Remarks by President Biden Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Central Intelligence Agency
George Bush Center for Intelligence
3:57 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you, thank you, thank you. It’s so good to be back. This is my third time standing before these stars to speak and — in my life in public — my time in public office. And — and it’s a great honor.
I was saying to some of the folks — and Avril has heard me say this before, along with Bill — that I’ve been involved with your agency for — not 75 years, but — (laughs) — but I hate to admit it, 52 years. (Makes the sign of the cross.) (Laughter.) I know it’s hard to say.
At any rate, but, you know, there was a time when there were questions raised about the agency in the so-called Church Committee way back in the early ‘70s. And that’s when they set up intelligence committees in the United States Senate — although I know you doubt that: intelligence in the Senate — but — (laughter) — I’m joking — and the House of Representatives.
And I was appointed to that committee by a great man — straight as an arrow — named Mike Mansfield, the senator from Montana. They called him “Iron Mike.”
And he — I think — I’m not positive, but I think the next-youngest person on the committee was, I think, 28 or 29 years older than I was.
So I’ve been doing — I’ve been watching from that day on and been deeply involved either as a member of the Intelligence Committee or the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee or doing national security issues as Vice President and to today. And you’re an incredible group of people — incredible group of people.
Before I re- — move to my specific remarks I want to talk about today, I’d like to say just a very few words about the horrific, shocking killing of my friend, Japanese Prime Minister Abe.
I became acquainted with him when I was Vice President. I hosted him. He hosted me in Japan. And I just stopped by the Japanese Embassy to see the Ambassador and sign the
consolence [condolence] book — the consol- — consolence [condolence] book for the Japanese people.
I knew him well. We worked together closely for years, and we spoke and consulted with one other when I served as Vice President.
And he — he was deeply committed to strengthening the alliance and friendship between the United States and Japan and pursuing an open and free Indo-Pacific region.
And service to his country and his people was in his bones. Even after he stepped down from public office, his focus on his health, he stayed engaged and he cared deeply. And I hold him in great respect.
This attack was — has had a profound impact on the psyche of the Japanese people. This is — this is a different — a different culture. They’re not used to — as, unfortunately, we are. Here in the United States, we know how deep the wounds of gun violence go for communities that are affected. And this assassination is a tragedy that all the people of Japan are feeling.
Today, I’m keeping his wife and family in my prayers. And the United States is standing in solidarity with our ally Japan with confidence in the strength of Japan’s democracy as they approach their elections on Sunday.
Director Burns, [Deputy] Director Cohen, I’m honored to be here, standing in front of this hallowed wall to honor 75 years of this proud institution and so many faithful public servants.
And Director Haines, thank you for being here today as well. For 75 years, our nation’s intelligence professionals have worked unceasingly and sacrificed willingly to make our country safer. And that’s not hyperbole. That’s a simple, straightforward fact.
And as we celebrate the history of this agency, we will never forget those who have laid down their lives in service to this nation. A hundred and thirty-nine stars behind me — two added just this year — each a patriot whose sacrifice we’re going to always honor and whose legacies live on in each of you as you continue their work.
You know, so often, you have to keep your identities secret, sometimes even in death, that we don’t get the chance to thank you enough for all that you do. You have to keep it secret, so many of you.
You ask for no recognition or personal acclaim, knowing that the quiet bravery of the women and men of this agency echoes loudly around the world — and I assure you it does, around the world — in lives saved, in crises averted, in truths revealed, in decisions of the 75 years of American presidents made better because of the insights you’ve provided. And again, that’s not exaggeration.
In the years between leaving office as Vice President and winning the nomination for President, the thing I missed most — and I mean this sincerely; I was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania — but I missed — you’re going to think I’m nuts, but I missed waking up every morning and getting — seeing the PDB. (Laughter.)
No, seriously. Every single morning except from the time I was 26 years old — 27 years old — I mean 37 years old until I left the vice presidency — every morning, I got up and I knew what was happening around the world and in detail and, in many cases, in sharp relief.
It’s indispensable to me as I face some of the dec- — the difficult decisions to have the best possible information provided by the most capable, reliable intelligence community in the world. And again, not hyperbole, you are clearly the best in the whole world.
It was thanks to the incredible work of our intelligence professionals that we were able to forewarn the world what Vladimir Putin was planning in Ukraine. We saw what he was doing. You saw it — the forces he was amassing, the plans he was making.
Exposing Putin’s playbook punched a gigantic hole in the pretense and discredited his lies about what we were doing in Ukraine.
Without revealing sources and methods, that’s been critical to our ability to rally our Allies and partners around the world — again, not an exaggeration — to keep them united.
I imagine, General, you wondered whether we could. Many thought we — could we keep NATO alive? Could we keep it completely coherent and together?
And, by the way, I’ve spent well over 135 hours doing just that on almost a daily basis. Because Putin counted on — counted on the ability to break up NATO and to break our resolve.
This organization changed dramatically since President Truman signed this into law — the National Security Act of 1947, which created the CIA. Wars have been fought, peace negotiated, new countries formed. Technology has empowered more people, but it also emboldened many to abuse that power that’s our wol- — our world smaller than it’s ever been.
And along the way, you’ve evolved to anticipate and respond to emerging threats from the earliest days of the Cold War to our fight against terrorism, to equipping ourselves for the competition ahead with China and meeting the transnational challenges that are reshaping the world, like emerging technologies, changing climate, and the spread of pandemics. You’re sort of the key to all of it.
Every step — every step, that 16-pointed compass star you walk across every morning when you come to work has guided your path. And a reminder of your ultimate mission: to bring together the intelligence and data from around the world so that those of us who direct American foreign policy can do everything in our power — everything in our power to keep the American people safe, because that’s what it’s all about.
We turn to you with the big questions, the hardest questions. And we count on you to give your best, unvarnished assessment of where we are. And I emphasize “unvarnished.” That doesn’t mean I expect to always get it 100 percent right. But it does mean that I expect you to tell me the truth no matter what. No matter what.
I expect each of you to honor the democratic values and ideals that form the core of our nation’s strength.
We’re the most unique nation in the history of the world. That’s not hyperbole. We’re the only nation in the world based on an idea — not ethnicity, not geography, not religion. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” We’ve never lived up to it, but we’ve never walked away from it.
And one of the ways to guarantee that doesn’t happen is the unvarnished truth.
Because, in this week when we celebrate our nation’s independence, we remember that America is strongest when we lead not just by the example of our power, but the power of our example. That’s why most nations follow us: the power of our example.
And, folks, although much of your work you do is going to remain unseen by necessity to protect you and your families and to safeguard the sources and methods, where possible we have to seek to balance secrecy with transparency, to shine a light on atrocities, and prevent plots or threats or acts of aggression before they happen. Because the greatest value of our intelligence collection is the good we do with it.
As we celebrate 75 years of this agency, I know you’re also honoring the trailblazers who helped make this institution what it is — the women and the men who changed the game or set the standard for intelligence profession.
You know, it’s an important reminder, just like these stars behind me — that’s what sets this agency apart — has always been — what sets you apart are the people. That’s what sets you apart.
And just like the work of every part of our government, our intelligence is more robust when we tap the full strength of our diversity as a nation.
When I first stood here, years ago, I looked out, there weren’t nearly as much diversity as there is today — women, people of color, men.
You know, that’s something “Wild Bill” Donovan knew when he created the Office of Strategic Services to collect intelligence to help us win World War Two.
And if diversity was essential to intelligence work in the ‘40s, its mission is critical today. If everyone brings the same ideas, the same experiences, the same skillsets to work, it will leave some pretty big blind spots in our security.
I also know that your work can be incredibly demanding. For the last 20 years, we’ve asked you to keep a relentless pace, serving in the face of physical dangers and daunting challenges.
So let me just close by saying: Your health — your physical health and wellbeing are critically important to me and to your leadership here at the CIA. And as your President and your number-one consumer of your work, I have the greatest respect for you and for the sacrifices you and your families make for the country. Not just you.
There’s an expression —
Keats [Milton] said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Think of your families, all the sacrifices they’ve made.
I know that you will continue to honor and uphold the highest traditions of the CIA and the highest values of this nation for the next 75 years and beyond. You will continue to serve as the bedrock of our national security as well as our national strength.
So, thank you for all that you do. May God protect you all and the work that keeps this nation safe from harm. And may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)
4:11 P.M. EDT