George Tenet Luncheon Remarks at Cold War Conference
Transcript: US Intelligence and the End of the Cold War
Texas A&M University
DCI George Tenet Luncheon Remarks and Introduction of President Bush
November 19, 1999
GEORGE TENET: Good afternoon.
At this time of great sadness for everyone here at College Station, I want to first express the deepest sympathy of the men and women of the intelligence community. Like our fellow Americans, we too have been watching the unfolding tragedy here on television and have been touched by the magnificent way that everyone at the University and in the town have responded as one united community.
We are all thinking especially about the families and friends of the injured, and of those who lost their very young lives. As a parent, I cannot imagine more devastating news than this. Our prayers - the prayers of the men and women of our intelligence community - are with them, and we wish that God grant them strength at this terrible hour and comfort them in their sorrow.
On behalf of the intelligence community, I also want to express my sincere appreciation to the George Bush School of Government and Public Service and Texas A&M University for co-hosting this conference with CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence. You have managed to extend exceptional hospitality to us, even in the face of great tragedy, so we feel an even deeper responsibility to ensure that this conference makes a significant intellectual contribution to the understanding of a pivotal period in our history.
The men and women of US intelligence are proud of the contributions that they made to defending the security of the free world during five grim decades of the Cold War. We believe that a careful study of our role in that great global struggle will show that time and again US intelligence provided American leaders with critical information and insights that saved American lives and advanced our most vital interests.
During the perilous peace that was the Cold War, the stakes, the risks, and the uncertainties were higher than at any time in our history with the possible exception of the Second World War.
Keeping the Cold War from becoming a "hot" one was the overriding goal of American national security policy and US intelligence. An intelligence effort of such magnitude and fraught with such great risk and uncertainty was bound to have its flaws, both operational and analytical. But I believe the overall record, a record you have heard a little bit about this morning, is one of very impressive accomplishment.
Today we look back on the Cold War from a temporal distance of ten short years. It is already a world away, replaced by a new and more hopeful reality in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. And it is separated from us by a new generation of young people who have no personal recollection of what it was like to have lived on either side of the Berlin Wall - that metaphor in reinforced concrete and barbed wire for totalitarian repression.
It was a time when all humankind lived under the appalling threat of nuclear annihilation. Those forced to live behind the cruel Wall, closed off from the rest of the world, knew constant fear and countless indignities. They struggled to keep hope alive. It was for us, the lucky ones living in liberty, to stand fast in defense of the freedoms that we cherish, and keep faith with the oppressed on the other side.
Ultimately, after the sacrifice of millions of irreplaceable human lives and trillions of dollars in treasure, the human spirit on both sides of the Wall triumphed.
To the students of Texas A&M today who have grown up with practically unlimited opportunities to travel the globe and roam at will within the borderless world of the Internet, the Berlin Wall - and the physical, political and psychological barriers to the free flow of people, ideas, and information that it represented - must seem absolutely surreal. But for the generations that lived in its shadow it was very real and very dangerous.
No one knows better than the men and women here today who carried the heavy burden of high office during the Cold War decades. And no one carried a heavier burden than the President of the United States. Every American President from Harry Truman onward knew that he would be tested in the crucible of the Cold War, and that he had better be ready to meet the challenge. Our country was blessed to have had leaders -- Republicans and Democrats -- who met the challenge.
All of us here who have ever served in government remember raising our right hands and solemnly swearing to an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies. But after saying "so help me God", only one of us here today was given the awesome responsibility of leading the Free World. And on inauguration day in 1989, none of us including our new President, could have known that soon, far sooner than any of us imagined, we would be living in a world transformed. Nor could he or any of us know that his own Cold War crucible would be to help as only the President of the United States could help, to bring that chilling war to a virtually bloodless conclusion.
This is a history conference. Many of you are historians. You are all familiar with the "Great Man Theory" of history. Our distinguished luncheon speaker does not subscribe to it - at least as it could be related to himself. By all accounts, he suffers from a severe genetic case of New England modesty.
But if you were to view history as a succession of great moments to which leaders must rise or invite disaster, surely it will record that this man was equal to the great moment that came to him. That brief historical span when in three short years, with astonishing speed, the Berlin Wall fell, political revolution swept through Eastern Europe, Germany reunified within NATO, and the Soviet Union collapsed. From the security of ten years of hindsight, it is hard to remember that not one of those peaceful outcomes was inevitable.
If ever a man and a moment were made for each other, George Bush and the end of the Cold War were the perfect match. To meet his moment, President Bush drew on his vast experience in international affairs, on the instincts and judgments he had honed over a lifetime of service in war and in peace, on the decency and humanity at his very core, on a gifted national security team and the key personal relationships he had cultivated, and last, but not certainly least, on the strengths of the greatest intelligence system that the world has ever known.
Thus equipped, with skilled, quiet statecraft, he wisely shaped the policies and guided the actions of the sole remaining superpower through some of the most dramatic, consequential and dangerous years of the 20th Century. At such a momentous time, the American people were fortunate indeed to have George Bush as their President. Germany and America's other European partners were fortunate to have him as their ally. Mikhail Gorbachev was fortunate to have him as a counterpart. And the brave peoples of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union were truly fortunate that such a man as he was the leader of the Free World.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is now my honor and pleasure to present to you the only President of the United States to have served as Director of Central Intelligence, our 41st Commander in Chief, George Bush.