Barack Obama

Announcement of Key Leaders of the National Intelligence Community

Delivered 9 January 2009

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Good morning.

Before I discuss todayís announcement, Iíd like to say a few words about the latest jobs numbers that we received this morning.

Yesterday, I spoke about the need to pass the America Recovery and Reinvestment Plan so that we can jumpstart job creation, invest in our future, and lay a foundation for long-term economic growth. This morning, we received a stark reminder about how urgently action is needed.

524,000 jobs were lost in December across nearly all major American industries. That means that our economy lost jobs in all 12 months of 2008, and that nearly 2.6 million jobs lost last year amount to the single worst year of job loss since World War II. The unemployment rate is now well over 7 percent. In addition, we have 3.4 million people who want full-time work but are only able to get part-time work. Clearly, the situation is dire; it is deteriorating, and it demands urgent and immediate action.

My staff and I have been engaged in a constructive dialogue with members of Congress over the last few days and weeks about my American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan which will save or create 3 million jobs, and make long-term investments in critical areas like energy, health care, and education. We've made good progress in these consultations, and I look forward to working closely with Congress to shape legislation that will work for the American people.

But let me be clear: Todayís job report only underscores the need for us to move with a sense of urgency and common purpose. Behind each and every one of those millions of jobs lost there are workers and families who are counting on us as they struggle to pay the bills or stay in their homes. There are American dreams that are being deferred and that are being denied because of the current economic climate. There is a devastating economic crisis that will become more and more difficult to contain with time. For the sake of our economy and our people, this is the moment to act and to act without delay.

Now Iíd like to say a few words about todayís appointments. Over the past few weeks, Vice President-Elect Biden and I have been working with our national security appointees so that weíre ready to hit the ground running on January 20th. Today, Iím pleased to complete our team by announcing my choices to lead the intelligence community and the CIA.

It's hard to overstate the importance of good intelligence in the 21st century.  When much of our intelligence community was founded, it was focused on one overarching threat: the Soviet Union. Today, we face a world of unconventional challenges -- from the spread of stateless terrorist networks and weapons of mass destruction, to the grave dangers posed by failed states and rogue regimes.

As we learned on 9/11, we are not protected by the distance of an ocean or the ability to deter an enemy. There is no margin for error. To keep our people safe, we must seamlessly collect, analyze, share, and act on information with a sense of urgency. This requires the selfless services of countless patriots, and the skillful management of our 16 intelligence agencies. Good intelligence is not a luxury: It is a necessity.

The men and women of the intelligence community have been on the front lines in this world of new and evolving dangers. They've served in the shadows, saved American lives, advanced our interests, and earned the respect of a grateful nation. There have been sound reforms and many successes to built over the last several years.

But here in Washington, we've also learned some tough lessons. We've learned that to make pragmatic policy choices, we must insist on assessments grounded solely on the facts, and not seek information to suit any ideological agenda. To support those who carry out our intelligence mission, we must give them the resources they need and the clear guidance they deserve. And we know that to be truly secure, we must adhere to our values as vigilantly as we protect our safety -- with no exceptions.

I am confident that Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta are the right leaders to advance the work of our intelligence community. They are public servants with unquestioned integrity, broad experience, strong management skills, and the core pragmatism we need in dangerous times. Together, they will form a team that is uniquely qualified to continue the good work that is being done, while making the changes we need to stay ahead of nimble threats and sustain the trust of the American people.  

Admiral Dennis Blair has seen the diverse uses of intelligence from many different perspectives. Over several decades in uniform, he learned firsthand the necessity of good intelligence for our men and women in uniform. As Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, he developed a deep understanding of the critical importance of Asia, and carried out a major offensive against violent extremists. And as a former NF-- NSC staffer and the first Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support, he is uniquely qualified to bridge -- to build bridges of cooperation among our national security institutions.

As DNI, Dennis will be the leader and manager of our intelligence community. He will have my full support as he develops our capabilities, strengthens information gathering and sharing, enhances cooperation with foreign governments, and provides policymakers with the information we need -- even if itís not always the information that we want. As someone who has handled intelligence as a sailor at -- at sea and strategic thinker in Washington, he will have the expertise and authority to ensure that our 16 intelligence agencies act with unity of effort and of purpose.

Admiral Blairís experience will be exceptionally complemented by Leon Panetta, my choice to be director of the CIA. Leon is one of the finest public servants of our time, and he's committed himself to his country since he put on the uniform of the United States Army. As a Congressman, OMB Director, and White House Chief of Staff, he has unparalleled experience in making the institutions of government work better for the American people. He has handled intelligence daily at the very highest levels, and time and again he has demonstrated sound judgment, grace under fire, and complete integrity.

Let me be clear: In Leon Panetta, the Agency will have a director who has my complete trust and substantial clout. He will be a strong manager and a strong advocate for the CIA. He knows how to focus resources where they are needed, and he has a proven track record of building consensus and working on a bipartisan basis with Congress. I am confident he will strengthen the CIAís capabilities to protect the American people as it continues to adapt to reform our intelligence community.

I will also rely on the talent and expertise of several distinguished public servants with substantial intelligence experience. The current DNI, Mike McConnell, will continue to offer his counsel through my Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. The National Counter-Terrorism Center -- the hub of our efforts to prevent attacks and root out terrorist networks -- will continue to benefit from the leadership of Michael Leiter. And Iím pleased to announce that John Brennan -- a close advisor, CIA veteran, and former leader of the National Counter-Terrorism Center -- will be my Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism, serving with the rank of Assistant to the President. John has the experience, vision, and integrity to advance Americaís security.

The demands on the intelligence community are huge and growing. To have a successful and sustainable national security strategy, I've made clear that we will need to deploy and balance all elements of American power -- our military, diplomacy, homeland security, economic might, and moral suasion. Good intelligence work is necessary to support each of these endeavors.

Right now, there are men and women working around the world to bear this burden. We may never know their names, but we will always honor -- always honor their sacrifice. The task for the team that I've assembled is to guide, support, and integrate their efforts so that we protect our security and safeguard the values that all of us have pledged to uphold.

With that, I would like to give Admiral Blair an opportunity to say a few words.

Admiral Dennis Blair: President-Elect Obama, thank you for this opportunity to carry out this responsibility that you've entrusted me with. Our mission in national security is absolutely clear: timely, accurate, relevant intelligence to those who keep this nation safe, and to you, so that you can make informed national security policy decisions.

And it's an honor to lead the U.S. intelligence services. As you stated so well, Mr. President, the American people do not always know about these thousands of men and women who serve with patriotism, with dedication, but without public recognition. They're outstanding public servants.

And we in that group will -- will perform out duties fully, and capably, and according to law. We will uphold the standards that you articulated, and that the American people have a right to expect. You've made it very clear, sir, that you are best served by hearing different perspectives, and by respectful debate. And the intelligence services will support you with facts, interpretations, assessments, in a straightforward manner. And we will tell you how well we know what we know, and, what we don't know. So I deeply appreciate the opportunity to lead our intelligence services, and if confirmed by the Senate, I look forward to joining the national security team.

And as President-Elect Obama has said, Leon Panetta's achievements have been remarkable. His services at the top level of the Executive Branch and in the Congress combine leadership and wisdom, and in this business we will count on him for both. I could not ask for a better leader of the Central Intelligence Agency, one of the key agencies within our intelligence community. Leon with your skill and background, the skill of professionals on your team, the agency is in superb hands, and so I welcome your counsel and support as together we seek to serve the President.

Thank you.

Leon Panetta: Thank you, Mr. President-Elect for this honor and this opportunity to once again server our great country. Throughout my 40 years in public life, I've had the honor and the privilege of serving this nation in a number of capacities. In recent years, my wife Sylvia and I established the Panetta Institute, whose mission is to inspire young people to lives of public service. Surely, we can now do no less.

Particularly at a time when our national security is threatened, I believe it is important to respond again to this call to duty like so many other brave Americans have done. And it's because of them that I will work tirelessly to defend this nation and to provide you, Mr. President-Elect, with the most accurate and objective intelligence that you need to lead this nation, at a time of great peril but also a time of great opportunity.

The Central Intelligence Agency has a rich and proud history. As you reference, the professionals at CIA serve bravely around the world, many in dangerous places and away from their families, often under cover, sometimes under fire. They are the front line of our defense at a very dangerous time, and they deserve, and will have, my complete confidence and support.

Strong intelligence requires a strong team, and I look forward to working with Admiral Blair, with John Brennan, as well as the other many talented and dedicated men and women of our intelligence community. And I look forward to working with the other members of your Administration, particularly those involved with the national security. And I commit to consulting closely with my former colleagues in the Congress to form the kind of partnership we need, if we're to win the war on terror.

The inscription on the wall at the old headquarters building at Langley quotes Scripture: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."Ļ If confirmed, Mr. President-Elect, I will be honored to lead the men and women of the CIA to seek and speak the truth -- and in so doing, to help preserve this nation's freedom.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

1 John: 8:32

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