Director says global threats necessitate CIA existence
Jeremy Dickie, The Oklahoma Daily
Considering the enormity of threats to American lives from around the world, the CIA must exist in a constant state of adaptation in order to effectively prevent or thwart attacks, said Leon Panetta, CIA director.
Speaking to a large crowd Monday during his visit to OU, Panetta described the CIA’s primary mission of “keeping America safe.”
Panetta outlined five broad threats: counter-terrorism, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, counter proliferation, cyber threats and climate change.
On counter-terrorism, the director detailed the danger stemming from al-Qaida. Panetta said the terrorist organization remains the “most urgent threat of our time.”
He discussed current U.S. efforts in the foreign theater, citing the CIA’s successful elimination of more than half of al-Qaida’s top 20 leaders. At home, however, the director warned of the threat imposed by trained individuals deployed by al-Qaida to attack our infrastructure. In this as well, the CIA has made progress – arresting four such operatives last year – but Panetta said he remains apprehensive about the future, which could bring new individuals with “clean credentials” and no history of terrorist activity.
Moving to the topic of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Panetta emphasized the goal of the U.S. and its NATO partners was to “degrade the Taliban” in order to allow the Afghan people to govern themselves freely.
The question that most concerned him was whether the U.S. would be able to ultimately transfer power to the Afghan people. The answer, Panetta said, lies in whether the Karzai administration will succeed in building effective government, which he defined as the capacity to protect the people “at the provincial level.”
In Iraq, Panetta said, the threat level is a mere shadow of its former self. The director praised the Iraqi people who turned out to vote and support their nation-state in the midst of obvious turmoil.
“As our military presence in Iraq diminishes, our intelligence presence will remain to aid the Iraqi people,” Panetta said.
Proceeding, the director addressed the CIA’s counter-proliferation efforts.
Fighting the spread of deadly weapons is a core issue of the CIA’s duties, especially in light of Osama Bin Laden describing the acquisition of nuclear weapons a “religious duty.”
Panetta discussed his concerns regarding North Korea’s trafficking of nuclear weapons, as well as Iran’s floating of the U.N.’s nuclear policy.
“The greatest difficulty [is] knowing the intent of these countries,” Panetta said.
The director also mentioned the new brand of cyber threats facing the nation.
Quoting Mike McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency and National Intelligence, Panetta warned the audience that “the United States is fighting a cyber way today, and we are losing. It is that simple.”
He said he feared the next Pearl Harbor might be a cyber attack and urged the need to catch up on our cyber security efforts.
Before closing, Panetta also touched on the issue of climate change and the committee he organized to look into potential associated risks, including the effects of rising sea levels and population shift.
The director closed with two take-away messages.
Panetta talked on the heroic value of serving one’s country, as well as the need for “good human resources” – dedicated employees who both represent the supreme diversity of the U.S. as well as possess command of foreign languages.
The second, Panetta said, is the true nature of the American dream.
Panetta recounted a story of asking his Italian immigrant parents why they bothered traveling all the way to America. Their answer was, he recalled: “To give our children a better life.”