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Intelligence and National Security Alliance (William Oliver Baker Award)

Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Mclean, VA, Friday, May 21, 2010

It’s a real pleasure to be here tonight.  Looking around and seeing the black ties and beautiful dresses – and the flowing wine – calls to mind the story about a former European foreign minister who was a notorious drunk.  He was on a South American tour, and was attending a reception.  The music was playing, he had knocked down a few drinks, and then saw a person in a gown walking by.  So he asked that person to dance.  The person stopped, glared at him, and said, “First, sir, you are drunk.  Second, this is not a waltz, this is the Peruvian national anthem.  And third, I am not a woman, I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”

The intelligence business also has its share of humorous moments.  When I was deputy DCI in the 1980s, I was briefed on a plan to launch balloons into Libya dropping leaflets telling the people to overthrow the government.  I told them to make sure the leaflets specifically said that it was Qaddafi who should be overthrown.  I could imagine strong westerly winds carrying balloons with a generic “overthrow your government” right across Libya and into Egypt.  I thought President Mubarak would not be pleased.

My thanks go to the Intelligence and National Security Alliance for hosting this dinner and for their many achievements and contributions to the intelligence community over the years.  I am humbled to receive the William Baker Award in the tradition of previous luminaries:  colleagues, mentors, and friends including Richard Helms, Brent Scowcroft, John McMahon, Jim Clapper, Dick Kerr, Jim Schlesinger, Bill Studeman, Bob Inman, and others.  In fact, I presented Dick Helms his Baker Award in 1987.  So I am especially gratified to be honored tonight.

I’d like to use my acceptance remarks to say a few words about what I consider to be one of the most important and encouraging developments for the intelligence community in recent years:  the growing collaboration among intelligence agencies and between intelligence and battlefield operations. 

Take, for example, unmanned aerial vehicles.  In recent years there has been dramatic progress in the number, type, and capabilities of these systems.  Commanders in the field have clamored for more UAVs of all types because they are ideal for many of the tasks in today’s wars.  They give troops the tremendous advantage of seeing full-motion, real-time, streaming video over a target – such as insurgents planting IEDs or assembling before an operation. 

These systems have been real game changers, and their potential is just being tapped.  I should note that the Israelis were early and eager adopters of UAVs well before the U.S. military.  As DCI, I tried to interest the Air Force in these platforms back in the early 1990s, but they would have none of it.  An aircraft without a pilot in it held little appeal.  As secretary of defense, I have a bit more say in what the military buys – and today we’re pushing out as many UAVs as industry can produce.  The Air Force is now training more pilots to fly unmanned systems than to fly fighters and bombers.

This is not to say that there are not continuing challenges facing the intelligence community.  Despite the great gains in UAVs and ISR, we are only just beginning to exploit their full potential.  Under General Schwartz’s leadership, the Air Force has made great strides.  The Navy is also beginning to embrace the concept with, most notably, the Fire Scout system, which will operate in a fully autonomous mode and provide much needed intelligence and support to the fleet.

Beyond producing enough of the right hardware, a key to success going forward is ensuring that information crucial to operations reaches the widest appropriate audience.  Fusion has become the watchword of intelligence operations in the post-9/11 world, and represents, in my opinion, one of our greatest accomplishments.  Cooperation and interaction between the military and the intelligence community is critical going forward – and vastly improved since I was at CIA, when turf and budget battles were too often the norm.  When I visited Baghdad in September 2006 with the Iraq Study Group, I met privately with the chief of station and asked him about cooperation between CIA and the military.  He replied, “Oh sir, it is so much better than when you were DCI.”

At the tactical and operational level we have seen real innovation and gains.  However, I remain concerned about the quality of our intelligence at the political and strategic level.  Our ability to “see” into other nations with our constellations of satellites is second to none, but, as Clausewitz noted, “the map is not the territory.”  Knowing what other governments are capable of and, more importantly, what they intend, has always been a serious challenge for American intelligence – and it will remain so.  In Afghanistan, as the coalition intelligence chief, Major General Flynn, pointed out, nearly nine years into war there, we still know far too little about the broader economic and cultural climate in which our troops and the enemy operate – knowledge that will not necessarily come from traditional intelligence sources and methods.

I also want to say a few words in tribute to the professionals who have brought our nation and the intelligence community this far – to the engineers and scientists, not unlike William Baker, who design and build much-needed equipment on incredibly short timelines to get it to those on the front lines.  The increase in the fleet of UAVs and other intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities that we have, that are deployed to theater right now, and the number that are currently in development are a testament to their hard work and dedication.

Then there are the brave operators and analysts working in the theater.  Their work is sometimes thankless, always dangerous, and utterly vital to our national security.  The CIA officers who were killed in Afghanistan last year – one of whom was buried at Arlington this morning – are a stark reminder of the risks involved in this line of work.  On a personal level, just a few weeks before that attack, I dined in Kabul with the CIA officer we buried today.  She and all those lost or wounded that day deployed to protect the lives and liberties of their countrymen.  They represent the very best that our nation has to offer. 

We all know that some of the greatest successes and victories of the intelligence community – based on extraordinary technical and human intelligence collection achievements and brilliant analysis – will never be known by your fellow Americans:  attacks, plots, and schemes that died anonymous, quiet, deserved deaths.  These victories are celebrated with perhaps a raised coffee cup – or a glass of something stronger – in salute, or a quiet “well done” behind closed doors.  And then, without fanfare, the silent, unending work of keeping our country safe begins again.  I am truly thankful that I have had the opportunity to work alongside such men and women across four decades, in the Central Intelligence Agency, at the NSC, and now as secretary of defense.

Let me close with a quote from Sir William Stephenson, from the introduction to his book, A Man Called Intrepid.  He wrote: “Perhaps a day will dawn when tyrants can no longer threaten the liberty of any people.  When the function of all nations, however varied their ideologies, will be to enhance life, not control it.  If such a condition is possible it is in a future too far distant to foresee.  Until that safer, better day, the democracies will avoid disaster, and possibly, total destruction, only by maintaining their defense.

He continued:  “Among the increasingly intricate arsenals across the world, intelligence is an essential weapon, perhaps the most important.  Safeguards to prevent its abuse must be devised, revised and rigidly applied.  But, as in all enterprises, the character and wisdom of those to whom it is entrusted will be decisive.  In the integrity of that guardianship lies the hope of free people to endure and prevail.”

The American people can be confident that the extraordinary men and women of our intelligence community every day display the “integrity of that guardianship.”

Again, I am honored and humbled to accept this award.

Thank you.

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