What President Obama told a grieving CIA
On Dec. 30, seven operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency were killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.
Today, both President Obama and CIA Director Leon Panetta spoke at a closed memorial service at the agency's Virginia headquarters. Seven new stars are added to the CIA's Memorial Wall.
THE PRESIDENT: America’s intelligence agencies are a community, and the CIA is a family. That is how we gather here today. I speak as a grateful Commander-in-Chief who relies on you. There are members of Congress here who support you. Leaders -- Leon Panetta, Steve Kappes -- who guide you. And most of all, family, friends and colleagues who love you and grieve with you.
For more than 60 years, the security of our nation has demanded that the work of this agency remain largely unknown. But today, our gratitude as citizens demands that we speak of seven American patriots who loved their country and gave their lives to defend it:
They came from different corners of our country -- men and women -- and each walked their own path to that rugged base in the mountains. Some had come to this work after a lifetime of protecting others -- in law enforcement, in the military; one was just a few years out of college.
Some had devoted years, decades, even, to unraveling the dark web of terrorists that....
...threatened us; others, like so many of you, joined these ranks when 9/11 called a new generation to service. Some had spent years on dangerous tours around the globe; others had just arrived in harm’s way.
But there, at the remote outpost, they were bound by a common spirit. They heard their country’s call and answered it. They served in the shadows and took pride in it. They were doing their job and they loved it. They saw the danger and accepted it. They knew that the price of freedom is high and, in an awful instant, they paid that price.
There are no words that can ease the ache in your hearts. But to their colleagues and all who served with them -- those here today, those still recovering, those watching around the world -- I say: Let their sacrifice be a summons. To carry on their work. To complete this mission. To win this war, and to keep our country safe.
To their parents -- it is against the natural order of life for parents to lay their children to rest. Yet these weeks of solemn tribute have revealed for all to see -- that you raised remarkable sons and daughters. Everything you instilled in them -- the virtues of service and decency and duty -- were on display that December day. That is what you gave them. That is what you gave to America. And our nation will be forever in your debt.
To the spouses -- your husbands and wives raised their hand and took an oath to protect and defend the country that they loved. They fulfilled that oath with their life. But they also took your hand and made a vow to you. And that bond of love endures, from this world to the next. Amidst grief that is sometimes unbearable, may you find some comfort in our vow to you -- that this agency, and this country, will stand with you and support you always.
And to the beautiful children -- I know that this must be so hard and confusing, but please always remember this. It wasn’t always easy for your mom or dad to leave home. But they went to another country to defend our country. And they gave their lives to protect yours. And as you grow, the best way to keep their memory alive and the highest tribute you can pay to them is to live as they lived, with honor and dignity and integrity.
They served in secrecy, but today every American can see their legacy. For the record of their service -- and of this generation of intelligence professionals -- is written all around us. It’s written in the extremists who no longer threaten our country -- because you eliminated them. It’s written in the attacks that never occurred -- because you thwarted them. And it’s written in the Americans, across this country and around the world, who are alive today -- because you saved them.
And should anyone here ever wonder whether your fellow citizens truly appreciate that service, you need only remember the extraordinary tributes of recent weeks: the thousands of Americans who have sat down at their computers and posted messages to seven heroes they never knew; in the outpouring of generosity to the memorial foundation that will help support these proud families.
And along a funeral procession in Massachusetts, in the freezing cold, mile after mile, friends and total strangers paying their respects, small children holding signs saying “thank you.” And a woman holding up a large American flag because, she said simply, “He died for me and my family.”
As a nation, we pledge to be there for you and your families. We need you more than ever. In an ever-changing world where new dangers emerge suddenly, we need you to be one step ahead of nimble adversaries. In this information age, we need you to sift through vast universes of data to find intelligence that can be acted upon swiftly. And in an era of technology and unmanned systems, we still need men and women like these seven -- professionals of skill and talent and courage who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation.
Because of them, because of you, a child born in America today is welcomed into a country that is proud and confident, strong and hopeful -- just as Molly Roberson welcomed her daughter Piper this week, both of whom join us today. Piper will never know her dad, Scott. But thanks to Molly, she will know what her father stood for -- a man who served his country, who did his duty, and who gave his life to keep her safe.
And on some distant day, years from now, when she is grown, if Piper -- or any of these children -- seeks to understand for themselves, they’ll need only come here -- to Langley, through these doors, and stand before that proud Memorial Wall that honors the fallen.
And perhaps they’ll run their fingers over the stars that recall their parent’s service. Perhaps they’ll walk over to that Book of Honor, turn the pages, and see their parent’s names. And at that moment of quiet reflection, they will see what we all know today -- that our nation is blessed to have men and women such as these. That we are humbled by their service, that we give thanks for every day that you keep us safe.
May God bless these seven patriots, may he watch over their families. And may God bless the United States of America. ###
Mr. President, Honored Guests, my colleagues from the CIA, Ladies and Gentlemen: Today we come together to honor seven courageous men and women. And to their loved ones, we come together to offer our comfort, our support, and our lasting gratitude.
As Director, I have never had a more difficult duty than to bid farewell to colleagues taken from us. From Dover, to the family services, to this memorial, it is tough to say good-bye. Within this Agency, they were more than co-workers or friends—they were part of our family. And as family, even knowing that God has a plan for each human life, it’s hard to accept the sudden loss of so many good and decent people.
Thank you, Mr. President, for being here–you honor us with your presence, and I thank you. Thank you, Madam Speaker—you also honor us with your presence. We are also joined this morning by many senior officials—from the Intelligence Community, the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, and many other places. You, too, are part of our family, because the responsibility to protect and defend the nation belongs to all of us. On behalf of the entire Agency, I thank you for your support, both public and private, during these difficult days. Your presence here is important to all of us.
The deepest grief, of course, is felt by those who knew our officers best and who loved them most—who called them husband and wife, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother.
Despite the pain and the grief, the families of our fallen have been pillars of strength. As tragic as this event has been, you are our inspiration. Thank you for sharing with us your loved ones—these extraordinary people. All they are and all they achieved is because of you. We simply cannot do these jobs—we can’t do these jobs—without the love and support of our families. We are forever grateful for the support and for the love. We are forever grateful for the sacrifices all of you made as they faithfully served our nation. We are honored to have you as part of the CIA family because, in a very real way, your love is what made them patriots. They gave their lives because they loved you—and they wanted all of us, and all of you—to have a safer nation.
Six decades ago, Adlai Stevenson famously described patriotism as “the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” What he said next was equally important, and I quote: “These are words that are easy to utter. But this is a mighty assignment. For it is easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.”
The men and women we remember today are genuine patriots. They took on that mighty assignment. They not only fought for this nation, they lived up to our highest principles. They understood that America is more than a place. It is the keeper of our ideal—that all people deserve to live in freedom and without fear.
Devotion to that ideal brought our colleagues to Khowst, that little known outpost in Afghanistan. Like others before them, they stepped forward to perform a very dangerous, but essential, mission. They collected intelligence—which was what they were trained to do—that simply cannot be obtained anywhere else. With courage and skill, they worked to defeat the most urgent threat of our time. And as they worked to protect lives, they sacrificed their own. For this, we honor them—now and always.
These remarkable men and women are the story of America. They are the heart and soul of this great country. Their devotion to duty is the foundation of our country. Throughout history, our nation’s strength has rested on the service and the sacrifice of individual Americans—brave warriors who believed that the life of the nation was worth their own lives. The officers killed and wounded on December 30th upheld that enduring truth.
In silent service to our country, they accepted great risks, and they bore heavy burdens. They can rest now in the knowledge that they did their duty: They helped to keep our nation safe.
In their name and in their honor, the men and women of CIA will carry on their noble mission. Each of their stars—stars that we see here—will be emblazoned on our Memorial Wall, and will forever be a reminder of their sacrifice—and will forever be an inspiration to carry on their mission. For this Agency—by virtue of its purpose and its people—we find strength in adversity. We are on the front lines. We will carry this fight to the enemy. Our resolve is unbroken, our energy undiminished, and our dedication to each other and to our nation, unshakable. ####Photo: Associated Press