News & Information

Rss Feed

DCI Remarks at the Town Hall of Los Angeles

Remarks by the Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet 
at the Town Hall of Los Angeles
(as prepared for delivery)

December 7, 2000


This afternoon, I would like to talk about the world in which—thanks to people like you—the United States is the leading force. And what American Intelligence does in that world for our nation and thus for you.

The picture I will sketch is one of great promise and real risk. In boldly embracing the first, we must wisely manage the second.

For in a world as inter-connected as ours is now—in trade, investment, culture, environment, even in health and disease—the skill that we as Americans bring to the task of international leadership can have a profound effect on our well-being here at home.

A World of Opportunity and Complexity

At this dawn of a new century, the United States has a remarkable chance to extend its ideals of liberty and human rights around the globe.

Our economic power is immense. Our technological edge is commanding. Our military preeminence is unchallenged.

Today, our country has the opportunity:

  • To help consolidate democratic freedoms and the rule of law in former totalitarian states.
  • To help bring peace to troubled places like the Middle East.
  • And to help stabilize struggling regions by giving them the know-how to prosper in the global economy.

But with these great opportunities—as with all opportunity—there comes uncertainty and risk.

The complex and fast-changing world in which we live defies easy description. The defeat of tyranny in the Cold War may have brought countless millions the prospect of a better life. Yet it also shattered constraints that made the world a more stable and predictable place.

The paradigm of the past was relatively easy to grasp. Its dominant feature: two superpowers locked in a confrontation with clear limits and well-understood rules.

Today, there are fewer rules, and fewer people willing to play by them. And the constant march of technology threatens to break new paradigms even before they take shape.

But for all its freshness, the world still feels the effects of the past.

Many ethnic conflicts—frozen by the Cold War—have thawed out in places like the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Africa. We have all seen the results: death, destruction, destabilization.

Advanced technologies—once largely the preserve of the superpowers—have passed into other hands. The genie of proliferation—like so many others—is out of the bottle to stay.

  • The list of states working on ballistic missiles that could one day reach our shores includes Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. They have all shown an interest in nuclear weapons and—despite some positive signs from the last two—all three are still far from friendly.
  • In South Asia, the long-disputed border between India and Pakistan—the scene of three major wars already—today runs between two rivals that have tested both ballistic missiles and nuclear devices.

Technical sophistication is not limited to those who fly a national flag. The products of the information revolution—from advanced encryption to high-resolution satellite imagery—are out on the open market, available to anyone who can pay. Friend or foe alike.

Among the universe of customers for those goods and services are international terrorists, drug dealers, and traffickers in the raw materials of mass destruction.

To them, and to others who oppose our values and role in the world, the information revolution offers new shields and new swords. Greater power and longer reach.

In today’s networked world, they have easier access to information, finance, deception-and-denial techniques, and each other.

But that is not all. To individuals, groups, and countries, the vast information infrastructure of the United States itself is a rich and tempting target. Our national security and prosperity depend increasingly on the secure, unimpeded flow of data. Any foreign adversary that develops the ability to interrupt or halt that flow has the potential to weaken us dramatically with weapons of mass disruption.

That kind of thinking is at the heart of the many asymmetric threats we face today. The kind of thinking that asks: How can I negate the overwhelming military force of the United States? The kind of thinking that leads a terrorist group to seek a chemical or biological weapon. The kind of thinking that could lead a small nuclear power to blackmail us—not with the possibility of defeat, but with the threatened destruction of one of our cities.

Today, Americans must recognize that ours is a world without front lines. That the continental United States—and not just our embassies and forces abroad—is itself susceptible to attack. And that the potential method of assault goes well beyond a terrorist with a truck full of conventional explosives.

Whether we like it or not, our global leadership has made us a lightning rod for the disaffected and the disappointed.

It could be a cyber-terrorist in Asia brewing a 21st century computer virus. Or it could be an extremist in the Balkans nursing a 12th century grudge. It could be a combination of aspiring powers forming a loose alliance to counter American influence. Or it could be a gang of drug dealers forming a cartel to move their poison more efficiently into the United States.

Someone who is part of the phenomenon we call globalization. Or someone who has been left far behind.


When you take the sheer number and variety of people out in the world who would do harm to our country, its interests, or its allies, and if you add to that the wild card of technology—which enables, drives, and magnifies dangers to us—you will understand why we in the Intelligence Community believe that the chances for unpleasant—even deadly—surprise are greater now than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

Nor can we forget that entire regions—Russia, China, and the Middle East among them—are undergoing far-reaching change—political, economic, demographic, strategic—with outcomes that are far from certain.

Russia—an old power trying to find its identity at home and its place in the world. China—a rising power trying to do the very same thing. And the Middle East—a place where a host of troubling facts and currents intersect, overlap, and reinforce each other: Ethnic strife. Terrorism. Weapons of mass destruction. Border conflicts. Oil. Leadership successions. And a mass of young people—unemployed and in the streets.

These are a few of the issues that shape the environment in which Americans live and lead right now. But there are many others—not part of our daily news cycle—that can have a serious impact on security and stability 10 or 15 years down the road. I will mention just three:

  • First, population. By 2015, there will be over 7 billion people on planet earth—a billion more than today. More than 95 percent of that growth will be in developing countries, which are least able to cope with the resulting pressures. To that we must add the devastating consequences of diseases like HIV/AIDS.
  • Second, water. In about a dozen years, almost half the world’s population will live in areas that are water-stressed—in other words, where fresh water is used up faster than it can be replaced. Much of this will be in Africa and the Middle East—where it will add to regional tensions—and in East and South Asia—where it will complicate economic growth.
  • Third, science and technology. They change our lives every day. And their products—which can be either tools for progress or weapons for evil—will only grow in capacity. Advances in the miniaturization of circuits, for example, hold the promise one day to permit the near duplication of human intelligence in machines. Imagine what a dictator might do with power like that.

The Role of Intelligence

So where does US Intelligence fit into this complex, shifting mix of hope and hazard?

It is our job to work against those who work against America’s safety and security. To capture the secrets that they—nations, organizations, even individuals—most want to hide. To dig out and discover their plans and intentions.

In an international environment like ours—where national strength is measured not just in military hardware but in information—we exist to provide our country with a decisive advantage.

We strive to be an objective, reliable guide to the world. To alert the President and his advisers to opportunities and dangers abroad in the short, medium, and long term. To identify trends that the leaders of our country need to think about now—while there is time to prepare a defense or influence an outcome.

And the United States can surely influence outcomes. Not all the time, not everywhere. But with our tremendous wealth and strength comes responsibility—a responsibility to be a force for good.

It is only fitting that on December 7th, I quote Harry Truman—the President who created the CIA as a hedge against a new Pearl Harbor. Truman once said: "We must help people improve the conditions of life, to create a world in which democracy and freedom can flourish."

To me, those few words—spoken decades ago—still reflect the highest goal of American foreign policy.


Good information—sound intelligence—is a crucial aid in reaching that goal. We in the intelligence business do not prescribe foreign policy. We inform it.

We work to give our government the clearest possible window into conditions, players, and pressures abroad as it decides how—or even if—to engage on a foreign policy issue. And to warn of the surprises that any US Administration will have to handle—no matter what level of engagement it chooses.

Whether the decision is to send in a diplomatic note or to send in troops, no one—not in the White House, Congress, State Department, or Pentagon—wants to make those kind of judgments without the very best intelligence or the information edge it offers.

The Need for Investment

Intelligence work is not safe or easy. Nor is it free.

Our country faces a range of opportunities and threats: Transnational concerns like terrorism, crime, and cyber-warfare. Major powers in transition. Hostile states and groups. And regional hot spots and humanitarian crises.

That full plate of issues—indeed, the very extent of our involvement in the world—has stretched the capabilities of US Intelligence to their limit.

A world of constant change demands constant change from Intelligence, too. For us, flexibility is a way of life. For beyond all the challenges I mentioned earlier, there are "pop-up crises"—situations that become national priorities because the President says so.

Who would have thought that tiny East Timor would become a security issue for the United States? But the humanitarian crisis that blew up there last year—the violence, the massacres—put it on the front burner for the President. He wanted intelligence support, and I did not have the option to say: "Well, Sir, we’re a little busy right now." No. Whenever the President calls, whenever US lives and interests are on the line, US Intelligence serves.

If America is to stay globally engaged, to stay a leader—even to stay safe—it needs a strong diplomatic service, a strong military, and strong, sustained investments in intelligence.

The demand for our product is up. And—reflecting the quicker pace of policy decision cycles in Washington—so is the speed at which we are expected to deliver. These trends will only accelerate.

But on top of that is something even more serious—the effects of the technological revolution I spoke of before. From where I sit, I see what our satellites, signals interception platforms, and other collection disciplines can and cannot do.

I will be blunt with you: The pace of technological change threatens to erode America’s technical advantage in intelligence—an advantage that has long been a pillar of our national security.

To counteract that trend, the US Intelligence Community has devised a long-range investment strategy. We have asked Congress to allocate large sums of money over many years to develop our next generation of technical collection systems.

What I am pushing for are investments now that will keep us ahead of technology tomorrow. And investments now in the tools and people we need to turn more of the material we collect into useable intelligence.

The time to re-capitalize is now. When we have not yet fallen totally behind the technology curve. When we have a chance to stay out in front of it for the next 10 or 20 years.

The price will be high. But the price of doing nothing—of letting ourselves go deaf and blind in a tough world—will be higher still.

I firmly believe that the Intelligence Community represents the ultimate opportunity cost for our nation. What we invest today on intelligence –on developing good sources, on creating new collection methods, on hiring outstanding young analysts and giving them the training and tools to make them even better may make all the difference tomorrow. A difference between success and failure, between life and death - not just for those who work in intelligence but also for our men and women in uniform and Americans everywhere.


What US Intelligence Does for You

The horrific attack on the USS Cole in October was a grim reminder that we face a terrorist foe without heart or pity—one whose small numbers mask an ability to do dramatic damage. The evil mix of fanaticism and flexibility that is the mark of today’s terrorist makes the next strike not a question of if, but of when and where.

It is a fact of the business—as President Kennedy said when he inaugurated CIA Headquarters back in 1961—that the successes of intelligence are unheralded while its failures are trumpeted. Our successes do depend on secrecy. But I would like to give you at least a sense of the kinds of things we accomplish.


  • Despite those kinds of odds and obstacles, we have, since July 1998—in partnership with governments around the world—helped deliver to justice more than two dozen terrorists—more than half of whom were linked to Usama bin Laden. These actions have shattered terrorist cells and networks, disrupted terrorist plans, and—in some cases—prevented terrorist attacks from taking place.
  • When you hear about a major take-down of an international drug dealer abroad, chances are that US Intelligence provided critical leads and analysis to law enforcement..
  • We continue to support our government’s efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.
  • Time and again, we have alerted U.S. military commanders to threats against our deployed forces and those of our allies. Aided by the most sophisticated intelligence, for close to a decade American pilots have flown daily missions over the Iraq No-Fly Zone with zero U.S. casualties.
  • In recent years we have assisted the international community by providing high-resolution mapping of natural disasters, such as wildfire damage in Indonesia, damage from hurricanes in Central America and earthquakes in Turkey and Greece.
  • We have assisted the State Department in the evacuation of our fellow citizens trapped in harm’s way in places like Congo, Liberia, and Indonesia.
  • When one of our F-16 fighters went down in the middle of a shooting war in the Balkans, we had a fix on the pilot even before he got out of his parachute. And our intelligence systems were central to guiding the search and rescue teams that brought him safely home.


What You Should Expect From Us

Those are just a few of the highlights, all the more impressive when you consider that intelligence is a business founded on risk and uncertainty.

We routinely run risky operations to gather crucial information. We routinely make forecasts about complex events and trends in the world. And we make those predictions based not on complete or perfect information—luxuries we never have—but on the basis of the best information available when our customers need us to make a judgment.

In that environment, we are sure to make mistakes on occasion. There is no way around it.

So—if not perfection—what can you and the other 276 million shareholders in US Intelligence expect from us?

You can expect us to give the President and his advisers the best possible information on which to act. We will call it as we see it - delivering intelligence that is objective, and free of any suggestion of political taint.

You can expect us to take calculated operational and analytical risks. We must continue to dare – not only in our dangerous work abroad but also in the predictions that our analysts make to policymakers in Washington.

You can expect us to work as smart as we can. To recruit and keep the right people with the right skills. To tap the expertise we need wherever it lies—inside our Intelligence Community or out in the private sector.

You can expect us to admit our mistakes and learn from them. To take care of the resources and confidence that are placed in us.

And, finally, you can expect us to act with honor—to be aggressive, but always in keeping with American laws and values.

The men and women of US Intelligence do their difficult jobs not for gain or glory, but for the chance to serve and make a difference. In the lobby of CIA’s headquarters just outside our nation’s capital, there is a granite wall carved with rows of stars. Each one of those 77 stars represents an intelligence officer who gave his or her life in the line of duty. They made the ultimate sacrifice – not for themselves but for all of us. It is an honor for me to represent them and all the men and women now serving with the Agency with courage, conviction and honor this afternoon.

Thank you for listening.

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:58 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:15 AM