Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia
Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much, Director Tenet, Mrs. Tenet, Mr. Berger, Mr. Brandon, Senator Shelby, and Congressmen Gilman, Bishop, and Goss, and Congresswoman Harman. Someone told me that Secretary Cohen was here, but I haven't seen him yet. I will acknowledge him whether he is or not. He's a great friend of this agency.
To the men and women of the CIA family, past and present, I am delighted to be with you here today. I appreciate what George Tenet said. The last couple of years, I've been glad to see anybody or anything turn 50. [Laughter] Someone I know extremely well is turning 50 this year, along with the CIA, but it is still a classified state secret. [Laughter]
When George was sworn in, he promised to uphold the highest standards of this agency to deliver intelligence that is clear, objective, without regard to political consequences. That's just exactly what we want from our intelligence community, what we've come to expect from George, and what I have come to expect from all of you. I thank you very much for your service on this 50th anniversary.
Today we salute the men and women of the CIA for service, sacrifice, and selfless dedication on behalf of our Nation. We look back on the contributions of the agency in promoting America's interests and preserving peace. We commit ourselves on the verge of a new century to help keep America the world's leading force for freedom and peace in the future no less than in the past.
When President Truman created the CIA under the circumstances that George mentioned a few moments ago, few could have imagined how the world would look a half-century later. Two years after the Second World War, Europe was still in ruins, economies in turmoil, the Iron Curtain descending. The values upon which our Nation was founded and for which we had fought so dearly seemed under siege from Europe to Asia. But now Europe is at peace, Russia increasingly is our partner, the cold war belongs to the past. The tide of market democracy has reached the shores of every continent.
For the first time in history, more than half of all the world's people live under governments of their own choosing. Former adversaries are becoming new allies; former rivals, new partners and friends. I think it is important on this day to note, without reservation, that the men and women of our intelligence community played a crucial role in shaping these events over the last five decades. Through four decades of cold war, you stood on the frontlines of democracy's struggle worldwide. You served where others could not go. You did what others could not do. You helped us to understand what foreign leaders had in mind, what tools they had in hand, what resources they had in store. The intelligence edge you gave our country's national security decisionmaking made it less likely that our troops would need to fight or that our lives would be put at risk.
By necessity, the American people will never know the full story of your courage. You labor in obscurity by choice and design, serving with quiet patriotism that seeks neither spotlight nor praise. President Eisenhower said in 1959, when he laid the cornerstone here at Langley, "Success cannot be advertised; failure cannot be explained. In the work of intelligence, heroes are undecorated, often even among their own fraternity."
But the 70 stars on the Wall of Honor bear witness to the valor of the highest order, a total commitment, an ultimate sacrifice, in some ways all the more moving for its required anonymity. Today, again, I say on behalf of a grateful Nation, we thank you.
Now we must work together to make certain that the CIA can serve our Nation in the future as it has in the past. You, better than anyone, know that at the end of the cold war we are by no means free of risks. Threats to our security and our values live on. Often they're more diffuse, more complex, but often no less dangerous than before.
As your first customer, let me reiterate, I depend upon unique, accurate intelligence more than ever. Your work informs every foreign policy decision I make, from dealings with leaders in the Middle East to Russia. Targeted and timely intelligence in some places is more difficult to collect than ever. In today's high-tech information age, the haystacks are getting bigger, but the size of the needles isn't. That's why we've worked so hard to adapt our tremendous intelligence capability to meet the challenges of this time, to make this era of change work for us, to ensure that we have the information we need to keep our Nation secure, and to help lock in the gains of peace and freedom all around the world.
Our first task is to focus our intelligence resources in the areas most critical to our national security, the areas where, as Director Tenet has said, we simply cannot afford to fail. Two years ago I set out our top intelligence priorities in the Presidential Decision Directive: First, supporting our troops and operations, whether turning back aggression, helping secure peace, or providing humanitarian assistance; second, providing political, economic, and military intelligence on countries hostile to the United States so we can help to stop crises and conflicts before they start; and third, protecting American citizens from new transnational threats such as drug traffickers, terrorists, organized criminals, and weapons of mass destruction.
You have risen to these challenges. In Bosnia, your information and analysis has helped our commanders to protect our troops and to give peace a chance to take hold. In North Korea, you warned us of their dangerous nuclear program and gave us the information we need to negotiate a halt to it. In Russia and the Newly Independent States, your support has helped us to lower the nuclear threat and to promote democracy and market reform. And here in our own hemisphere, your work with law enforcement has helped us to capture every top drug lord of the Colombian Cali cartel.
You have also worked hard to build better teamwork within the intelligence community to make better use of limited resources, with less duplication and more results. Today, your successes nearly are all joint efforts, reflecting the talent and courage and expertise of men and women across the board. The dramatic capture of Mir Aimal Kansi proves the vast potential of your growing teamwork with the FBI. You showed that America will not rest in tracking down terrorists who use violence against our people, no matter how long it takes or where they hide, and I thank you for that.
So on this 50th birthday, all of you here and the families who support you have a lot to be proud of. And now we have to build on that record for the future. Looking back on the last 50 years, we know the road has not always been smooth. But you have learned and persevered as an agency, and we have learned and persevered as a country. When problems arise, we have to meet them head on, learn from them, and make sure as we go forward that integrity and responsibility remain our watchwords every day. That's the best way to promote public confidence and to preserve the high standards which I know you share.
Through the dedication, professionalism, and hard work of men and women like you, this agency has played an integral role in keeping our Nation strong, advancing our interests, promoting peace, lifting the lives of millions around the world. Now each of us must do our part to carry that tradition forward, because even though the world has not changed—the world has changed—we will always have to rely on human judgment. No computer program will ever replace it. You, the men and women of the CIA, put your passion and creativity behind our intelligence. We still depend on our case officers abroad who face new pressures, challenges, and dangers in a more complex world. We still rely on our imagery analysts who prove every day from the Cuban missile crisis to Desert Storm that a picture truly can be worth a thousand words and more.
We still need dedicated men and women to monitor foreign communications and sound the right alarms. We still need analysts to weave varied strands of data into logical, honest assessments and, when necessary, into warnings. We still need sophisticated counterintelligence to keep our secrets in and keep foreign agents out. And ultimately, our intelligence community's success depends upon the support of the public it serves and the Congress that oversees its work. So let me say again how pleased I am to see these distinguished Members of Congress here today, evidence of the strong partnership between the legislative branch and the intelligence community. Thank you for your presence.
In the walls here at Langley, there is inscribed that magnificent verse of scripture, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." For five decades, the men and women of the CIA have made it their mission to bring that truth to light, often at tremendous personal risks and never for personal acclaim.
For five decades, your honor, your heroism, your judgment, and your intelligence has helped America to meet every challenge we have faced. Now, on the brink of the 21st century, with your help we can do that all over again for another 50 years. Once again, you stand at the forefront of America's defense, you embody America's best values, and you must help to carry us into a brighter future.
Thank you, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:25 a.m. in the quadrangle at CIA Headquarters. In his remarks, he referred to Stephanie Tenet, wife of Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet; Charles (Chase) Brandon, Public Affairs Officer, CIA; and Mir Aimal Kansi, apprehended suspect in the 1993 shooting of CIA employees at an intersection in Langley, VA.
William J. Clinton, Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/224759