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"I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist," Petraeus tells CIA employees

Excerpts of Remarks by Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, at his first Agency Address:

CIA Director David H. Petraeus addressed the Agency workforce in the Headquarters Auditorium.

Well good morning to all of you and thanks for a very warm welcome indeed. It is great to be with you. It’s an extraordinary honor to be the 20th Director and I can tell you I am absolutely thrilled to be here. I am thrilled to be joining an organization that is such a wonderful one as this, that has such great people, and that has such a great mission. A mission that many of us have been engaged in for the bulk of the past decade or much longer, and that I am so pleased to be able to continue to contribute to in this fashion.

I have worked very closely with this organization—and with a number of you in particular—for many years but particularly of course over the course of the last decade. I have the absolute highest regard for you and for this Agency. I believe it’s one of the greatest concentrations of talent and capability that our country has. I respect the intellectual firepower as well as the courage, initiative, and selfless commitment that are the hallmarks of this organization. I truly feel very privileged to be part of such a legendary institution—and, indeed, to lead it and to be your advocate. As you know, until recently, the Army was my life. I proudly wore the uniform for 37 years—41 if you want to add in my four years as a cadet at West Point. And that is not something that you leave lightly or easily. The next step has to be something, ideally is something, that you really want. This is the job that I wanted.

Now, a couple shout-outs before I do continue because I do want to recognize, as did our deputy, very appropriately the enormous contributions of my predecessor, Leon Panetta, a principled, passionate leader who accomplished great tasks at this Agency, oversaw great tasks. And he brings those same qualities obviously to the Department of Defense, and I know he’ll be a close and valuable partner for us there. I want to salute Michael Morell for leading our Agency for the last two months—and for more than 30 years of extraordinary service with it. I’d heard about his reputation; I’ve now been able to learn by personal contact how exceptional he is. He has had to lead this organization and help me get up to speed at the same time; and of the two, the latter had to be more taxing I’m sure. But he did an outstanding job on both counts. I’ve learned a great deal from him, and I don’t think this Agency could ask for a finer deputy. Sue Bromley also took on additional duties during that two-month period and showed yet again how fortunate we are to have her as well.

Michael told me over the summer that the CIA is an organization committed to constant learning. I suspected as much and I was glad to hear that assessment. He offers it with high confidence, by the way. I’ve found through hard experience that it’s important to continually learn and adapt, to constantly assess situations, to identify and share lessons learned and best practices, and to strive to build an ever-better and ever-greater learning organization. What works today may not work tomorrow; what works today here won’t work today there; we must remain alert to that and constantly evolve.

I strongly believe in encouraging initiative. We need to foster a climate that reflects a sign that I saw in a company command post in Baghdad during the surge. It read: “In the absence of guidance or orders, determine what they should have been and execute aggressively.” I know that that is a defining feature of this Agency, and we should do everything we can to strengthen it.

We all know the importance of living our country’s values, values we’ve sought to defend in various wars over the years. That’s an approach that distinguishes us from our enemies and ensures that we stay true to the ideals for which generations before us sacrificed so much. There is never an excuse to compromise on what we know is right.

Finally, I’ve learned that it’s critical to have a well-developed sense of intellectual humility and indeed of humor. We should, we must take our work very seriously; however, taking ourselves too seriously is never a good idea.

I am keenly aware that this is my first official day on the job, so I’ve obviously got to kick a lot of tires, and check under the hoods, and all the rest of that. But I do have some thoughts, and they are thoughts that I’ve been working on for quite some time.

Indeed, I offered a few of them in my confirmation hearing. As I said there, for example, I am comfortable with the fact that this organization is much flatter than the hierarchy of a military command. That is as it should be. I welcome it.

Indeed I spent parts of my Army career in academic settings with plenty of give-and-take. Even in my commands, I made a point of reaching out to people at all levels. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, I would meet with groups of company commanders on the battlefield, wherever we were, and by myself. I corresponded directly by e-mail with a number of junior commissioned and noncommissioned officers.

I have always enjoyed vigorous debate and discussion. In this profession in particular, there is no other way to do business. When it comes to our Agency’s bottom-line substantive judgments—now I’m talking to the analysts most of all—I want to assure you I will faithfully represent our findings. But to do that well, I need to hear how you arrived at them. Engaging with you will be an important part of my job. As I think my briefers reported to the DNI when he polled them, prior to my taking the job, I will occasionally challenge assessments. I’ve done that formally on four different occasions. I broke with the Intelligence Community as you may know on issues involving Iraq and Afghanistan and for what it’s worth, two of them I was more positive, two of them I was less positive than the Intelligence Community assessments, and generally it was because of the lag time between the Intelligence Community locking down the date and then the date by which I was actually briefing the President or the Congress. But I will again challenge assessments on occasion. I do think that sharpens analysis and our products and then I will faithfully represent the position.

I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I’m a realist. We don’t do the President any favors unless we give him the clearest picture possible of whatever issue he’s facing. And I know you understand that. I have always tried to do that in the past, and again I’ll try to do the same as the Director. Speaking truth to power is not only an analytic virtue. For every issue that reaches the Seventh Floor—operational, administrative, or any other—please feel free to tell it to me straight; in fact, feel obligated to do so. There should not be a case when someone walks out of my office, or the deputy’s, or any of the other senior offices, and says, “Man, I wish I had said…” whatever. That should not happen.

Now I understand that more than half of our workforce has joined the Agency since 2001. As some of you will have heard I’ve referred to the young troopers in Iraq and Afghanistan as the New Greatest Generation because of how they have handled the major challenge of their era: responding in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I am delighted that that generation is so well represented here at CIA. Our Agency’s blend of energy and experience is a very vital asset.

I want to assure you I will work tirelessly to continue to attract the very best people to our Agency, and to ensure that our new hires provide the diversity we need to get the job done in a world that is indeed increasingly diverse. Given our global charter, there are few organizations for which such a workforce is a greater imperative. We must strive also to develop our new officers, needless to say, to give them the language and tradecraft training they need. We have to invest in them to the maximum extent possible—and work to retain them for as long as possible, giving them every opportunity to succeed.

As important as it is to have good people, it’s equally important that they work together as a team. We have the best operations officers, analysts, scientists, engineers, and support specialists in the business. The Agency has come a long way in the past decade in fusing these strengths, in bringing together different disciplines and the products of those disciplines in the form of centers and other integrated teams.

Nonetheless, there is still that tension, some of it understandable, between the need to protect our information properly and the need to share it responsibly. The CIA doesn’t have as many stovepipes as it used to, but there are still some out there reportedly that we shouldn’t have. And I’ll devote a lot of attention to this challenge and, by the way, to enhancing our IT systems, as well as the applications that help with analysis. I do understand the IT challenges and issues here—I think I’m the first Director who is a very extensive user of such systems, and will push to resolve as many of them as is possible given the challenges of maintaining security.

Now the need for greater teamwork extends beyond our Agency to our partners throughout the Community without saying. The CIA brings unique strengths to the table—we are the Central Intelligence Agency after all, and if you happened to see a snippet from my comments after being sworn in this morning you’ll see that I did weave in Central with emphasis on it, Intelligence Agency. And we lead the effort, obviously, to collect human intelligence, we wrote the book on all-source analytic tradecraft, we perform technical feats that are unrivaled, our support is top-notch, and our constellation of Stations and Bases provides the global superstructure for our overall national intelligence effort. I want to keep it that way, and will be an aggressive advocate of the Agency to do so.

We’ve seen our greatest successes come from blending our skills and strengths with those of others. We are part of a team, and we must always comport ourselves as such.

It’s critical not only that Community agencies work well with their partners, but that the directors work closely and effectively with the DNI as well. I have known Jim Clapper for a number of years and worked with him in his current capacity and when he was the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. We will maintain and even enhance the excellent relationship that he and Leon Panetta had. And I might note that I did pick up the tab for dinner the other night so we are already well along in this regard.

I also look forward to working closely with the leaders of the other agencies of the Community. The truth is I have soldiered with many of them already over the years. General Alexander, for example, happens to be a West Point classmate of mine and a longtime friend. Same is true of a number of the others.

I’ll also strive to keep our Agency on the positive trajectory set by Director Panetta with Congress. Our bond to Congress is our bond with the American people. Keeping the oversight committees fully and currently informed is absolutely imperative.

Nothing is more critical to our Agency than earning the public’s trust and confidence. I believe that you deserve recognition for your efforts, by the way, and I will look for opportunities to discuss them publicly, as far as classification will allow, in speeches and in dealings with the press…. I want the American people to understand the critical contributions that this Agency makes to our national security. I want the American people to know how good you are. In a period of fiscal austerity, it becomes especially important that they understand what the nation gets from the money it invests in the CIA.

Finally, I want to touch on the critical subject of mission priorities and global coverage. This requires a delicate balance, one that we absolutely must get right.

A decade after the 9/11 attacks, our Agency remains heavily engaged in the worldwide fight against violent extremists. We have achieved significant progress in that campaign, in fact I’ll testify about that next week. I will also ensure that we maintain relentless pressure, the pressure that has brought us such successes. I will do everything I can to support the superb cooperation between the CIA and our Community partners….

But, as you well know, our Agency has a global charter. It’s our job to ensure that challenges that arise in any corner of the world are not surprises to our President or his policymakers. So we’ll certainly continue tenaciously to go after terrorists and support the troops in several different theaters. But, to use the kids’ soccer analogy, we cannot turn it into a game of magnetball. Everybody can’t flock to the ball, the CT effort, and then lose sight of the rest of the field. Because it is an enormous field to cover.”

Positioning our Agency to best meet those responsibilities will be a priority for me and for our leadership team. We’ll examine progress and collection on the hard targets and inventory the status of initiatives against them. We’ll identify the mission areas that may require greater resources and effort—and I will make sure that Congress understands what we need to get it right.

In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the Agency’s 64th birthday. Now, in a way, when you think about it, it’s truly amazing that, before 1947, the United States had no agency for dealing systematically with an entire realm of international affairs that can only be handled effectively, in my view, by professional intelligence officers. Sixty-four years later, there is no other service in the world that even remotely approaches our tradecraft, our reach, our technical expertise, or our sheer effectiveness.

The fact is, that you do a better job of riding herd over that chaotic terrain than anyone else. Your work is very challenging, but it is also deeply rewarding. Nearly ten years after 9/11, touch wood, our nation has not suffered another major attack. You have been the key to that. Thanks to your knowledge, skill, dedication, and courage, our country has remained secure from attack, and it is my privilege now to join you in carrying our mission forward.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that, “Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” You and I share some hard work that is very worth doing. It’s a privilege to be able to do it with each of you.

Thank you very much.

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