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McLaughlin Addresses the CIA Workforce

Remarks by the Acting Director of Central Intelligence John E. McLaughlin
to the Central Intelligence Agency Workforce
(as delivered)

July 16, 2004


Good morning, everyone. You may have seen too much of me already this week. But I thought as I make my way through this first week as Acting Director, it would be worth getting together with you to share a few thoughts, just from me personally, about where we are in this enterprise that we all love, and where we're going.

McLaughlin Speaks to Workforce I don't have to tell you that these are exceptional times for the Central Intelligence Agency, for our entire Community, and for the great country we serve together. Think of everything we have been through in the last few years, the last few months, the last few weeks—even the last few days. Then consider everything that lies ahead of us, everything from sweeping talk on Capitol Hill and in the press, to talk of change and reorganization in our business.

Now, we rarely welcome uncertainty in our private lives. Yet in our professional lives—as intelligence officers—we deal with it every single day. More than most people, we are built for it. We pursue the unknown. We assess the unclear.

And I would like to do some of that with you this morning.

Let’s start with the leadership of the Agency and the Intelligence Community. Just last week, we said farewell to a great Director. As Jami Miscik reminded all of us that day, 40 percent of the people who work here have known only one DCI—George Tenet.

For seven years, through administrations of both parties, we were fortunate to have him—for the energy, the ideas, the conviction, the dedication, and the leadership he gave us. And for the continuity, of stability he brought us, a crucial precondition for the massive rebuilding effort he launched and led.

I cannot tell you—because I don't actually know—when the President will nominate a permanent CIA Director or who that person will be. But I can tell you this: The President has asked me to serve as your Acting Director and every day since Monday, when this job started, I've gotten out of bed focused on that job. And I will continue to do that every day until the President instructs me to do otherwise.

And my pledge to you is this: that I will focus intensely on the mission of this Agency and this Community. On its internal and external health. On its reputation. And we will focus on seeing that you have what you need to excel. Not just the tools, technologies, and support. But a climate—a climate conducive to rigor, daring, and, equally important, honor and pride.

For more than three decades, I have been part of CIA. When I walk down the line of Directors' portraits on the first floor, I'm reminded that I have served with 11 of them—at just about every level of this organization. The time I have spent on the Seventh Floor in several jobs, and most recently, in the nearly four years that I've served as Deputy Director—have deepened still further my appreciation for what you do. I know the work, I know the people, and I love this place.

As an Agency, and by the way, we must remember all the time, that we also lead a Community, we have had Acting Directors before. Because so many of you arrived in the last seven years, you may not realize that there is nothing new in this. In fact, from mid-December of 1996 to mid-July of 1997, it was George Tenet as Acting Director. And my point is this: We have been through this before, we've been through transitions before, and we have made them work—without disrupting what counts most: the work you do and the protection that we offer the United States, around the globe, and around the clock. That's my simple goal for this transition, and I trust it is yours, too.

So what do I need from you, and what do you need from me?

I need you to do what you do best: Keep collecting intelligence that the United States needs and can't get in any other way. Keep producing the information and analysis that helps keep this country secure. Keep pushing the outer limits of technology and science, keep delivering the vital support that all of these missions require.

And what do you need from me and the rest of the Seventh Floor? You need clarity about direction, clarity about priorities, guidance when things are unclear, decisions when they are required, and you need and can expect us to deal with the controversy and the noise outside our gates. You don't worry about that; that's our job. I want you focused on your job. And you can expect us to represent you and encourage the best of your efforts. In short, you can expect us to lead.

Whether my time as Acting Director is measured in weeks or months, I want you to know I consider this much more than duty; it's a great privilege and an honor. I say that on the strength of what I have seen you do, in some of the most challenging times imaginable—our times.

Let me put that into some perspective.

The last few years have seen an extraordinary series of events—for America and American Intelligence. As you know, the attack on September 11th was unlike anything our country had experienced before. In response, this nation went to war, most visibly in Afghanistan.

One of the memories that will never leave me is sitting in the Cabinet Room at the White House with George Tenet and the rest of the national security team just six days after 9/11. And hearing the President issue a dozen or so orders he had formulated after a weekend of discussions with all of us at Camp David. One of those orders went something like this: "I want the CIA to be first on the ground in Afghanistan." Eleven days later, CIA was there, and you should all take eternal pride in that and the victory that followed.

Then came Iraq, with all the challenges and sacrifices officers across our Agency currently share with our military and diplomats, as together we seek to create a new and better reality there.

So to a greater extent than ever, counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation have become the heart of our mission. But you know—you know—we are still expected to do much, much more. To understand the world as a whole.

  • To be expert on issues of enduring interest to the United States—like China, Iran, North Korea, and the conflicts in the Middle East.
  • To be alert for flare-ups in seemingly out-of-the-way places that can suddenly grab our government’s attention, like Liberia or East Timor.
  • And, finally, to forecast longer-term trends and outline strategic challenges that may face the United States way over the horizon.

We must do all of these things. Our core task—protecting Americans and the American homeland—has thus become both more urgent and more difficult.

To be sure, we have seen in recent years, far more resources—people and dollars—flow to intelligence after a decade of injurious downsizing. And yet, I know the requirements of our work—the pace, the hours, the risks, the stakes—weigh more heavily than ever on you and your families.

And we have seen another change, which is tribute to your outstanding work. Amid the reviews and the controversies, we have been recognized publicly for many of our successes—more so than ever, at least in my memory here.

For Afghanistan, for the capture of key terrorists worldwide, for the unraveling of A.Q. Khan’s network—the most potent proliferation threat of our generation—for your role in convincing Libya to turn away from weapons of mass destruction, and for the expertise that has people calling me constantly to ask for your services.

In recent years, more and more Americans have understood us to be a community of good and patriotic people working in a great cause—a community that Americans from all walks of life have been eager to join. With thousands and thousands of resumes pouring into our Recruitment Center, and they still are.

So, for many of you—for many of you—the current waves of scrutiny and criticism are a new experience. But if you hear comparisons of the present to the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s when I joined the Agency, or the discussions and disputes of the early 1990s over the future of intelligence after the Cold War, I want you to remember this:

Today, no one doubts the absolute importance of what you do. The question is not—as it was in the 1970s and the 1990s—whether the United States stills needs an Intelligence Community. The only question today is how can American Intelligence be even better? That's the question that's being debated.

We must also recall that ours is a business of crises. Most of you know what it means to be on a task force, to work a crash project, or to be deployed to a dangerous spot overseas on a moment's notice. When you combine the immediacy of what we do with its sheer difficulty, there will always be room for second-guessing.

Most people don't understand that we do this ourselves all the time—after we run an operation, prepare a piece of analysis, launch some new technology or administrative process. What do we ask? How could it have been done better? How can we build on what we have done? What have we learned? We are never static; we are never content. This profession is all about improving and learning—from our successes and our shortcomings.

That applies to everything we do, including our work on Iraq WMD—the controversy of the moment. I want you to know that we were doing a hard scrub—from our sources to our finished products, our assumptions, and our tradecraft—long before the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its report. And we still have more to do.

That is how the Central Intelligence Agency gets through hard times. Not by sitting through them, but by working through them. Not by papering over problems, but by finding and fixing them. Not by pointing fingers, but by coming together, as colleagues, to strengthen what we all do.

And by speaking up, by getting our own views of our performance out on the record, with Congress and the American people. By making sure that our critics keep a sense of proportion and balance and context in evaluating our work during this highly charged political year. If you want a one-sentence summary judgment of our work on Iraq before the war, you will find it in the speech that George Tenet made almost six months ago at Georgetown University; and I quote: "Like many of the toughest intelligence challenges, when the facts on Iraq are all in, we will be neither completely right nor completely wrong."

I have talked, inside this building and out, about things we could have done better, of additional caveats we should have included, and additional questions we could have asked. Some of our judgments on Iraq’s WMD programs, while reasonable at the time, were flawed. There is no way around that. As I said at my press conference out here last week: "We get it." We know where the problems were, and we know what the remedies are.

But one thing I won't accept from anyone is the suggestion that we somehow pulled our punches, or distorted the evidence, on Iraq. It simply isn’t true. And if you look at the Senate report, you will see that we get credit for, among other things, our assessment of Saddam’s links to international terrorism—a subject of enormous contention.

In short, our people made the hard calls as they saw them. Some were right; some were wrong. But each was made honestly—we went where the evidence took us. And I will always stand by people who do the honest work, who run the risks, and take the chances that this work demands. Who strive always to collect the best possible evidence and add to it the clearest possible thinking.

So as an Agency and a Community, we are taking some heat right now. And there will be more when the 9/11 Commission releases its findings—perhaps as early as next week. And while the criticism swirls around us, I would ask you to keep three things in mind:

  • First, some criticism is justified; much is not.
  • Second, we will correct the record when critics go too far.
  • Third, as exacting professionals, we have an obligation to hear and absorb justified criticism—and an equal obligation not to be distracted by the rest.

And as we do this, we need to do it with spirit, élan, and with our heads held high.

The mission of defending our country—the mission that brought us all here—is a noble and enduring one. Intelligence is a calling of high standards, of integrity, objectivity, skill, and courage—courage both physical and intellectual. And in the fight against the shadowy threats of today, intelligence plays a unique and decisive role. You know that.

With terrorists plotting at this very moment to kill Americans, with all the other dangers and opportunities that lie before our country, this is no time to let our focus dim or our morale slip. And you know that, too.

When I talked last week about George Tenet’s achievements—just to switch now to some longer-range issues—I mentioned something I saw as a defining moment in his service as Director. It was the time early in his tenure when he called his leadership team together and asked us to come up with a coherent blueprint for the future.

Not a feel-good plan destined to gather dust on a shelf, but a strategic view of where we were, where we needed to go, what we needed to fix, and what we needed to overhaul.

We called it Strategic Direction, and it called for the rebuilding of our core capabilities—clandestine operations, all-source analysis, major investments in technologies that would help us gather, sort, and share information, and a world-class recruiting effort, something we had lost.

In January of this year, we launched the second phase of Strategic Direction—the direction in which we will continue. It is a good example of what I mean when I say that "we get it," or, more appropriately in this case, "we got it." It concentrates our energy and resources on areas where we know we need improvement.

  • Taking our human source collection efforts closer to our adversaries.
  • Ensuring that our analysts have the skills, tools, experience, and bench strength we need.
  • Improving our foreign language capabilities, our information sharing within CIA and the Intelligence Community.
  • Harnessing technology to transform the way we work.
  • Seeing that each employee has the training, support, and leadership they deserve to succeed and that excellence in performance is recognized and rewarded.

In sum, while others are talking about recommendations, we are still implementing solutions. By following through on these initiatives, we will set US intelligence on a course that will pay dividends for years—no matter what changes may come to the structure of our Intelligence Community.John E. McLaughlin, who became Acting Director of Central Intelligence 12 July 2004, speaks to CIA's workforce in the Agency's auditorium at its headquarters in McLean, VA.

As the great national dialogue unfolds over intelligence in the months ahead, you can expect the leaders of CIA and the Community to express their views. To inform that dialogue. To speak up on your behalf. To defend what we do well. And to explain what we will do better. To do all of this, we can ensure that any new structure—any new policies—deliver a national intelligence effort that is as strong and agile as it can be and as it must be.

For all the uncertainty, what is absolutely certain is the American consensus on the value and importance of what you do each day for our country. I hear it from the President, in his admiration for your daring, your passion, and your insights. And I have heard it from both sides of the aisle in Congress—in praise, and in appropriations that will keep us healthy.

So you have my confidence and you have the confidence of those you serve. And you have earned it.

Thank you very much. Great to be here today. And I'm glad to take your questions.

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 09:00 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:38 AM