of Defense and CIA Director
[White House Transcript]
1:15 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon,
Please have a seat. As President and Commander-in-Chief, my most
solemn obligation is the security of the American people. Over
past four years, we’ve met that responsibility by ending
the war in Iraq, and beginning a transition in Afghanistan; by
decimating the al Qaeda core and taking out Osama bin Laden; by
disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.
Among an outstanding
national security team, I am especially grateful to Leon Panetta, who
has led the CIA and our military with incredible skill. Leon,
nearly five decades of service, you have more than
earned the right to return to civilian life. I’ll have much more
say about Leon’s distinguished service in the days ahead. Today,
simply want to convey both to you and to Sylvia the eternal gratitude
of the entire nation. Thank you so much, Leon.
I also want to thank
Michael Morell, who has earned the admiration of all of us who’ve
worked with him across government and here in the White House. In
moments of transition, he’s guided the CIA with a steady
hand as Acting Director -- not once, but twice. And he is a
professional. As I said, everybody in the White House who works
him, everybody across agencies who works with him considers him truly
to be one of our most outstanding national security
team members. And so, Michael, on behalf of all of us, thank you
Mary Beth for your continued
As these leaders know,
the work of protecting our nation is never done, and we’ve still got
much to do: Ending the war in Afghanistan and caring for those
have borne the battle; preparing for the full range
of threats, from the unconventional to the conventional, including
things like cyber security; and within our military, continuing to
ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they
love, no matter who they love.
To help meet the
challenges of our time, I’m proud to announce my choice for two key
members of my national security team -- Chuck Hagel for Secretary of
Defense and John Brennan for Director of the Central Intelligence
Chuck Hagel is the
leader that our troops deserve. He is an American patriot.
enlisted in the Army and volunteered for Vietnam. As a young
and then a sergeant, he served with honor, alongside his
own brother. When Chuck was hit by shrapnel, his brother saved
When his brother was injured by a mine, Chuck risked his life to pull
him to safety. To this day, Chuck bears the scars -- and the
-- from the battles he fought in our name.
leadership of our military would be historic. He’d be the first
of enlisted rank to serve as Secretary of Defense, one of the few
secretaries who have been wounded in war, and the first Vietnam
veteran to lead the department. As I saw during our visits
Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat
veteran of character and strength. They see one of their own.
Chuck is a champion of
our troops and our veterans and our military families. As a
the VA, he fought to give our veterans the benefits they
head of the USO, he devoted himself to caring
for our troops. Having studied under the GI Bill himself, he
lead the fight for the Post-9/11 GI Bill so today’s returning heroes
can get their education, too. Having co-chaired my Intelligence
Advisory Board, he knows that our armed forces collect,
analyze, and depend on good intelligence.
And Chuck recognizes
that American leadership is indispensable in a dangerous world. I
this in our travels together across the Middle East. He
that America stands strongest when we stand with allies
and with friends. As a successful businessman, he also knows that
as we make tough fiscal choices, we have to do so wisely, guided by our
strategy, and keep our military the strongest fighting force the world
has ever known.
importantly, Chuck knows that war is not an abstraction. He
understands that sending young Americans to fight and bleed in the dirt
and mud, that’s something we only do when it’s absolutely
“My frame of reference,” he has said, is “geared towards the guy at the
bottom who’s doing the fighting and the dying.” With Chuck, our
will always know, just like Sergeant Hagel was there for his own
brother, Secretary Hagel will be there for you.
And finally, Chuck
represents the bipartisan tradition that we need more of in
Washington. For his independence and commitment to consensus,
earned the respect of national security and military leaders,
and Democrats -- including me. In the Senate, I came to admire
courage and his judgment, his willingness to speak his mind -- even if
it wasn’t popular, even if it defied the conventional wisdom.
And that’s exactly the
spirit I want on my national security team -- a recognition that when
it comes to the defense of our country, we are not Democrats or
Republicans; we are Americans. Each of us has a responsibility,
Chuck has said, to be guided not by the interest of our party or our
President even, but by “the interests of our country.”
So, Chuck, I thank you and Lilibet for agreeing to serve once more in
the interests of our country.
Now, when I’m on the
subject of patriots, let me say a few words about John Brennan.
John Brennan, the men and women of the CIA will have the leadership of
one of our nation’s most skilled and respected intelligence
professionals -- not to mention that unique combination of smarts and
strength that he claims comes from growing up in New Jersey.
A 25-year veteran of
the CIA, John knows what our national security demands -- intelligence
that provides policymakers with the facts, strong analytic insights,
and a keen understanding of a dynamic world. Given
his extensive experience and travels -- which include, by the way,
traveling through the Arabian Peninsula where he camped with tribesmen
in the desert -- John has an invaluable perspective on the forces --
the history, the culture, the politics, economics,
the desire for human dignity driving so much of the changes in today’s
Having held senior
management, analytic, and operational positions at the agency, John is
committed to investing in the range of intelligence capabilities we
need -- technical and human. He literally built -- and
then led -- the National Counterterrorism Center. And he knows
risks that our intelligence professionals face every day. John
lost colleagues and friends -- heroes whose stars now grace that
memorial wall at Langley.
For the last four
years, as my Advisor for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, John
developed and has overseen our comprehensive counterterrorism strategy
-- a collaborative effort across the government, including
intelligence and defense and homeland security, and law enforcement
And so think about the
results. More al Qaeda leaders and commanders have been removed
the battlefield than at any time since 9/11. Their
recruiting, training, finances are all under enormous
strain -- all of which makes it harder to plan and carry out
large-scale attacks against our homeland. And our entire team,
including our exceptional Director of National Intelligence, Jim
Clapper, will remain relentless against al Qaeda and its
In all this work, John
has been tireless. People here in the White House work
hard. But John
is legendary, even in the White House, for working hard.
He is one of the hardest-working public servants
I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure he’s slept in four years.
When I was on Martha’s Vineyard, John came and did the press briefing
-- this is in summer, it’s August, he’s in full suit and tie. And
of the reporters asked him, don’t you ever get
any down time? And John said, “I don’t do down time.”
He’s not even smiling now. (Laughter.)
There’s another reason
I value John so much, and that is his integrity and his commitment to
the values that define us as Americans. He has worked to embed
efforts in a strong legal framework. He understands
we are a nation of laws. In moments of debate and decision, he
the tough question and he insists on high and rigorous standards.
and again, he’s spoken to the American people about our
counterterrorism policies because he recognizes we have a
to be [as] open and transparent as possible.
And so, John, you’ve
been one of my closest advisors. You’ve been a great
friend. I am
deeply grateful for your extraordinary service. I’m even more
for Kathy’s willingness to put up with you. And I’m
grateful to both of you for your willingness to take this
Today, I can say to
the men and women of the CIA: In Director John Brennan you will
one of your own; a leader who knows you; who cares for you, deeply; and
who will fight for you every single day. And you’ll
have a leader who has my complete confidence and my complete
As I said, the work of
defending our nation is never done. My number-one criteria in
these decisions was simple -- who is going to do the best job in
securing America. These two leaders have dedicated their
lives to protecting our country. I’m confident they will do an
outstanding job. I urge the Senate to confirm them as soon as
so we can keep our nation secure and the American people safe.
And so, Chuck and John -- congratulations.
And with that, I want to invite each of these leaders on stage to say a
few words, starting with Mr. Leon Panetta.
First of all, let me express my deepest gratitude to the President for
giving me the honor and the privilege of serving in your administration
these last four years as Director of the CIA and
now as Secretary of Defense. I have been extremely proud to be
your national security team, Mr. President, and to be proud of what it
has accomplished in your first term.
Looking ahead to the
second term, I want to commend President Obama on his decision to
nominate Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of the Defense. And
also add, as former Director of the CIA, to commend the
President for his choice of John Brennan. I have had the
to work with John on counterterrorism issues these last four
knows the CIA. He will be a strong leader of that great
I've also known Chuck
for a long period of time as well, and I had the opportunity to work
with him closely -- particularly in his capacity as Chairman of the
President's Intelligence Advisory Board. I greatly
appreciate the work he has done to strengthen our intelligence
enterprise. It has been extremely important to our ability to
our intelligence capabilities. And as Secretary of Defense, I
benefited from his work when he served on our Defense
Chuck Hagel is a
patriot, he's a decorated combat veteran, and he is a dedicated public
servant. I believe his experience, his judgment, his deep
understanding of the security issues facing this country make him
the right choice to be Secretary of Defense.
As for me, after close
to 50 years of serving the American people -- began in 1964 when I
served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army, and then in
both the legislative and executive branch positions in
Washington -- the time has come for me to return to my wife Sylvia, our
three sons, their families, our six grandchildren, and my walnut farm
-- (laughter) -- dealing with a different set of nuts.
I want to deeply thank
my family for giving me the fullest measure of love and support during
my many absences from home throughout my long career in public
service. But I will leave Washington with a very deep
sense of pride in what we have accomplished during these last four
years being on the President's national security team.
As both Director of
the CIA and as Secretary of Defense, I have always believed that our
fundamental mission is to keep America safe, to keep America
And because of the outstanding dedication of our intelligence
and military professionals, America is safer and more secure than it
was four years ago, and we have reached a turning point after more than
a decade of war.
And on that, as we’ve reached that turning
point, we’ve developed a new defense strategy for the 21st
have, with John’s leadership, decimated al Qaeda’s leadership and
weakened their effort to attack this country. We
have brought wars in Iraq and we will bring the war in Afghanistan to
an honorable conclusion. We’ve opened up opportunities for all
Americans to serve in our military. And we continue to strongly
support our forces, their families, and our wounded warriors.
These are some of the achievements that I am proud of.
Let me close by expressing my profound
gratitude to the outstanding team of military and civilian staff and
leaders that I’ve had the honor to serve with at the Department of
Defense and at the White House. In particular, let me deeply
thank the outstanding men and women in uniform, who I’ve had the
privilege to serve and to lead, those who put their lives on the line
every day on distant battlefields for this country. Their
teach us that freedom is not free; a strong democracy
depends on a strong defense. But you can also not have a strong
stable defense without a strong and stable democracy.
As we continue to confront strategic
challenges and fiscal austerity, my hope for the future is that the
sense of duty our servicemembers and their families exhibit every day
inspires the leaders of this nation to have the courage
to do what is right, to achieve the American Dream, to give our
children a better life, and to build a more secure future.
SENATOR HAGEL: Thank you, Mr.
I’m honored by your trust and your confidence in me, and not unmindful
of the immense responsibilities that go with it. I want to also
acknowledge my wife, Lilibet; my daughter, Allyn; and
our son, Ziller, who is in Chicago today, we hope, back attending his
first day of classes at DePaul University. (Laughter.)
And to my friend, Leon
Panetta, thank you for your extraordinary service to our country over
so many years in so many capacities. You are one of the premier
servants of our time. To follow you at the Department
of Defense will be a most challenging task, but I will try to live up
to the standards that you, Bob Gates and others have set for this job
and this nation.
Let me also express my deep appreciation and
congratulations to my friend, John Brennan, and to also acknowledge the
President's confidence and trust in John Brennan. Thank you,
your service and what you will continue to
do for our country. To Mike Morell -- who I have gotten to know
the years not just serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but
also, as the President has noted, the privilege of co-chairing the
President's Intelligence Advisory Board with former
Senator Dave Boren -- thank you, Mike, for your continued service.
Mr. President, I am grateful for this
opportunity to serve our country again and especially its men and women
in uniform and their families. These are people who give so much
this nation every day with such dignity and selflessness.
This is particularly important at a time as we complete our mission in
Afghanistan and support the troops and military families who have
sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war.
I'm also grateful for an opportunity to help
continue to strengthen our country and strengthen our country's
alliances, and advance global freedom, decency, and humanity as we help
build a better world for all mankind. I will always
do my best. I will do my best for our country, for those I
at the Pentagon, and for all our citizens. And, Mr. President, I
always give you my honest and most informed counsel. Thank you
ACTING DIRECTOR MORELL: Mr. President,
you for your very kind remarks, and thank you for the trust that you
placed in me when you asked me to be Acting Director twice.
I have had the honor
of knowing and working with John Brennan for the last 20 years.
have worked particularly closely the last three years. John
a intelligence professional with deep experience in
our business, a public servant with extraordinary dedication, and a man
of deep integrity. With Senate confirmation, I know that he will
outstanding Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
As the President noted, John started his career at CIA and spent nearly
a quarter century. So this is a homecoming for John.
John, on behalf of the talented and dedicated men and women of CIA, it
is my deep honor to say, welcome home.
MR. BRENNAN: Mr. President, it is indeed
tremendous honor to be nominated to be the Director of the Central
Intelligence Agency. The women and men of the CIA are among the
dedicated, courageous, selfless and hardworking individuals
who have ever served this country. At great personal risk and
sacrifice, they have made countless invaluable contributions to our
national security and to the safety and security of all
Most times, their successes will never be known outside the
hallowed halls of Langley and the Oval Office.
Leading the agency in which I served for 25
years would be the greatest privilege as well as the greatest
responsibility of my professional life. Mr. President, I want to
you for your confidence in me, but even more for your
confidence and constant support to the CIA and to those who serve in
the intelligence community. They need and deserve the support of
of their fellow Americans, especially at a time of such tremendous
national security challenges.
If confirmed as Director, I will make it my
mission to ensure that the CIA has the tools it needs to keep our
nation safe, and that its work always reflects the liberties, the
freedoms and the values that we hold so dear.
I’m especially proud to stand here today with
such patriots as Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Michael Morell. It
a tremendous honor to serve with Leon over the past four years, and I
very much look forward to the opportunity and
privilege to serve with another of America’s great patriots, Chuck
And I am especially
proud and touched to be able to stand here today with my close friend
and colleague, Michael Morell, who epitomizes what it means to be an
intelligence professional. Michael’s leadership at
the CIA, as well as his 32-year career, has been nothing short of
exemplary. Michael, I very much look forward to working with you
the weeks, months, and years ahead.
And I also look
forward to working with Congress, as our national security rests on the
ability of the executive and legislative branches of our government to
work as a team. While the intelligence profession oftentimes
demands secrecy, it is critically important that there be a full and
open discourse on intelligence matters with the appropriate elected
representatives of the American people. Although I consider
neither a Republican nor a Democrat, I very much look
forward to working closely with those on both sides of the aisle.
Finally, and most
importantly, to my wife Kathy; to my children Kyle, Jaclyn, Kelly; to
my parents in New Jersey, a shout-out -- (laughter) -- Owen, who is 92
and my mom, Dorothy, who is 91; my brother Tom and my
sister Kathleen and my Jersey roots: I could not be where I am
without their love, their patience, their understanding and their
support. And there is no way that I can ever repay that, except
I think I’m going to need it for a little bit longer.
So again, Mr.
President, I am deeply grateful for this opportunity. It will be
bittersweet to leave all of my close colleagues and friends here at the
White House and at the national security staff, who I have
come to work with and respect so deeply over the last four years.
But if confirmed by
the Senate, I will consider it to be the honor of my life to serve as
the 21st Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
THE PRESIDENT: Well,
these are four outstanding individuals. We are grateful to all of
them. I want, in particular, to thank Mike Morell and Leon
their extraordinary service. And I just want to repeat,
I hope that the Senate will act on these confirmations promptly.
it comes to national security, we don’t like to leave a lot of gaps
between the time that one set of leaders transitions out and another
transitions in. So we need to get moving quickly
The final point I will
make: One of the reasons that I am so confident that Chuck Hagel
going to be an outstanding Secretary of Defense and John Brennan is
going to be an outstanding Director of the Central
Intelligence Agency is they understand that we are only successful
because of the folks up and down the line in these respective
institutions -- the folks on the ground who are oftentimes putting
their lives at risk for us, and are oftentimes at great remove
from Washington and its politics.
To have those who have
been in the field, who have been in the heat of battle, who understand
the consequences of decisions that we make in this town and how it has
an impact and ramifications for everybody who
actually has to execute our national security strategies, that’s
something invaluable. It will provide me the kinds of insights
need in making very difficult decisions, but it will also mean that
these folks are going to be looking out for the people
who work for them. And that’s something that, I think, in these
leadership positions is absolutely critical.
So I’m looking forward to working with these two gentlemen. They
are going to be outstanding.
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)