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Retirement Ceremony for General Keith Alexander

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Fort Meade, MD, Friday, March 28, 2014

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

To my distinguished colleagues, whom I have the honor of sitting with here on this platform this afternoon, to members of Congress who are here, today, we thank and we honor the extraordinary service of General Keith Alexander. We also thank his family: Debbie, Jennifer, Julie, Diana, and Heather, and their hundreds and hundreds of grandchildren.

We thank you all for your tremendous support of Keith over many years, and your tremendous sacrifice to our country.  Thank you.

Keith, our country thanks you for your extraordinary 40 years of service and your West Point classmate, Marty Dempsey, will have something to say about you a little later.

He may not be as kind.

As we end an era at the “Fort,” I want to say a few words to the men and women of the National Security Agency, because today, we also honor you, America's silent sentries.

Given your skills and your training, many of you have left or turned down far more lucrative positions to work here. A 75 percent pay cut is hardly unheard of.

Thousands of you have undertaken multiple, voluntary deployments to combat zones, and your contributions have been decisive. They have made a difference. You enabled the military to dramatically reduce casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan by helping disable improvised explosive devices, and provided critical intelligence that helped hunt down the world's most notorious terrorists.

Closer to home, your support to U.S. and Mexican authorities has helped combat the violence associated with the ongoing struggle against drug cartels operating near the U.S.-Mexican border.

There is much more that we just simply can't discuss in public. But we can say this: from the Battle of Midway to the age of terror, our nation's history would read far differently were it not for the NSA and its predecessors.

As the longest-serving Director of NSA, General Alexander has led this agency through countless intelligence breakthrough and successes. He's also led NSA through one of the most challenging periods in its history, in our history. And he did so with a fierce, but necessary determination to develop and protect tools vital to our national security.

President Obama's reforms, including his announcement yesterday on government retention of telephone metadata, reflect both the importance, the importance of signals intelligence—and the importance of honoring our nation's tradition of privacy rights.

We will continue to engage in a more open dialogue with the American public, as Admiral Rogers emphasized a few weeks ago during his Senate hearing to succeed General Alexander.  That is the spirit of today's first-ever live broadcast from the headquarters of NSA in CYBERCOM.

But we will sustain our investments in intelligence be because it's one of our most important national assets, because it keeps our troops a step ahead on the battlefield, and because America depends on it.

We also are protecting critical investments in our military's cyber capabilities, which have been anchored by General Alexander's vision for CYBERCOM.

The first email was sent on the DOD supported ARPANET when Keith was at West Point, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Today more than 40 trillion emails are sent each year. There are 60 trillion web pages. The internet accounts for one-fifth of GDP growth among developed countries, and it continues to connect, improve, and transform the lives of billions of people all over the world.

But our nation's reliance on cyberspace outpaces our cybersecurity. During the course of my remarks today, DOD's systems will have been scanned by adversaries around 50,000 times.  Our nation confronts the proliferation of destructive malware and a new reality of steady, ongoing and aggressive efforts to probe, access or disrupt public and private networks, and the industrial control systems that manage our water and our energy and our food supplies.

The United States Government and the private sector grasp cyber threats far better than we did just a few years ago. And thanks to General Alexander's visionary leadership as the first commander of U.S. Cyber Command, the Department of Defense is on its way to building a modern cyber force of really true and tremendous professionals.

And this force is enhancing our ability to deter aggression in cyber space, deny adversaries their objectives, and defend the nation from cyber attacks that threaten our national security.

Even though we can respond to cyber attacks in any domain, this force is expanding the president's options with full-spectrum cyber capabilities that can complement other military assets.

Our military's first responsibility is to prevent and de-escalate conflict and that is DOD's overriding purpose in cyberspace as well. General Alexander has helped leaders across DOD recognize that cyberspace will be a part of all future conflicts. And if we don't adapt to that reality, our national security will be at great risk.

The United States does not seek to militarize cyberspace. Instead, our government is promoting the very qualities of the internet in integrity, reliability, and openness that have made it a catalyst for freedom and prosperity in the United States and around the world.

Consistent with these efforts, DOD will maintain an approach of restraint to any cyber operations outside the U.S. Government networks. We are urging other nations to do the same.

We will continue to take steps to be open and transparent about our cyber capabilities, our doctrine, and our forces with the American people, our allies and our partners, and even our competitors.

DOD's initiatives in cyberspace are managed by the professionals that General Alexander has been recruiting and training here at Cyber Command. In 2016, that force should number over 6,000 professionals who, with the close support of NSA, will be integrated with our combatant commands around the world, and defend the United States against major cyber attacks.  Continuing General Alexander's work to build this cyber force will remain one of DOD's top priorities.

To accomplish this goal, we are recruiting talent from everywhere.  But we're also encouraging people already here in the military, in DOD, to develop...cyber skills.

When I was here last year, I had the privilege of meeting dozens of people, many in this room, including Petty Officer First Class Chase Hardison. Chase Hardison is an Interactive Operator at CYBERCOM. Four years ago when Petty Officer Hardison was a Machinist’s Mate tending turbines, generators, and valves on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, he had a conversation with his wife about his future in the Navy, and he decided to sign up for a cyber course in Pensacola.

Petty Officer Hardison grew up in a town without high-speed Internet access, but he went on to graduate second in his class at Pensacola, missing first by only 4/100ths of a point. For now, he's focused on his seven-month-old son Noah, and his making his way up to journeyman and then master operator. But he also knows he'll have great options and opportunities when he's ready to leave the Navy.

To continue recruiting and retaining talent like Petty Officer Hardison, we must build rewarding, long-term cyber career paths. Our military must enable our people to reinvent themselves for life and beyond their service. That's a proud tradition of our armed forces. It is also how we shape a modern, cutting edge military that outmatches the most advanced adversaries. It's how we stay ahead. It's how we protect our country, our economy, our interests.

One of America's most venerable historians, C. Vann Woodward once wrote that America's enjoyment of nature's gifts of three vast bodies of water -- the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic -- buffered us unlike any other nation from powers that might threaten our safety, freed us of anxieties, inspired our unique optimism, and put…a stamp on our special national character.

America has always adapted to new threats. But today, a networked world -- a world in which oceans are crossed at the speed of light—presents challenges to American security that our nation has never before confronted.

Our responsibility, all of us, whatever the revolutions in technology, is to guard not only our nation, but also the fundamental character of our open society.

General Alexander, your vision, your dedication, your leadership have allowed us to begin that task. Now, it is ours to carry.

From a grateful nation, thank you, Keith.

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