Department of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last Friday received a lifetime achievement award for his four decades of public service in U.S. intelligence and national security, making him the 26th recipient to be honored with the William Oliver Baker Award since its establishment in 1985.
The Intelligence and National Security Alliance recognized Gates and his wife, Becky, for their dedication to public service, and presented Gates with the award for exceptional achievement in intelligence and national security.
Gates, a career CIA officer who served as director of the agency from 1991 to 1993, took the opportunity to highlight progress and challenges in the Intelligence Community.
He said one of the most important and encouraging developments is the growing collaboration among intelligence agencies and between intelligence and battlefield operations, primarily from the expanded use of unmanned aerial vehicles. There has been dramatic progress in the number, type and capabilities of UAVs and “commanders in the field have clamored for more because they are ideal for many of the tasks in today’s wars,” he said.
UAVs allow troops “the tremendous advantage” of seeing full-motion, real-time streaming video over a target, including an insurgent planting a roadside bomb, Gates said.
“These systems have been real game-changers, but their potential is just being tapped,” he said.
The secretary spoke about how he as CIA director unsuccessfully tried to get the Air Force to invest in the UAV systems in the early 1990s. However, as secretary of defense, Gates said he has “a bit more say in what the military buys.”
“Today, we are pushing out as many UAVs as industry can produce,” he said. “The Air Force is now training more pilots to fly unmanned systems than to fly fighters and bombers.”
Speaking about the challenges in the Intelligence Community, Gates mentioned using UAVs and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to their full potential, and ensuring that critical information reaches the widest appropriate audience.
Despite improvements at the tactical and operations levels, Gates said he remains concerned about the quality of U.S. intelligence at the political and strategic level.
“Knowing what other governments are capable of and, more importantly, what they intend, has always been a serious challenge for American intelligence, and it will remain so,” he said.