Excerpted Remarks of
Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John E. McLaughlin,
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and
Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, Federal Bureal of Investigation
at the Farewell Ceremony for
Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet
8 July 2004
Mr. McLaughlin: Let me say a warm welcome to everyone. [Laughter] A very warm welcome. We have a lot of special guests here. Looking out over the audience I quickly pick out a couple of former Directors — Admiral Turner, Jim Woolsey; some of my illustrious predecessors, Admiral Studeman, Dick Kerr, John Gordon. Welcome to all of you and our Agency family.
Also a surprise visitor, we learned just this morning Don Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, is here. I’ll be asking him to say a few words a bit later. Director of the FBI, Bob Mueller, will be here around 10:30. We’re also honored to have one of my great counterparts, Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage with us today. A good friend of CIA and a good personal friend of George’s.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a really impossible task here today, to do justice in such a short time to the tenure of CIA’s second-longest serving Director, the Honorable George J. Tenet. In a single speech or a single day we can’t do justice to seven years, especially the seven years we’ve just been through. If those seven years were measured in big events and revolutionary change instead of mere days, it would easily make George Tenet the longest-serving Director in our history. I won’t even try to capture all of this for you. Instead I’d like to just say a few words about my good friend George, an exceptional man who has done exceptional things in what everyone would agree is an exceptional job — the Director of Central Intelligence.
Let me tell you something very important about George. I’ve worked one thin doorway away from him for the last four years — actually, that door is way too thin. [Laughter] I’ve traveled with him to remote outposts around the world and sat up with him in hotel rooms until 3:00 o’clock in the morning, writing talking points for some King or Prime Minister or someone. And I’ve been up there on the 7th floor in the suite late at night as he wrestled with some tough, tough problems that just had no easy answer. I know this man.
One thing I know is that as proud as he is of the DCI title and the responsibilities that go with it, there are other titles and responsibilities even more vital to George. Son, husband, father, brother, uncle. I want to recognize some of the most important people in his life who are with us here this morning.
The source of his greatest strength, the people whose pictures adorn every corner of his office up there, some of whom he fondly calls the “Greeks of the Round Table”. [Laughter]
First in all of this, of course, is our beloved Stephanie. His partner in affection and adventure, best-selling author, and a driving force behind our Employee and Family Outreach Program. Someone George once referred to as “smart, beautiful, and great with power tools.” [Laughter and Applause]
George’s son, John Michael. [names deleted in the following] His brother, who has been so supportive and such a good friend over the years, his sister-in-law, and their daughters, his father-in-law, George’s mother-in-law, his brother and sister-in-law, and their son, and his brother-in-law.
I must tell you, it’s been hard being the only Irishman this close to George. [Laughter] But you’ve been so welcoming to me and my family, and I thank you all very much.
We all know how much family means to George, and when he talks about the Central Intelligence Agency and the Intelligence Community as a whole and he talks about them as a family, we know what a huge compliment that is coming from George. So on behalf of his Agency, his Community, his second family, I want to thank you, his first family, for giving him the love and support that have been so essential to his outstanding service here. I’ve seen that up close. I know how important it is, and you deserve a warm round of applause from his Agency family.
You’ve shared George with us over many long days and many long nights. You’ve seen him work through problems that affect the lives of millions. And whenever he could get away from the office, the meetings, the trips, the hearings — all too rarely — you’ve seen him at school, in the backyard with a football, at the beach with a boogie board, or a few rows off the basketball court cheering for his Georgetown Hoyas, frequently sitting there with Rich Armitage.
From watching up close I can tell you that those moments of relaxation have been far too few and far too short. As George sometimes says, in fact I quote him on this point all the time, “In this job you never take your pack off.”
It’s always been a difficult 24/7 assignment. I thought of George immediately during a scene in a movie I saw recently in which a subordinate said to his boss, “With all due respect, Boss, some of the guys don’t like a lot of your recent decisions.” The boss replied, “With all due respect, none of you really know what it means to be number one.” Only one CIA officer in this big tent really knows what it means to be number one. The stresses, strains, responsibilities and all the bucks that come screeching to a halt on your desk, and that one person is George Tenet.
It’s always been so. In fact shortly after the first Director of Central Intelligence Admiral Sidney Souers was sworn in back in 1946. Someone asked him what he wanted to do. Thinking perhaps of the challenge that lay ahead he looked up from his desk and said, “I want to go home.” [Laughter]
That was then. The stresses and strains are a little different now, to put it mildly. Most of our previous DCIs were lucky enough to live in a calmer world. Many had the benefit of a world frozen into a kind of bipolar predictability by decades of Soviet-U.S. rivalry. But George Tenet came to office at just the point when this world had finished thawing out in a way that unleashed all the demons we have contended with since then, from ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia to the horrors of 9/11. By comparison, most previous DCIs presided over a kind of formal dance party. George Tenet stepped into what amounts to an international mosh pit. If you have kids or are of a certain age, you’ll know what I mean.
But each DCI in each period of history is entrusted with the intelligence capabilities of our nation to make them as strong as they must be, and in the process to make America as safe as it can be.
George Tenet, as you all know, has been a gifted steward of that trust. You will hear more about specific achievements from others this morning. What I hope to give you now is a bare bones description of a genuine revolution, a revolution he has led here at the Agency and in our entire intelligence community.
In the late 1990s George led the charge to convince the President and Congress that the time had come to reverse the deep resource cuts that followed the end of the Cold War. That American intelligence needed new resources for a new and different world, to face the rising dangers of terrorism, regional conflict, proliferation, and rising new centers of power in the world and much more. And he succeeded in this and more.
Today we have a world class recruiting operation; thousands of new talented officers; a growing clandestine service that is second to none; greater strength and depth in our analytic core; a host of new schools for career-long learning; dozens of new systems, tools, technologies to help us collect, sort and share information across directorates, agencies, and oceans; new, more efficient structures to manage support of the CIA and to increase the cohesion of the community as a whole; and something else which can get lost among all the other headlines I’ve mentioned — seven years under administrations of both parties, continuity at the top when that was in short supply, when the times of rebuilding and times of acute peril demanded it.
I often say to people, whatever you may think of George and me, at least you’ve gotten used to us. [Laughter] You certainly have figured out how to work us. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Is there more to do? Of course. Is there a strong foundation on which to continue? Absolutely.
One thing we must never lose is the profound sense of purpose and mission that George has given us. I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years and I can tell you I’ve never seen that focus, that spirit, the dedication, the morale, as sharp and as widespread as they are today.
So on this Thursday morning American intelligence is a thriving enterprise. Imperfect, imperfect as with every human enterprise, but a far stronger, more expert, more agile defender of this nation than it was when George Tenet was sworn in seven years ago.
Those are some of the accomplishments of our 18th Director of Central Intelligence. Not bad for someone who once described himself as a Greek guy from Queens who couldn’t keep a secret. [Laughter]
All of this didn’t come about by coincidence. Quite the contrary. I remember vividly that after he was confirmed as Director and had his leadership team in place, George called all of us in. In many ways I regard this as the most important moment of his seven-year tenure because it marked him as a real leader. A number of you were there at this meeting.
He told us that we had been given an extraordinary opportunity to lead great people at an important moment in history and that we needed to think hard about how best to use this priceless opportunity. He took us all away for a couple of days of quiet and careful thinking about just that.
From that thinking emerged a coherent blueprint for our future. Not a plan that makes you feel good while it gathers dust on a shelf, but a strategic view of where we were, where we needed to go, and how best to get there. What we needed to fix, what we needed to overhaul.
George will be the first to say that he didn’t do it all himself, but I will be the first to say that he drove it. He drove it hard and he drove it relentlessly. If you live next to him, as I do, you know the man is always in motion. In fact sitting here today for this long must be almost unbearable. [Laughter]
Let me tell you, when you work with George you have an open door policy even when your door is closed. [Laughter] He gets in. He gets in. You want him to. Well, most days. Sometimes he does it with a joke, sometimes a song, sometimes a bellow, sometimes an idea, and sometimes all those things at once. I’ve never seen a firmer believer in the theory of walk-around management. As Dottie says when he’s missing, “He’s gone walk-about.” Some days you can’t even find him in the building. Some of you probably met him for the first time in the cafeteria, and if he sat down at your table I’m sure you’re friends.
Let me just say that to be his deputy is well, an experience. [Laughter] People often say that we’re opposites. Maybe at one time, but no more. George still laughs at the time when I caught myself railing loudly against some particularly idiotic criticism that had come our way and I turned to him and said, “You know, George, too much of you has rubbed off on me.” He said, “Close, but no cigar.” [Laughter]
Being George’s deputy calls on all your talents. Once to break the ice in a high stakes, high pressure meeting we had with a foreign leader George surprised me by asking this fellow if he wanted to see a card trick. I didn’t know George did card tricks. [Laughter] Pointing at me he said, “You’re on, [fellow].” [Laughter] I learned never to be around George without a deck of cards.
And when he leaves on a rare vacation, a very rare vacation, here’s what he says, “Hey, don’t worry. You won’t hear from me. I won’t even think about the place.”
As soon as he clears the garage over here, I get the first phone call. “What’s happening? What do I need to know? What should I be worried about? Where is everyone? What’s going on? Who’s in charge?” That’s George Tenet. Always thinking, always looking out for the people in the organization he leads.
I’ve seen him come into that office up there at 5:00 a.m. after being here until midnight. Working through papers and briefing books to prepare for hearings at which tough questions would be asked relentlessly. If he feels we’re being criticized unfairly, he pushes back. If we make mistakes, he stands up and takes responsibility. And he gets to work on correcting our shortcomings — immediately, at his own initiative, without waiting to be told that that’s the right thing to do.
People say that George is a survivor, that he has weathered many crises as Director. But what I’ve learned from George is that you only get through a crisis, you only emerge stronger with huge amounts of effort and action, not by doing nothing, not by trying to ride things out or paper them over, but by finding problems and fixing them. By showing your people that you stand by them in good times and bad.
That’s how George Tenet operates, with integrity and decency, and that’s why I was honored to have him burst into my office about four years ago and ask without a trace of ceremony, “How would you like to be DDCI?”
George, you and Stephanie honor those who serve in intelligence. You cherish and nourish the memory of those who have lost their lives in that service. You obviously have a proud place in the history of our great Agency and our community. But more importantly, you have also earned a place in our hearts and I know I speak for everyone in this vast tent here, and everyone outside and watching on television when I say that you will always have it.
Mr. McLaughlin: At this point I’d like to surrender the podium to our Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Then I will ask Director Mueller who I believe has just arrived to also come up. Secretary Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld: My goodness. Thank you.
John, Stephanie, George, congratulations on your awards. They are well earned.
When I walked in John said we’d like you to say a few words, and I looked at this crowd and this wonderful group of people who do so much for our country and how grateful we all are to you and remembered that in the old days we used to have the farewells in the little auditorium over there. I was struck by this wonderful gathering.
I came to pay my respects to George for his service and I was also kind of hoping — I’ve been told that on the Greek National Day he stands in the middle of his bed in what passes for pajamas and sings the Greek national anthem. [Laughter] Now I was hoping to see it. [Applause]
I came to this town in the ’50s. Hugh, I guess you and Dottie and probably Charlie Allen was still in high school I would guess. [Laughter] But you meet a lot of folks over those years, and you meet all kinds and you serve with all kinds and work with all kinds. It’s a wonderful experience. But it’s a particularly good experience to work with one that you’re proud to come and say thank you for his skill, to be sure; his intelligence; his wonderful energy; his unfailing good humor; his seriousness of purpose; and that really is George Tenet.
The job he has done in helping to link the Department of Defense with the intelligence community, which is so important always, but particularly important in a time of war, has been impressive and deeply appreciated by me and by all of those in the Department of Defense.
I think that if I come back in another 25 years for another tour as Secretary of Defense, I hope George Tenet is here as Director of CIA. [Applause]
Mr. McLaughlin: Ladies and gentlemen, now I’d like to ask the great Director of the FBI, Bob Mueller, a good friend of George’s and the CIA, to come up and say a few words. Director Mueller.
Director Mueller: That’s okay, Don. I’ll still be here. Not to worry. [Laughter]
I want to spend a couple of moments talking to, before I talk to George, talking to you in the CIA. I have come to learn in the couple of years that I’ve been at the FBI how much of a family we are. It’s not just the FBI, but all of us who are in this business. I have the opportunity to every other week have a group of individuals in my office and I present them with a small pin indicating 40 years, 35, 30 years of service to the Bureau. It’s much the same here in the CIA.
Our organizations are made up of people. People that sit here, and the people that stand out here. You do just a remarkable job.
I had occasion to reflect a few days ago on the difficulties that you face. I was comparing and contrasting what we do in law enforcement with some of the hurdles that you have to overcome. We in the law enforcement arena gather facts much the same as you do. We gather them within the United States. You gather them overseas.
One of the biggest differences, however, is that we gather those facts and then at a moment of our choosing we render an assessment or a report generally in the form of an indictment. But you don’t have that luxury. You don’t have the luxury of determining the time when you wish to give an assessment. You have to do it on sketchy information with various sourcing, giving a snapshot at any particular time of what you best see from the facts that you have. It is a far more difficult, hazardous practice, and I have a much greater understanding of what you go through now than I certainly did before I took over at the FBI.
With that understanding also thankfully comes an understanding of the magnificent work each of you have done since September 11th. Whether it be in Afghanistan or Iraq, in Pakistan, in Indonesia, or here, much of that work will not be known in the near term or perhaps even the long term of the American public, but we all need to acknowledge the magnificent, magnificent job each of you have done under George’s leadership.
George has provided an example, for those of us who have been in the military, George never was; for those of us who worked hard to trim our bodies, George never has. [Laughter] For those of us who have tried to fit into uniforms, George has never had that experience. But one thing one can say about George is he is the consummate leader. In these times of difficulty and these times of trouble he has been a leader not only of the CIA but across the community, across the administration, and across not just the United States but across the world. I’ll get back to George in a moment.
I wanted to take this time just a moment to also express thanks to Stephanie. Having come to know her over the last couple of years, I’m so appreciative that she would get an award. We are family, and it has not, to understate it, gone unnoticed that she has cared deeply about the Agency since George has been here, and every one of the people in the Agency. I want to reiterate those kind words that were said about you. They’re not enough for what you have contributed as George’s spouse over these years. Thank you so much. [Applause]
To George, I’ll miss you for a variety of reasons. I certainly will miss the [Don are those your choppers? Noise of helicopters in the background]. [Laughter] George, I will certainly miss testifying with you. [Laughter and Applause] We certainly have had numerous occasions to do so over the last couple of years and every one of those occasions has been an experience for me.
I come from a background of being a prosecutor where the most important thing you can do in front of a jury is maintain a poker face, never show an emotion, and the congressional hearing room is much like being in a courtroom. George did not share that background. [Laughter] And he was not content to leave well enough alone. [Laughter] So more often than not there would be a question that would be put to me. George would put his hand over the microphone and come and whisper into my ear and I would think that he was going to help me on the question, and George would say to me, “Bob, have you ever heard such a silly question in your life?” [Applause]
Or this is another one. He turns to me, “Bob, this is ridiculous. I’m walking out. You with me?” [Laughter and Applause]
I came in just before September 11th. George had been here a number of years. He had an established reputation through I would say the higher ranks of the government. Everybody respected his word. I was somewhat new to Washington, certainly new to the Bureau, and absolutely new to the intelligence arena. George well could have taken advantage of my naiveté, my inexperience. He did not. While George is younger, he came to be an older brother to me in terms of how you operate in this town, what’s important. I turned to him for guidance. I turned to him for advice. I turned to him for explanations. And I turned to him for the unification of our two agencies.
Louis Freeh would well have wanted to be here today because he believed as George did, way before my time, that to be successful we have to be one. That our families need to be joined in ways that they have not needed to be joined prior to September 11th. That the distinctions between what happens overseas and what happens domestically are no longer relevant. And he picked up from what he had done with Louis with me, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
There’s one thing that has come with all the times we’ve spent together, ultimately it could not be clearer. That is that George cared about one thing and that was what was best for America, protecting America. That guided him through all his conversations, his talks, his preparation, his help to me, and I cannot thank him enough.
George, I thank you for your guidance, I thank you for your example to service or of service to the American people. I know that’s literally been 24 hours a day for the years that you have been here. I will get back to you in a second, but I want to speak for a moment to John Michael. I don’t want to embarrass John Michael, but I know that previously you mentioned how much John Michael cares to you, and I know John Michael, it’s tremendously important that you are getting your father back, an individual for whom you must be immensely proud. All I ask of you is with your father’s intelligence, your father’s character, your father’s dedication, your mother’s compassion, your mother’s writing ability, you’ll be tremendously successful in your future. And I ask you to follow in your father’s footsteps.
You were there and you know that on April 13, 1999 he was sworn in by Louis Freeh as an Honorary Special Agent of the FBI with badge number 15971. I look to you to follow in your father’s footsteps and I’d like to swear you in as an FBI agent some time down the road. [Laughter and Applause]
God bless you, George; God bless you, Stephanie; and John Michael. Thank you for your service.