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CIA Director's Address at Duquesne University Commencement

Address by Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Gen. Michael V. Hayden
at the Duquesne University Commencement Ceremony

(as prepared for delivery)

May 4, 2007

Thank you, President Dougherty, for that kind introduction. When I got your invitation, I was of course delighted. It's always good to have a chance to come home, to see family, to get back to roots, and to pay homage to a university and a city that are-and always will be-a big part of who I am.

I'm especially honored by your invitation to speak today because I'm told this is the first time in many years Duquesne has held a joint commencement for its schools. Among the Class of 2007, we have the range of expertise that this great university has to offer-budding chemists, journalists, nurses, teachers, musicians, businessmen and women, and much more-hundreds of Duquesne grads ready to contribute their energy and skills to the common good of our nation.

I was a History major here as an undergrad and stayed for a Master's in Modern US History. Well, it was "modern" back in 1969. Great field of study, but it never ends. There's always more to learn. And that's just as it should be.

The last commencement address I gave was back in November for graduates of CIA's field operations course. That's where we train our covert operators. Much smaller crowd than this one-you won't see the pictures in the newspaper. Nor did we have the family and friends you have here today to share the joy and excitement of the moment…the people who mean the most to you and helped you get to where you are today. Still, there was plenty of pride and enthusiasm, just like you have here.

When I graduated, I felt the same sense of excitement at what was yet to come, along with no small degree of reflection on the events that had shaped my college years. Three months into my freshman year, President Kennedy was assassinated. A few years later, the Vietnam War was in full swing. ROTC was mandatory for every male student, and I chose the Air Force.

As a History major, intelligence seemed a natural fit for me. I put that down on what we called our "dream sheet," and was selected to go to intel school as my first assignment. The Air Force, and intelligence in particular, became my career.

From that point on, something became clearer and clearer to me, and I'm sure each of you will discover it too: What you do in life and how you do it will be connected to what you learned here in Pittsburgh and at Duquesne in a way that is powerful and undeniable and unavoidable. This place, this experience, can determine a lot about you no matter what the future might hold.

While I was here at the Bluff, I would never have guessed the path that lay before me.

  • Two years after I left grad school, I was planning B-52 strikes over Vietnam. The best football player in my high school, North Catholic, had already been killed there.
  • Fifteen years after I left Duquesne, I was a military attaché living in Communist Bulgaria.
  • Twenty years after graduation, I was working in the White House when the Berlin Wall came down.
  • At thirty years, I was appointed to lead the National Security Agency, an organization I hadn't even known existed when I was a student.
  • And today, I work in the office that Allen Dulles built on the seventh floor of CIA Headquarters.

None of my professors-neither Paul Mason, Joe Morice, nor Sam Astorino-ever put his arm around me after class and said, "Mike, here's a good reading list that will come in handy when you're doing National Security Strategy for Bush 41."

And even Steven Vardy's wonderful treatment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire didn't describe what to do when Yugoslavia implodes and you're standing in Sarajevo in 1994 looking up at Serb artillery in the surrounding hills.

Now, as Duquesne grads, you're an impressive group. I'm sure you've already figured out where I'm going. The truth is, I actually was prepared to deal with these situations, not in detail because they were not predictable, but in general because I got as close to a classical education as is possible in modern America, and so have you.

I know things have changed, but I hardly had room for an elective until I was a junior. That classical approach-and I know it continues in a different form today-gives us the knowledge and especially the discipline to perform well and to serve in a complex and sometimes dangerous world.

We all draw strength from our experience here in Pittsburgh and at Duquesne as we go about our lives. I know I drew on them almost six years ago on a bright Tuesday morning with two American cities in flames and a smoking crater a little bit east of here. No one could have prepared that syllabus entry: what to do when the Nation is under catastrophic attack.

The students at Duquesne did the right thing. They held Mass on the mall between Locust Street and the Bluff.

We all had to do the right thing, but in different circumstances.

At 0930 on 11 September, I ordered all non-essential personnel to leave NSA headquarters and moved our mission-essential folks out of our high-rise buildings and into our old three-story ops building.

I called my wife and asked her to track down the kids, all of whom worked in Washington. I then met with our leadership team to swing the full weight of the American signals intelligence system over to seeking any information that might characterize the attack, identify who had ordered it, or shed light on possible follow-on assaults.

As evening fell on September 11th, I dropped in on NSA's counterterrorism workforce. Their lives were dedicated to detecting and preventing just such an attack, so they were badly shaken. There's not much that you can say or need to-we just had to carry on, focus on our work, and defend the Republic.

Indelibly imprinted in my mind though is the sight of our workmen tacking up blackout curtains on the windows of our counterterrorism office. Blackout curtains in eastern Maryland!

Hopefully, there aren't many moments in our lives as bleak as that day in September. But it's at times like that when you're most aware-and most appreciative-of what you gained at a school like Duquesne.

Strength in faith, and in the knowledge that God does exist, and that He cares. Clear thinking. Concern for more than just yourself. An innate sense of what's truly important. Those are the strengths that each of you will carry into the future.

In fact, they're the strengths you've already shown our country in the past year.

The courage, integrity, and character that our men's basketball team displayed this season inspired us all. They faced adversity head-on, rallied to a cause, and even had the audacity to reach beyond the limits of what others thought was possible. The Most Courageous Award our Dukes received this year is well deserved and reflects what this university is all about. Let's give them all a hand.

To my mind, our classical Duquesne education taught me at least three truths. And as you lead your lives, I hope they'll be as useful to you as they've been to me:

First, everything is connected to everything else.

About three years ago, I officiated at a retirement ceremony at Ripon Cathedral in England. It's about a hundred miles north of London, a beautiful structure, more than 1,300 years old. It went through two civil wars, and you could still see damage from Cromwell's time.

There was a banner hanging in the church that looked very much like the flag of the District of Columbia. That flag, of course, is really the coat of arms for George Washington. Indeed, this was the home county of the Washington family. It just struck me at the time that, here I was, three thousand miles and nearly three centuries from Washington…and yet there was still connective tissue.

During the Yugoslav civil war in the mid-90s, I was the intel chief for our European Command. In that capacity, I paid a visit to Branko Krga, then the Yugoslav Army's head of Intelligence. It goes without saying that Branko and I had issues.

When I entered his office, he rushed out from behind his desk. I was sure he was going to launch into some angry lecture. But no-he had something better to tell me. It turns out that Branko's grandfather had been a steel worker in Pittsburgh, just as my father had been a welder. At that moment, we might as well have been cousins.

Again-a connection where none was expected.

I was in Israel during the summer of 2001 and took a flight aboard an Israeli military helicopter. We were flying south-to-north over the West Bank. We passed over Bethlehem and then Jerusalem, with the Wailing Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque clearly in sight. A few minutes more flight time and I could see Lake Tiberias-the Sea of Galilee for Christians.

The Second Intifada had been churning for nearly a year. Israelis and Palestinians were dying in the streets. But below me was the land that had nurtured the three great monotheisms of the planet. Their holiest sites shared the same space, all on a patch of land very small by American standards.

The three faiths had a clear bond to this place and to each other, even as violence seemed to be tearing them apart. That helicopter flight, like our education here at Duquesne, gave me the perspective to see it as well as a broader truth: What connects us runs deeper than what divides us.

The second great lesson I take from my time at Duquesne is that there are some things that are true, even if no one else seems to believe them.

Facts are facts. I learned in philosophy class, and I'm sure you did too, that people are entitled to their own opinion. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts.

I can still remember the title of a pamphlet that we had to read for a colonial American history class: "Parliament Cannot Make Two and Two Equal Five."

History tells us that the truth eventually wins out. As Martin Luther King once said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." We've seen that to be the case in America. Taking the long view, we also can see it in the world.

The defining challenge of my generation was our struggle against Communism during the Cold War. When I graduated, it looked as though it wouldn't be resolved in my lifetime. But it was, and when all is said and done about the reasons why, it comes down to a simple truth: Individual liberty is a stronger, more rational foundation for human life than tyranny-in this case, Marxism-Leninism.

It took a long time-some seventy years-for that fact to reach the surface and become obvious to those on the other side of the Wall-even to those who built the Wall. When it finally did, it brought down one of the greatest military powers of all time.

The defining national security challenge of your generation is terrorism-particularly that committed by al-Qa'ida, its associates, and those inspired by it. Speaking as the Director of an Agency whose officers are on the frontlines of this war, I can tell you that it won't be won strictly by killing and capturing terrorists. Operations like that are necessary, and we will continue to do them aggressively, effectively, and within the law. But as necessary and appropriate as they are, they are not sufficient to achieve the peace and security we want for our country and the world.

Over the long term, those objectives rest on winning the ideological side of this war-the War of Ideas. We must defeat the worldview responsible for producing terrorists who hate America and the principles that we and our partners uphold. That requires marshalling the full energy and intellectual firepower of this nation-not just of our military and Intelligence Community-in removing the façade of legitimacy from a violent, barren ideology.

Now I want to be very clear that this conflict is not about religion. The war of ideas is not about Islam. It's about criminals who cloak their destructive impulses with piety, and delude others into embracing their nihilism.

Victory will come, but it will take time and require the kind of focused and sustained national commitment that we saw during the Cold War. Most importantly, it will require a relentless global campaign, joined by those in the Muslim world who are repulsed by al-Qa'ida's savagery, to expose the terrorists for what they are: peddlers of a hopeless, negative, backward vision of the world-far removed from the majesty of God and the dignity of Man.

In intelligence, we have something we call the phenomenon of the unpleasant fact. It's the inconvenient truth that your listener does not want to hear. So here's an unpleasant fact-in this case, unpleasant for al-Qa'ida. The fact is, al-Qa'ida and its associates kill far more Muslims than non-Muslims. The fact is, most Muslims reject their vision for the future.

We already see men and women in the region who recognize these facts and are willing to take a stand against terror. Like the demonstrators who flooded the streets of Amman a year-and-a-half ago, appalled by a senseless suicide attack on a wedding. Like the tribal leaders in Iraq's al-Anbar Province, who have declared war on the terrorists that subjugate and kill their people. And like a man in Baghdad, angered by a bombing in a city market last month, who was heard to shout amid the carnage, "What kind of Muslims kill their own brothers?"

The answer to that question is al-Qa'ida. And it's true, even if there are some, in that part of the world and elsewhere, who have not yet chosen to accept it. Al-Qa'ida can't make two and two equal five, either.

Finally, I'd mention a third truth about our Duquesne education. We got it here in Pittsburgh-and that makes a difference.

I know that Duquesne has a lot of resident students now, but when I was here it was largely a commuter school. Even then, though, I was a fan of the residents. In fact, I married one. My wife, Jeanine, whom I met while she was living at Assumption Hall.

But me, I would walk from our house on the North Side to the Bluff.

I know I missed a lot of the classic university experience by being a commuter, but staying in this city had its compensations, too. A few years back, I read a short book called Singing the City. It was an anthem to living in Pittsburgh. The author quoted another Pittsburgh writer, who wrote about how blast furnaces turned the night sky yellow, and how he pitied the poor kids in Indiana who never saw such a sight.

Now, when people ask me about Pittsburgh, I say it's a white-collar town with a blue-collar attitude. All the corporate headquarters here (USX, Alcoa, GE, PPG) can't diminish the ethnicity-without-rancor that forms the heart of the city.

There's a great article on a bulletin board at the top of one of the inclines. It's an Ernie Pyle piece from the early 1940s. He had stopped here and jotted down his impressions of the city. I still remember the punch line: "This city just goes to work."

An ad campaign for the Pirates in the mid-90s captured the work ethic perfectly. A bare picture of home plate; a black lunch pail is dropped on it; and a voice intones, "Come out and watch a ball club that works as hard as you do."

After 38 years, I can't say that I've ever really left. And there is very little that can keep me from following the Steelers. I remember listening to Armed Forces Radio Network coverage of our first Super Bowl win while I was stationed on Guam. And I've either listened to or watched them play from any number of points around the globe, from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Tirana, Albania; from Seoul, Korea to Stuttgart, Germany.

A few summers ago, I was at Balad Air Base in Iraq during a mortar attack. Beside all the usual questions about life and death that one ponders at such times, I must admit that I also wondered who would get the Steeler season tickets.

Love for this city blends seamlessly with love for America. Those of us whose profession is to defend our country usually have specific memories and images in mind that define why they serve. Many of the faces I see are from Pittsburgh. I see its cityscapes, too, and this university. And to me, they are all emblematic of America.

I've spoken often of the social contract CIA has with the American people. We are invested with an enormous level of public trust. We are expected to live up to the principles of our Republic while operating in the shadows of espionage.

That sets up natural contradictions. Those aren't contradictions we want to back away from-they constitute our state of nature. CIA operations conform to the needs of a free society, not vice-versa. No matter the external threat, our DNA as a nation cannot be altered.

The truth is that we in the Intelligence Community are not only compatible with our democratic system, we are indispensable to it. If we do our job and do it well-if we keep our country safe-we not only save lives, we dispel fear. And fear always has been the element in our political discourse that can upset the delicate balance between liberty and security.

At a confirmation hearing a couple of years ago, one of the senators asked if I would respect American civil liberties in carrying out my intelligence tasks. I, of course, said that I would. I also told him that I had a duty to play aggressively-"right up to" the line. Playing back from the line protected me but didn't protect America. I made it clear I would always play in fair territory, but that there would be chalk dust on my cleats.

Against a merciless enemy, we fight hard. I don't apologize for that. But we fight within our laws. In America, at CIA, it can be no other way.

In dealing with these tough questions over the years, something became obvious to me: The more senior I get, the older I get, the more basic, the more fundamental the problems and issues seem to be. And the more that happens, the less I rely on any kind of professional expertise that I've picked up along the way and the more I count on the basic values that I learned here in Pittsburgh, at my Mom or Dad's knee, at North Catholic, at St. Peter's grade school just across the river, and at Duquesne.

The challenging philosophy and theology courses I had here were wonderful gifts…gifts that keep on giving. They give me an anchor in what is often a turbulent sea. They give me a compass when the way ahead is far from clear. They give me a beam of light when I have to work in the shadows.

Life will soon bring you increased responsibilities, and it is rare that you will have a legitimate choice to do nothing-responsibility usually demands action.

My responsibility has to do with the defense of the Republic, and my conscience, formed here at Duquesne University, compels me to act.

And so I act, knowing that everything is connected.

Some things are true even if no one believes them.

You "get it" where you come from, and that makes a difference. We are lucky to have been educated at such a great university in such a truly great city.

I wish you all the best, and I envy your future. Congratulations on what each of you has earned today. Well done.


Historical Document
Posted: May 07, 2007 07:00 AM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:49 AM