ahead we must invest in technical excellence and become a magnet for the trailblazing Bud Wheelons of the next generation.

Third, we have to be the world’s experts. In this age when we are flooded by information, much of it false or worthless, the special talent of the intelligence analyst is more important than ever. We must be able to sift out the accurate information, to organize the confusion of data, and to project ahead when the stakes are high for the United States. We must work to discern the future shape of the great nuclear powers, Russia and China. We must be ready to bring policymakers up to speed quickly when a new crisis breaks in some remote part of the globe. We must pull together the information that our troops need so that they can accomplish their mission safely and effectively. To do this we will have to marry up the clear logic and objectivity of Sherman Kent with the latest tools of the information age.

Drawing on the legacy you have left to us, combining it with the talent, energy, and ideas of the people who work here today, we will sustain and strengthen this great Intelligence Community. And the Community will help to sustain and strengthen this great nation. Twenty-five years from now we will have a rousing 75th anniversary celebration. At that milestone, I hope my generation will justifiably be as proud of its legacy as you are of yours today. I honestly--and enthusiastically--salute you!

Thanks for your warm reception tonight. I’d be happy to take any questions you have here or over a beer as we conclude a wonderful evening. Thanks.


Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:56 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 07:58 AM