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CIA Director's Remarks at the Dedication of George Mason University's Founders Hall

Remarks by Central Intelligence Agency Director David H. Petraeus at the Dedication of George Mason University’s Founders Hall

March 8, 2012


Well good afternoon! Thank you all very much for that warm welcome. It is indeed a great privilege and a real pleasure to be here at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus to help dedicate Founders Hall, a very important asset for George Mason, for our community, and, indeed, for our country.

You mentioned that Mason is “up and coming.”  I’d say that it has been described as “up and coming” for too long a time now; in fact, it has long since arrived! I’d also note that I am an Arlingtonian of many years. Our children went to grade school and middle school here, and my wife Holly and I live here now. It is great to be back. And, finally, I’d offer that the “Arlington Way” works!

Up front, I’d like to thank Dean Rhodes for his kind words, and for reminding me of our days together in graduate school at Princeton. Having been enrolled in doctoral programs at the same time, I can’t exactly claim that we were a couple of pub-crawlers—especially after Ed’s reference to cat-napping in the library. I was probably doing the same thing, and actually woke him up with my elbow! But I do concur with his observation that we’ve aged a bit better than some of our classmates—at least he has!

Ed was, of course, a Harvard undergrad and sheer brilliant when I got to know him in grad school. He was, in fact, the kind of guy who actually understood the math that was the essence of advanced macroeconomics and regression analysis—something I learned sufficiently to make my way through the courses, but never completely “got.”  He was also respected for being thoughtful, calm, deliberate—and, again, brilliant—in the occasionally emotional debates of the day. I had the great pleasure of working with him when he was writing his dissertation, ultimately a book titled Power and MADness—with a capital M-A-D in “madness” to signify “mutually assured destruction.”

These were the days of nuclear deterrence theory and the wizards of Armageddon and much more. His work was intellectually very impressive, very thorough, and very rigorous. But what really impressed many of us was his acceptance of his publisher’s color scheme for the book jacket. It takes an individual who is very secure in his manhood to allow a lime-green jacket cover! Ed, it’s great to see you again. Congratulations on all that you have achieved since our time together in the Woodrow Wilson School.

Thanks also to President Merten, one of our country’s foremost university leaders, for the central role he played in the establishment of Founders Hall and on his many other distinguished accomplishments. I understand that he will be retiring from Mason in June, and I salute him for his 16 years of extraordinary vision and energy in leading this great university, from “up and coming” to “arrived”—and in leading the entire Mason Nation! I wish Alan and his wife, Sally, the very best in all their future pursuits. Thanks again for your tremendous leadership.

Speaking here at George Mason—particularly in light of its outstanding service to the greater Washington area and, indeed, to our nation as a whole—brings to mind distinct parallels in how the academic and intelligence communities serve the public. Intellectual rigor, bold innovation, and healthy skepticism are central to our respective professions. Both communities seek to better understand the complex forces and trends that shape the world around us. And both strive to put what we learn to good use for our country and the world.

Not too long ago, it was rare to see courses related to intelligence or national security in law schools or schools of public policy. That began to change, of course, in the aftermath of the 9/11attacks in particular. Moreover, at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history, young Americans stepped forward to serve in the campaign against extremists, responding, as past generations had, to what became the defining crisis of the age.

Many of them have done so by joining the ranks of our nation’s armed forces. Of course, I was privileged to serve with them, and they have served our nation magnificently. In crushing heat and numbing cold—from the Iraqi desert to the peaks of the Hindu Kush—they have demonstrated valor, creativity, initiative, and resolve. Like their great-grandparents who survived a depression and won a war, the members of what Tom Brokaw has called the New Greatest Generation have responded with courage and purpose to the great challenges of their day.

But others have served in a variety of different capacities, for the campaign that began over a decade ago has demanded far more from our country than just a military response. The hard work of comprehensive, civil-military campaigns has required the skills and expertise of intelligence officers, diplomats, law enforcement agents, development specialists, legal experts, and professionals from many other disciplines as well. The so-called non-kinetic endeavors in which they have engaged have been as important to our success as the kinetic ones—and, very often, they have demanded the same degree of courage and sacrifice as that required of our men and women in uniform.

And George Mason has contributed enormously, in the past decade in particular, to help prepare young men and women for dealing with the security challenges of our time. Indeed, Founders Hall here in Arlington is the new home for three schools in particular that have critical roles in this regard, as you’ve heard:  the School of Public Policy, the School of Law, and the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Given their substantive focus, excellent faculty, and close proximity to the government departments and agencies that carry out national policy, these schools have already made Mason a leader in the establishment of security programs at our nation’s major universities.

Moreover, by establishing majors in Intelligence, International Studies, and Homeland Security—including Homeland and National Security Law—and in many other related fields, George Mason is responding directly to our nation’s strategic needs. Indeed, the challenges America has faced, particularly over the last decade, have required “whole-of-government,” comprehensive approaches, approaches for which your students are very well-prepared to contribute because of what they learn here. Indeed, the co-location of schools of public policy, law, and conflict resolution yields important dividends, allowing students of different but related disciplines to engage each other and to share perspectives on common issues. And, of course, it is very important to have a bagel shop as well! The intellectual cross-fertilization that takes place over coffee and bagels is very valuable indeed.

Moreover, you have an impressive lineup of accomplished practitioners in the fields you teach, such as retired Air Force General Mike Hayden, a distinguished former occupant of my office in Langley. He and your other distinguished faculty members understand both the theory and the practical demands your students will face on the job, and they’re part of an exceptionally strong national security team here at Mason. I congratulate you, in fact, on the intellectual critical mass you have assembled here, starting with that represented by your dean.

And just as this university educates those heading out to deal with the overseas challenges facing our country, Mason excels at embracing our troopers returning from overseas assignments as well. With hundreds of veterans in its student body—and with excellent programs in place to help them adapt to both civilian and collegiate life—it is no wonder that President Obama chose to mark passage of the post-9/11 GI Bill by coming to Mason a few years back.

As an aside, I might note that taking care of our men and women in uniform, our veterans and their families, is a cause that, for my family, is very close to our hearts. As you may know, my wife Holly directs the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where she and her staff help our troopers and their families with financial planning and avoiding rip-offs. So the Petraeus tribe is unified in applauding all that George Mason does to help our veterans build new lives here at home, even as it provides a wonderful academic home for all of its students.

Speaking of veterans coming home, it has now been a little over six months since I hung up the uniform and was given the honor of leading the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization I have found to be one of the world’s greatest concentrations of knowledge, skill, and ingenuity. Clearly, they missed the mark geographically and put the CIA in McLean instead of Arlington…but recruiters will be available after the event. Serving as Director is a job I very much wanted because it gives me the opportunity to continue to serve our nation, and to do so with truly extraordinary men and women—and I must confess that I love my job. If you ever get an offer to be the DCIA, jump on it! Indeed, I feel very privileged to serve an institution dedicated to constant learning—not only in terms of our mission, which is to learn as much as we can about the capabilities and intentions of our adversaries, but also in terms of refining our tradecraft, adapting to the demands of the field, and improving ourselves as intelligence officers and substantive experts.

Indeed, some of the early initiatives during my time as Director have been to strengthen the educational and broadening opportunities at the Agency. Ed already mentioned my academic period at Princeton back in the eighties—an experience that proved enormously important, that took me out of my intellectual comfort zone and, in many ways, made me a better officer and leader. I want as many of our Agency officers as possible to have that same kind of opportunity, and we’re developing the Director’s Scholars Program to do just that.

In fact, I appointed a very experienced senior officer, John Pereira, to serve as the CIA’s first Corporate Learning Officer. John will be rolling out other initiatives, in addition to the Scholars Program, in coming weeks and months to make these broadening experiences more available to our workforce.

Expanding our outreach effort is also important, especially for our analysts. I want our people to have greater opportunities to engage experts in academia, of course, but also in think tanks, Wall Street, and other centers of great expertise—not only to gain insights, but to let our counterparts outside the Agency experience first-hand the impressive talent and capabilities of our officers. In this respect, I strongly believe that the CIA should be less of a mystery to the nation we serve—and we look forward to doing some of that with the leading scholars at the schools here in the Arlington Campus.

I also want to ensure that the Agency continues to attract a diverse cross-section of America’s best and brightest—men and women with superb language skills, substantial familiarity with foreign cultures, strong intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to contend with the high degree of risk and uncertainty inherent in our work. Given the fiscal realities facing every government agency, we cannot hire at the rate of the past decade, of course, but we will do what we can to keep the pipeline open to those who have what it takes to join us. They are all patriots, of course; and my hope is that some of them will be George Mason Patriots—graduates of this great university.

No matter the form it takes, public service is the lifeblood of our republic, and it is certainly what Teddy Roosevelt had in mind when he observed that “far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”  It is my hope that the men and women who walk the corridors of Founders Hall and study under the accomplished and impressive educators here, live and learn near our Nation’s Capital, and develop a professional mastery of law, public policy, and conflict analysis and resolution will be able to apply the knowledge and skills they’ve gained here to advance the interests and ideals of this great country.

In truth, I am confident that they will do all that and more. Again, it’s a privilege and a pleasure to help dedicate this wonderful academic facility, and an honor to speak at a dynamic institution that has come to occupy such an important place in the life of our community and our nation.

Congratulations to you all, and thank you all very much.


Posted: Mar 16, 2012 08:53 AM
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2012 10:39 AM