Instability Has Become a Hallmark of Our Time

Instability has become a hallmark of our time. The lack of central authority, weak political institutions, and endemic corruption are fueling sectarian tensions, humanitarian disasters, and violent clashes over land, resources, religion, and political power.

Remarks for CIA Director John O. Brennan as Prepared for Delivery at the Navy SEAL Foundation 8th New York City Benefit Dinner. New York, March 3, 2016. Source : CIA.

It is a tremendous privilege for me to speak at such a special event that recognizes and celebrates the dedication, commitment, and sacrifice of those we honor tonight—the members of the U.S. Navy SEALs, the Naval Special Warfare Community, and their families and loved ones.

When I received the invitation to participate in this event from my colleague and friend Admiral Bert Calland, a former Deputy Director of CIA and U.S Navy SEAL, I immediately accepted, as I have long been an ardent admirer of this very special brand of patriots.

john brennan cia official portrait2
John O. Bennan – CIA Official portrait

During my career, I have been most fortunate to have worked closely with some outstanding Americans who prided themselves on their membership within the SEAL community, not only Bert, but also men such as Eric Olsen, Bill McRaven, Bob Harward, Brian Losey, Colin Kilrain, and Alex Krongard.

Each one possessed such tremendous professionalism, integrity, character, courage, and patriotism that I have always associated the U.S. Navy SEALs and the Naval Special Warfare Community as epitomizing what it takes and what it means to wear the uniform of the U.S. military.

At a time when the eyes of the world are on the current and potential political leaders of our country, I dare say that more politicians should have had the opportunity to experience BUDs (Basic Underwater Demolition) training at Coronado Island and the leadership lessons learned throughout a SEAL career.

But it is not just my association with Admirals who happened to be U.S. Navy SEALS that makes me such an advocate and supporter of who you are, and what you do.

I have had the great fortune to have many SEALs join the ranks of the CIA so that they could continue serving the country they so love. And they serve at CIA with great honor, distinction, and bravery.

In the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, we have our Memorial Wall that has emblazoned on it 113 stars, each star representing a CIA officer who paid the last full measure of devotion to our great Nation.

Seventy-three of those heroes had previous military service. And five of the stars that have been chiseled on that wall since 9/11 memorialize the service and the sacrifice of former SEALs who gave their lives for their country and for their fellow Americans while serving at CIA.

Last October, in one of the far off corners of Afghanistan, another CIA officer who had been a Navy SEAL was on patrol with his U.S. special operations partners. As he walked over the rocky terrain, he stepped on an IED, throwing him high into the air and ripping away both of his strong legs at the knees.

When I visited him at Walter Reed Hospital a couple of weeks later, his beautiful wife and daughter were by his side, as they had been throughout his Navy SEAL days, giving him the support, confidence, and love that helped get him through the pain, both physical and emotional.

And also in the room were the same U.S. Special Operations soldiers who were with him on that fateful day and, despite their own injuries, carried him tattered and bleeding from the battlefield, saving his life and bringing him back to the loving arms of his family. He is now learning to walk on his new prosthetic legs and vows to be running by the one year anniversary of his injury in October.

To you, the members and families of the Naval Special Warfare community—SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant–Craft Crewmen, and Naval Special Warfare Support personnel—you are, indeed, a very rare and special breed with whom we at CIA are exceptionally proud and honored to serve.

You define what it means to serve our Nation selflessly.

To serve secretly.
To serve ably and nobly, no matter the odds, no matter the risks, no matter the costs.

Which is why I wish I could tell all of you here this evening that the instability, violence, terrorism, and wars that have wracked so many regions of the world are in decline.

I wish I could tell you that there are now fewer national security challenges on the world stage demanding your talents, your guile, and your courage.

And I sincerely wish that I could tell your spouses, sons, daughters, parents, siblings, and close friends that the deployments of their beloved SEALs will be shorter, that their operations will be less risky, and that the toll taken on the force will be less painful in the years ahead.

But world developments and our Nation’s global responsibilities do not allow me to say such things… least not yet.

As I tell each new class of CIA officers who raise their right hands and take their solemn oath of allegiance to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, our great Nation faces an unprecedented and diverse array of complex and consequential threats to our national security.

Instability has become a hallmark of our time. From North Africa, to the Middle East, to South Asia, governments are struggling to govern their own territory and to meet the basic needs of their people. The lack of central authority, weak political institutions, and endemic corruption are fueling sectarian tensions, humanitarian disasters, and violent clashes over land, resources, religion, and political power.

Among the many features of this volatile new world is the rise of terrorist organizations, whose deadly reach extends far beyond their native lands. As we witnessed last November, members of the so-called Islamic Caliphate were able to carry out devastating attacks on the streets and in the concert halls of Paris, leaving scores dead and injured.

The wanton and horrific acts of violence perpetrated by ISIL in Syria and Iraq and its ominous, budding presence in many other countries around the globe underscore not only the depravity of their cause but also the urgency and importance of our mission to thwart their evil designs and to destroy them.

And we need to do so wherever they hide, plot, and scheme, and we need to act before they are able to carry out their murderous acts in our homeland.

Which is why Navy SEALs and their Naval Special Warfare teammates will remain at the pointy end of the spear for many years to come. When crises arise, your widely acknowledged prowess will lead many to call upon you to undertake dangerous missions in far off lands…rescuing hostages, disrupting pirates, taking down terrorists, or other activities that are simply too secret and too sensitive to mention here tonight.

And I know that during the many long days and weeks and months that you may be on such important and secret missions, it will be the thoughts, images, and love of your families that will carry you through the toughest of times. You will derive great strength, fortitude, and determination from the simple fact that that you are protecting your families, your neighbors, your fellow citizens….our way of life.

And what will give you most comfort is knowing that the generosity of your fellow Americans, represented so well here this evening, will help take care of the needs of your families should something happen to you while you are helping protect the rest of us.

The Foundation’s work is testament to how much your fellow Americans recognize, appreciate, and admire what you do for all of us.

I was born and raised many years ago right across the river in Hudson County, New Jersey. I commuted to Fordham University in the Bronx, experiencing the vibrancy, energy, and freedom of this wonderful city.

At the time, I never dreamed when I was young that I would ever be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to be part of a national security community that is so capable and so determined to do everything it can to keep this great country safe from harm.

It has been an honor to be in your company this evening. May this Nation continue to shower its many blessings on you and your families.

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