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DIA 50th Anniversary Gala

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Washington, DC, Saturday, October 01, 2011

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  I'll let you all sit down. Ron Burgess, thank you.  Thank you for that kind introduction, and more importantly, thank you for your many years of distinguished service to the nation.  And thank you for your friendship. 

Ron has been someone who has been truly supportive in the intelligence community.  He has always got a kind word.  He's always got a slap on the back.  But you know that he's always going to be there when you need him as you deal with some of the tough issues that you confront. 

Just a few days ago, General Burgess and I gathered with many that are here at Bolling Air Force Base to celebrate DIA's 50th anniversary.  I know this is a very special occasion, Ron, for DIA.  But I didn't know you were going to turn this into a road show.

I'd like to thank all of the intelligence and national security alliance, all of those associated with this great organization for the opportunity to be here this evening.  And thank you for putting together this event and for your continuing efforts to better inform the debate on national security. 

I should mention that you couldn't have picked a better chairwoman than Fran Townsend.  As all of you know, Fran has spent her days in government advising former President Bush on counterterrorism issues in the aftermath of 9/11.  She has helped advise the CIA as a member of our advisory board.  But of course, she spends most of her time advising Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper.

Well, Fran, whether you're in the real Situation Room or the fake one the intelligence community is fortunate to have you as a powerful voice and a powerful advocate.  And I am only too happy that we've been able to give you a few exciting events to comment on.

It's great to see so many colleagues here tonight.  Of course, Jim Clapper, Mike Vickers, Tish Long, who I understand celebrated 15th anniversary of NGA and so many others who have dedicated their lives to protecting this country.  They are all -- they are all part of a team that has worked together to keep America safe.  I can't tell you how proud I am to have been part of that team as CIA director and now part of that team as secretary of defense.

These are individuals, patriotic men and women, many working throughout the intelligence community, many working at the Defense Department in key areas, men and women whose names their fellow countrymen man never know but who labor every day to gather intelligence, to conduct operations, to prepare our military to go into the world's darkest places to root out those who would do us harm. 

Tonight, we honor a very important part of that team that I'm talking about -- the men and women of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  For longer than we have been a nation, our leaders have recognized the importance of the work that all of you do.  George Washington said, and I quote, "there is nothing more necessary than good intelligence to frustrate a designing enemy and nothing requires greater pains to obtain than information and intelligence."

He also said that success in this endeavor often depends on secrecy.  And because of that, our intelligence professionals work under difficult circumstances, not expecting public recognition, knowing that most of their greatest victories will never be known by their fellow Americans. 

Let me take this moment and thank all of you -- all of you, the silent warriors in this audience -- on behalf of a grateful nation.  Thank you for all you do to keep us safe.

We should also take a moment to remember the 21 DIA employees who have died serving their nation at home and abroad. 

Each of them paid the ultimate price for this country, for the country they loved.  It is in their memories and their honor and in their names that we continue this noble fight.  One of the toughest things I now do as secretary of defense is to have to write condolence letters to the families of those that have died on the battlefield and died in the line of duty. 

And in each note, I try to say that as sorry as I am about their terrible loss, that they are heroes and they are patriots and they will never be forgotten.  Tonight, we celebrate a remarkable milestone for the Defense Intelligence Agency.  It was exactly 50 years ago, on October 1, 1961, that a handful of intelligence officers gathered in a borrowed office space deep in the Pentagon and took to the task of collecting, distilling and disseminating military intelligence. 

Back then, it was a novel idea to consolidate intelligence gathering for all of the Armed Forces.  I can tell you that back then at that time when I was an intelligence officer in the Army that I never worked with nor did I ever provide intelligence to any of the other services.  If I did, I would have been court-martialed.

This was a stovepipe operation.  It's interesting that some 40 years later my son -- my youngest son -- who is in the Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer, got activated.  And here's a Navy officer who has to report to Fort Bragg for training and then from Fort Bragg he goes to Bagram and works alongside the CIA and JSOC and other services to work on intelligence issues.  We've come a long way.

Over the years, the idea of consolidating our intelligence efforts has made the DIA an indispensable agency.  That handful of officers became a workforce of over 16,500 military and civilian employees housed at installations around the world. 

In less than a year after DIA was born, the world found itself, as we saw, on the brink of nuclear war.  I think many of us are old enough to remember a time that we will never forget, a time when we were very anxious that the country was on the precipice of another world war. 

The Cuban Missile Crisis was an event that took the attention of the entire country and the entire world.  During those tense 13 days in October 1962, many of us focused on what was happening here.  But for many of us who lived through it and for many who have since studied it, the defining images of that crisis are the photos of the surface-to-air missiles in Cuba.

They were shot by a U-2 reconnaissance plane on fight paths that were determined by DIA analysts who throughout the crisis supplied constant intelligence updates to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of Defense.  Months after the crisis had passed, President Kennedy called upon John Hughes of DIA to deliver a nationally televised briefing to reassure the American people that indeed the Soviet missiles had been withdrawn.

It was a moment in time that showed how vital DIA was to keeping America safe.  That fact remained through, through the Vietnam War, through the strategic arms reduction initiatives of the '70s and the '80s and through the collapse of the Soviet Union.  But it was after the attacks on September 11th that DIA truly came of age.

As America went to war against al-Qaida, DIA provided vital intelligence, locating high-value targets and producing essential intelligence to our military.  And looking back, we can say with certainty that over the past 10 years DIA has become absolutely integral to the fight against our enemies. 

I truly believe that the integration between the military and our other intelligence agencies is one of the greatest accomplishments in the post-9/11 era.  And it is because of that teamwork between our intelligence and our military communities that we were successful in taking down bin Laden and taking down al-Awlaki.  

I have seen this cooperation up close as CIA director and now as secretary of defense, and the entire world has seen the results of what this kind of teamwork can do.  These operations -- the operations that I have had the honor to be a part of -- I can tell you have been my proudest moments in more than 40 years of public service. 

They show the world -- they show the world the extraordinary capabilities and skill of the United States military and the intelligence community.  They show the world the kind of teamwork, the kind of courage, the kind of unique skills that make the United States of America the strongest country in the world.    

And so tonight as we look back in the past 50 years of DIA, there is much to celebrate.  But tonight we also look forward to the next 50 years, to the next chapter in this organization's great history, one that will be written by many in this audience.  Nearly two-thirds of DIA's workforce joined after 9/11, choosing to serve their fellow countrymen during a time of war. 

Now, more than ever, we need that dedication, that expertise to help us navigate what remains an incredibly complex and dangerous world.  Because of your efforts -- because of your efforts, we are within reach of achieving the mission that the president of the United States gave us to disrupt, to dismantle and to defeat al-Qaida and al-Qaida's militant allies. 

But to do that, we must keep the pressure on them wherever they go.  We must ensure that they never again find a safe haven from which to attack America, not in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, not in Yemen, not in Somalia, not in North Africa.  Nowhere should they find a place to hide from which they can attack this country.     

Beyond that, we must remain ever-vigilant in monitoring Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.  We must prepare for emerging threats such as cyberattacks that could cripple or devastate this country's infrastructure.  We must do all that the American people expect us to do to keep them safe.  And we must do that recognizing the serious fiscal challenges that are looming ahead. 

Yet I am determined -- I am determined that we maintain the best military and the best intelligence community in the world.  That is a top priority for me and for the president of the United States.

In closing, let me say a few words about your service for a cause that is greater than yourselves.  I often say that the true measure of a person's life is whether or not they made a difference.  Let me assure you that the men and women of the DIA make a difference.  Because of the core value in our nation's enduring strength, the core value that is our willingness over generations to select a few that have to step up and on behalf of the many defend our way of life, we pledge -- we pledge that we will always work to protect this country. 

As Secretary of Defense, I now have a hell of a lot more weapons than I had as CIA director.  I have all kinds.  I've got planes and I have tanks and I have helicopters and I have ships and I have carriers and destroyers, and yes, I have drones. 

But let me tell you something.  None of that -- none of that would be worth very much without the most important weapon I have, which is the men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to serve this country.  They fight -- they fight for the American dream. 

It was and is the dream that brought my immigrant parents to this country, the dream that my parents sought of making sure that their children had a better life, the dream that drove our forefathers, our pioneers, the immigrants to this country.  And it's the dream that all of us have, to make sure that our children have a safer and a better life in the future. 

It is for all of those reasons that we ask for God's blessing on all -- all of those warriors, the ones in the battlefield and the silent warriors in intelligence.  May God bless them and the values that we honor this evening and may God bless the American spirit that makes America the strongest and best nation in the world.  Congratulations, DIA. 

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