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DCI Remarks at the Black History Pioneer Awards


Remarks of the Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
at the Black History Pioneer Awards
and Introducing Secretary Slater

February 25, 1999

Good morning. I am very pleased to join all of you and our great Secretary of Transportation and our Pioneer Award winners in this celebration of Black History Month. I would like to thank our Black Affinity Groups, our Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, and each of our Directorate Diversity Offices for making Black History Month such an enriching experience for in the CIA family.

Black History Month is a time to learn about and reflect upon the many important contributions that African Americans have made to our country throughout its history. It is also a time to recognize the important contributions that African Americans are making today and every day, not only at CIA but throughout our country.

History shows us that African American pioneers can be found in every imaginable field, including our own field of intelligence. One of the most interesting results of this year’s Black History Month preparations at CIA is a new publication authored by P.K. Rose in our Clandestine Service. The publication is called: Black Dispatches: Black American Contributions to Union Intelligence During the Civil War. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I ask that you do. It’s a fascinating read.

The author explains that "Black Dispatches" was a common term used among Union military men for intelligence on Confederate forces provided by African Americans. Black Dispatchers represented the single most prolific and productive category of intelligence obtained by Union forces during the Civil War.

One of the most daring sources of these dispatches was none other than Harriet Tubman, who is far better known for her courageous work as a leader in the Underground Railroad. We all remember how Harriet Tubman overcame the cruelties of slavery, embarking on her own perilous escape to freedom, only to cross the Mason-Dixon Line again and again, risking her life to guide others out. It was later, during the Civil War, that this indomitable and courageous woman became a trail-blazer for intelligence. She created a spy network and organized and led raiding parties and reconnaissance missions against Confederate forces in South Carolina. She reported to Col. James Montgomery, a Union officer commanding the Second South Carolina Volunteers, a black unit involved in guerrilla warfare. And after the war, Harriet Tubman remained a pioneer for the rest of her long life. Until the day she died, she was a pioneer for justice.

Harriet Tubman helped her people find their way toward freedom, justice, and a better future. And by doing that, she helped our country find its way forward.

The Black History Month Pioneers we honor today have carried on the tradition of helping others find the path to a better future.

I want especially to welcome their families. We are so glad you could be here with us to take part in these festivities. You, in fact, deserve the lion’s share of the credit, for it is your love and support that sustain the wonderful colleagues we honor today. And I think we owe you a nice round of applause!

Our four winners are outstanding intelligence professionals. They are also role models, not just for their African American colleagues, but for our entire Agency workforce. They have shown an extraordinary commitment to the success of our intelligence Mission, and an equally extraordinary commitment to the success of their fellow Agency employees.

It takes much more to be a Black History Month Pioneer than blazing a trail through the bureaucratic thickets and carving out a successful Agency career for yourself. What makes our Black History Month Pioneers so special is that, having excelled professionally themselves, each of our winners has reached out to others and helped them advance as well. And by helping others advance, they have made this Agency a better place and far more effective in the conduct of its Mission.

As most of you know, we recently have issued an Agency-wide policy statement on Diversity. I am very, very proud of it. Diversity is a powerful tool that can help us meet the intelligence challenges that lie ahead. I cannot emphasize enough that our people are our greatest resource. I say this now, and I have said it again and again to all of you: our Agency’s future depends on this institution being a place where the best and brightest Americans from all backgrounds and fields want to work and a place where they can thrive. That is the kind of Agency our employees and the American people deserve. That is the kind of Agency we expect and which we are building together. And that is the kind of Agency I am determined to lead. And I can do this only with your help.

I am sending a personal letter enclosing this diversity statement to each and every one of the CIA senior managers, to each of the Intelligence Community leaders and to our recruiters. Leaders must take the responsibility to lead. I expect all senior managers to make diversity a high priority here at CIA and across our Intelligence Community. As I said in my statement, we simply will not be able to attract -- and retain -- the people we need unless we can show them they have a future with us. Our case will be strongest if we can show potential recruits that people they can identify with and relate to are already building rewarding careers at our Agency, that they are excited about their jobs, that they are represented at all levels, and that they have a fair shot at the top positions in our organization.

That is why, more than ever, we need people like our Pioneer Award Winners to help show our people the way, and help us live up to our diversity commitments.

Earlier, I mentioned Harriet Tubman and her pioneering work in the Underground Railroad. I now have the honor to introduce another African American pioneer, who just happens to be in charge of our entire railroad system: Rodney Slater, our Secretary of Transportation. As you’ll see from the short biography I’m going to read about him, Rodney Slater doesn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk. But now that he’s Secretary of Transportation, he even gets to ride! It’s just an amazing story of accomplishment!

Rodney Slater grew up in Marianna, Arkansas, one of the poorest areas in America. By all accounts, he was a hard-working, exceptionally smart, and very determined young man. His first job was at age six, helping his mother pick cotton. He earned $2.50 for every $3 per hundred pounds of cotton picked. He saved and saved, and finally purchased a bicycle with his earnings. In the seventh grade, young Rodney surprised his mother when he asked if he could play football, because he’d like to win a scholarship to college. He went on to captain the Eastern Michigan University football team, and work his way through the University of Arkansas Law School.

He then began a distinguished career of public service. He served as the Director of Governmental Relations at Arkansas State University; then-Governor Clinton’s Executive Assistant for Economic and Community Programs; the Governor’s Special Assistant for Community and Minority Affairs; and as an Assistant Attorney General.

From 1987 to 1992, Rodney Slater served as a member of the Arkansas State Highway Commission, becoming its Chairman in 1992. He went on to become the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

Rodney Slater was sworn in as Secretary of Transportation in 1997. He leads 100,000 employees and manages a $40 billion budget. He and his Transportation team are – literally – building President Clinton’s bridge to the 21st Century. They are also building airports, highways, waterways, railroads and other forms of mass transportation. During Secretary Slater’s tenure, Transportation has worked successfully with Congress to secure the highest levels of infrastructure investments in our country’s history.


Rodney Slater believes strongly that transportation is about more than concrete, asphalt, and steel. It is about people and providing them the opportunity to be successful and responsible human beings. He is widely known and admired across the political spectrum for his extraordinary ability to get things done – to persuade people to put aside partisanship, to focus on the merits, and to work together to do what is best for our country. I am proud to serve in the President’s cabinet with him. He is a terrific public servant.

And someday, if our labors together bear fruit, I hope, and Rodney Slater hopes, that someone like our Pioneer Award Winners will be standing before you as Director of Central Intelligence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I now have the honor to give you our keynote speaker, Rodney Slater. Rodney, we greatly appreciate your coming to speak to us today. We are really happy to have you here!

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:57 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:14 AM