NORMAN — Commitment to the U.S. and the drive to protect are more than elements of the job. This passion for safety and security is a part of all Central Intelligence Agency officers’ identities, John Brennan, CIA director, said Wednesday night at the University of Oklahoma President Associate’s Dinner.
Brennan was sworn in as director of the CIA on March 8. Before being named director, Brennan served for four years at the White House as assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.
In that role, he advised the president on counterterrorism strategy and helped coordinate the U.S. government’s approach to homeland security, including its policies for responding to terrorism, cyber attacks, natural disasters and pandemics.
University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren said Brennan has always been sensitive to work within the boundaries of the law and he admires Brennan for working in a field in which successes are never known.
“Your successes are usually never known because you use technology such that your successes must remain secret. Your mistakes are public,” Boren said. “They are very quickly known and you have individual accountability for what you’ve done. You answer to the history books. John represents the best of those working for our country.”
Brennan began his talk by speaking about the profound commitment it takes to serve with the CIA. With more than 30 years in the business, Brennan said few professions have the loyalty that the CIA has.
“While I enjoyed worked in the private sector, something was always missing. (Intelligence work) had become a part of my identity,” he said.
Brennan said CIA officers are a diverse group. Eighty current CIA employees are graduates of OU and Brennan said no officer fits a single profile, but all are intelligent, hard working and committed to their country.
“For more than a dozen years, America has been in war. It was only 15 days after 9/11 that CIA officers put their boots in Afghanistan. CIA officers stand ready to serve, and the need for CIA officers has never been greater.”
Brennan went on to describe several current challenges the CIA faces: counterterrorism, cyber security and hot spots such as Syria.
Counterrorism is more diverse, dispersed and decentralized than in the past, and Brennan said the CIA constantly is at work against corruption and criminal networks to combat the changing face of counterterrorism.
Cyber security is a challenge for the CIA because technology changes so rapidly, Brennan said.
“The world is transforming itself before our eyes. This has profound implications for the way the CIA carries out its mission. Everyone is entrenched in the Internet,” he said.
Syria is one of the hotspot issues the CIA is focused on now, which Brennan said is so complex because of the factors it brings together, including civil war, sectarianism, chemical war, competing interests of the international community and more than 100,000 deaths.
“Meeting these and other challenges requires constant vigilance … We obtain and reveal secrets for the security of the American people and have to make sense of those secrets for policy makers to help them understand trends across the globe,” he said.
Brennan emphasized that while the CIA is not a perfect organization and has made mistakes in the past, many of the shortcomings people may hear about the CIA are not true.
“I caution you against the failings you may hear about the CIA. We do not operate in a vacuum. We’re overseen and carry out actions lawfully,” Brennan said. “Regardless of your political persuasion, your CIA officers are out there working tirelessly on their nation’s behalf. I know you’re in their thoughts, so please keep them in yours.
“We’ll fight to the death that the protesters have the right to protest. Too many mischaracterizations are out there in the media. You will not find a better group of Americans than those who grace the halls of the CIA.”
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