Remarks by Director of Central Intelligence
George J. Tenet at Farewell Ceremony Honoring Him
July 8, 2004
Nine years ago, Stephanie, John Michael, and I began a wonderful journey with you. We have been partners in this journey. We have faced challenges, sorrows, and the true joys of success.
This journey has enriched us in so many ways. I say that because of the amazing things that you-the men and women of this great Agency, this great Community-do each day in the finest of causes for the finest of nations.
Your passion, your creativity, your intellect, your daring-your fundamental kindness and decency-have been a source of constant inspiration for me and my family.
Here at the Central Intelligence Agency, we have met Americans from every walk of life. We have seen strong, positive values that most people never have the chance to see in action.
The exceptional devotion to the mission of protecting the American people and their highest ideals.
The limitless courage in operations, from Jakarta to Mazar-i-Sharif, from Islamabad to Khartoum to Bogota.
The absolute willingness to be evaluated by what we put on paper, and to stand on our record. Our analysts do that for a living, on complex subjects, against short deadlines, with bits and pieces of information.
The profound ability to innovate-to solve problems with the best technology available-as our scientists and engineers empower all of our disciplines to succeed.
The remarkable commitment of our mission support officers-the best anywhere in the world-in making sure that when our people deploy, they do so under the best possible conditions. And that our facilities everywhere are equal to the mission.
Together, you drive intelligence to action. To provide the wisdom our government needs to defend our country.
I am convinced that if the American people were fully aware of what you do-around the clock, and around the world-they would line up at that front gate in huge record numbers come in here and say thank you. Indeed, I have heard them, all around this country say thank you for what you do:
For saving thousands of American lives in your relentless battle against terrorists.
For your outstanding heroism in Afghanistan and Iraq in support of our brave men and women in uniform.
For unraveling complicated, deadly proliferation networks that threaten peace and security.
For piecing together the evidence that convinced Libya to give up its weapons of mass destruction.
For fighting drug traffickers who seek to destroy our children and our families.
For achievements like those-and there are very many, many of those achievements-you have earned the gratitude of those you serve, both here and around this great country.
When we dedicated this compound in the name of former President Bush, he said that when he became Director of Central Intelligence, he saw talented men and women willing to start careers in intelligence despite the onslaught of publicity. He said he saw dedicated public servants who never got to sit at the head of the table. Who never got credit for tremendously significant accomplishments that were vitally important to the security and future of the United States of America. He said he saw patriots who simply wanted to serve this greatest country on the face of the earth.
Today, a generation after his service as DCI, I can with great pride say the very same about you.
The American people know about your honesty and integrity. Of your commitment to truth-to accountability and responsibility-that is the very core of intelligence in a democratic society. They have seen those things, and our constant efforts to improve.
In the end, the American people will weigh and assess our record-where intelligence has done well and where we have fallen short. And, aware of the difficulties and limitations that we face, they will recognize and honor your service.
My only wish is that those whose job it is to help us do better show the same balance and care. In recognizing how far we have come. In recognizing how bold we have been. In recognizing what the full balance sheet says.
History may bring additional perspective, additional clarity, to the current debate on intelligence. But this much is clear right now: Your work is far too important for distractions.
You are, and must remain, America's source of unique knowledge about the world. An instrument to change the world for the better. You must do as you have always done: Keep moving forward, build on the past, improve. Because the rest of the world is not about to stand still.
On days like this, it is only natural to reflect on what has gone before.
I have been blessed all my life. I grew up in a great family, with immigrant parents who dedicated themselves to educating their sons in a new and promising country.
When President Clinton honored me with his nomination to be Director of Central Intelligence, a New York newspaper interviewed my Greek mother, who barely speaks English. Unfortunately, she could not be with us today. But one of her answers was remarkably eloquent when it came to the opportunities we have here. She, in broken English, said something like: "One son a cardiologist…the other Director of CIA…not bad, huh?" And what was unspoken was: It could only happen in the United States of America.
My only sadness in this great adventure is that my dad did not live long enough to see it all happen. He was the nicest man I ever knew and my best friend. He has been with me on every step of this journey and I draw strength from him every day and during every difficult circumstance.
My Mom, whom I love dearly, is a woman of enormous courage. I've told many of you that at the end of the second World War she escaped southern Albania on a British submarine, and never saw her family again. She is a very tough customer. I have often said, and, see, I'm saying this because she's not here. I have often said that after learning how to deal with my mother, Yassir Arafat was a piece of cake. A little bit better to kiss, too.
I was blessed again to marry a spectacular woman, who devoted herself to our mission and to your families in a way that no one has done for many, many years. She has pushed hard for employee and family programs, here and throughout our Community.
She was your advocate with anyone who would listen-from briefings for ambassadors, to their spouses to the classic midnight elbow in the ribs to yours truly, that would herald the question: "What are you doing to take care of my people?"
She is my indomitable spirit-and one of the greatest friends this Agency will ever have. Thank you, honey, I love you.
We have been blessed with a great son. Every parent hopes to see the best of themselves in their children. John Michael, I prayed to see the best in Mom in you, and thank God it happened. Thank you, son, you make me proud.
I also have a tremendous twin brother who is here. He is six minutes older, much wiser, somewhat better looking, and a noted cardiologist in his own right-he's been my Rock of Gibraltar. We often joked about switching jobs on Fridays. I knew that, with your help, he could run the CIA. But he knew that if I got anywhere near his patients, his malpractice insurance would go right through the roof.
I was launched on this journey by circumstances, by divine intervention--as I think the good Lord has been in place throughout--and by the faith and guidance from so many wonderful people. Surrounded by my family and friends-many of whom are with us today-I am indeed blessed. Among the greatest blessings of all has been the chance to be with you-the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency-for the past nine years, and seven as your Director.
You welcomed me with open arms, tolerated my growing pains and rewarded me-and our country-with a sense of purpose, commitment, and loyalty that no words can capture.
You taught me about courage. What it means to sacrifice everything to keep our country safe. I will never forget those members of our Agency family who have lost their lives in America's defense. Especially the eleven taken from us during my time with you-doing work that mattered, and work they loved.
They are all remembered, all 83, in our hearts and in the quiet, dignified memorial just a few steps away from us now. If anyone seeks the values that define us as American intelligence officers, they will find them there, at that wall of honor and recollection. In valor, in dedication, and in spirit.
And I will take with me this symbol, a star that was engraved in marble for me by Tim Johnston, the artist who carves the stars that mean so much to all of us. I will always hold it near to me and treasure the memory of those men and women, the things for which they stood and died, the enduring qualities that we prize forever.
These have been eventful years. Filled with exhilaration and triumph. With pain and sorrow. And, yes, with questions about our performance. Such is the nature of a tough, essential business. But there has also been a constant, focused drive to revitalize the greatest intelligence organization the world has ever known-in every aspect of our profession.
And, while history will measure and judge the distance we have come, it is no surprise that at this agency alone, we had 138,000 Americans apply to work last year for a couple of thousand jobs. It is no surprise that a survey of undergraduate science and engineering students ranked the CIA fifth among all employers or that a poll in a Black Collegian magazine rated us higher as a place to work than any other government organization.
Now that's because of you-your spirit and your confidence. Your response to the challenges your leadership team has put before you and the trust we have put before you.
You do not leave this job without fond memories. I have many. Of sitting down with presidents, and kings, and prime ministers. Of traveling to places most people can only read or dream about. Of having more than my share of excitement. Of speeding out of Gaza City at a hundred miles an hour after meeting with Palestinian security officials. Of meeting secretly overseas with an agent who helped us capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the terrorist mastermind of September 11th.
But none of those memories mean as much to me as my memories of our officers and their families. Of meeting them all over the world-here at Headquarters, in the cafeteria, in the hallways, or at stations and bases around the world. Of flying into the desert on a helicopter to look into the eyes of our officers as they were about to deploy to Iraq. Of talking to our men and women in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt as I did a few weeks ago.
Of representing you and your great work to President Bush, a great man who supports and appreciates what you do each day in times of peace and in times of war. The risks you run, and the chances that you take.
The patriots who make up this Agency put it all on the line. Against the odds. Often in tough conditions. Always on tough challenges. And all to keep America and Americans as safe as they can be.
That is the Central Intelligence Agency that I know so well and love so much. The Agency that should make all Americans proud.
These have been the most rewarding years of my professional life. I treasure what I have learned here. About a passion for a mission of service-a passion none of us can ever afford to lose. From it flows our energy, our strength, and our effectiveness. That commitment-to nation and to each other-must come first, always.
I have learned about leadership. In this Agency, it is not a grade or title, but a way of thinking and acting. Of inspiring by example.
What should you expect from your leaders? I'll tell you. They must be those who recognize what you do today and help you do even more tomorrow. Those who command, not through fear or favorites, but through accomplishment. By creating conditions for others to excel. By always being first in dedication, ready to do what most cannot. They must lead-not by demanding, but by providing, service.
This is the kind of leader that we are developing at every level of this organization. That brand of leadership is as much a part of CIA's identity as is its name. And I am especially heartened to entrust our great Agency to a brilliant, caring leader like John McLaughlin, who will serve as your Acting Director. I know you will give him every ounce of your heart and soul.
I have learned about change. When people talk about the revolution in our intelligence capabilities, it is your revolution. You made it-with new talents and technologies. Each day, we wake up in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever. This is a profession of explorers, of people who meet new challenges with enduring values. You are no strangers to change. Continue to make it your own.
And here is the most important thing I'm going to say to you. I want you to remember one thing: This institution is yours.
You, the men and women of CIA, are the owners. We who serve in leadership positions are stewards for limited periods of time.
Together we have rebuilt every aspect of our business. You've heard about it: how we train, educate, operate, reward. Our objective has been to ensure that every man and woman here who is committed to excellence in the performance of our mission is respected and given the opportunity to succeed.
And we need all of us to succeed. The security officer at the front gate, the men and women who clean our offices, install our computers, do the analysis, run the operations, and develop the technologies. This entire family must be cared for.
And if people or leaders want to take you back in a different direction -- then it is your voices that must be heard to say -- we know better and we're not going to put up with it.
When I think of this Agency, I think of those famous lines from Theodore Roosevelt. He had it exactly right when he said:
It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.
The Central Intelligence Agency, the men and women of this Agency, were born into the arena-and we are still there. Because it is, more than anything, a community of action. With high stakes and high risks. When others criticize, we learn. When others discuss, we do. With the responsibility of action comes the reward of knowing that you have made a real and sustained difference for good in this world.
That is what this Agency-and all of you-will always mean to me. Being part of an organization that you admire is not a job. It is a privilege.
The journey we began together nine years ago is not over. It will take us to new horizons. I will be watching you grow, excel, and take on new challenges. I will be part of your world in any way I can. And when the days get long, the pressures heavy, I will be there, cheering you on.
My loyalty, our loyalty, and support to you and your families does not end today. It will never end. I will always be your champion. We will always be a voice in your corner.
The Director of Central Intelligence asks your permission to go ashore. I salute every one of you.
And thank you for honoring me and my family-this morning, and over these many years. And may God bless you always. God bless your families, and the work you do to protect the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much.