Remarks of the
Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
at the NRO Pioneers Recognition Ceremony
September 27, 2000
This is a proud day for the National Reconnaissance Office and for
our entire Intelligence Community. Today, we celebrate four decades
of the NRO’s pioneering service to our nation. It is especially fitting
that the men and women of NRO have chosen to dedicate the first big
event of these 40th anniversary observances to NRO’s trailblazers:
the visionaries who created the very discipline of space reconnaissance
and built this organization into the world’s unrivaled leader in the
NRO stands on the shoulders of the Pioneers and Founders we honor today. This is a rare opportunity to recognize publicly—for the first time in many instances—the outstanding contributions these distinguished patriots made to our national security over the last half-century.
I especially want to welcome the family members of our Founders and Pioneers, who grace us with their presence. From this organization’s earliest days, NRO families have made possible the sustained excellence of this organization by their support, their understanding and their sacrifices.
Just as the families of our employees do today, the families of our honorees bore the brunt of the burdens of secrecy. Children often did not know where Mom and Dad worked. Husbands and wives had to put up with unexpected, extended—and often only vaguely explained—absences. Families had to pick up and move their households long distances on short notice for the sake of the Mission. They lost precious family time—when workdays lasted far into the night and weekends went by without a break for months on end. And, perhaps most trying of all, spouses and children had to live with the highs and lows of deeply preoccupied engineers and scientists who fretted and thrilled over their systems—as if they were their children. For four decades, NRO families have done all of this—and more—out of love for their dedicated family members who work here—and for love of this country. Please join me in a big round of applause for all of the wonderful families of the NRO.
The Founders and Pioneers we honor today gave our country and our world an amazing array of technological advances which I cannot even describe to you. But as the Director of Central Intelligence, I can tell you what all of my predecessors have known, what successive American Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower on down knew and understood—and it is this: the contributions of our honorees add up to much, much more than the sum of the spectacular technological breakthroughs they made.
The Founders and Pioneers literally paved the way for America’s exploration of space.
They instilled in our nation’s top leadership the confidence to pursue a strategy of peacetime national reconnaissance.
They made the very existence of the NRO possible. Through their collective force of will and unmatched expertise, they convinced American leaders that space reconnaissance was do-able, manageable—and invaluable—to our national security.
And, in times of peace and of war, the sophisticated space systems that they designed, built, and operated delivered "information superiority" into the hands of the President—a precious commodity that, to this day, only the United States, among all the nations on Earth, can legitimately claim.
And so, on behalf of a grateful nation, let me sincerely express this first public "thank you" to the Founders and Pioneers of the NRO. The laurels you receive today are long overdue. But I think that you would agree that the best way we can honor you and your colleagues who have passed on, is to ensure that your shining legacy of leadership and innovation, of devotion to doing the right thing for the country above all else, of setting and meeting the highest standards of professionalism and integrity—and most of all, your passion and infectious enthusiasm for this work—live on and inspire new NRO generations to excellence.
The names Baker, Davies, Drell, Garwin and Lehan should energize you—inspire you—push you to live up to a period of achievement that may be unparalleled in the history of our government. Their care for our country and their genius should propel you to the realization that you do not just have a job here—but that we have entrusted you with a sacred mission that few are asked to carry on—your burden, your job in life is to carry forward the achievements of the great men and women our honorees represent. I hope that the men and women of today’s NRO will take advantage of your presence here to seek you out, to learn from you and hear firsthand about their remarkable history.
Today’s pioneers are just the first in our NRO family to be inducted into the prestigious Hall of Fame. The magnificent thing about this organization is that it has been a pioneering organization every single day of its existence for the past four decades. As I speak, I know that there are future pioneers among the listening audience. And, in the demanding decades ahead for our country, I have no doubt that bold and brilliant NRO pioneers will keep pushing beyond the ever-challenging, ever-changing, ever-exciting frontiers of space reconnaissance.
The NRO is a crown jewel in the arsenal of peace. May God Bless the men and women of the NRO and your wonderful families!