Q&A: Who Is Robert Gates? President Bush announces that he will nominate former CIA director Robert Gates to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mary Louise Kelly, NPR's intelligence correspondent, talks with Neal Conan about Gates.
NPR logo Q&A: Who Is Robert Gates?

Q&A: Who Is Robert Gates?

President Bush announced at the White House Wednesday that he would nominate Robert Gates to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In an interview with Neal Conan, host of Talk of the Nation, NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly talks about Gates, the former head of the CIA and a veteran of the first Bush administration.

Neal Conan: Tell us a little bit about Robert Gates.

Mary Louise Kelly: He certainly knows his way around Washington circles. He has served on the National Security Council. He was Brent Scowcroft's deputy there during the first Bush presidency. He's highly respected in intelligence circles and is known as a loyal servant of the Bush family. He is currently president of Texas A&M University. One other point worth mentioning: This is not the first time President Bush has tried to pull Gates into his administration. Bob Gates was actually the first choice for the new position of national intelligence director when that job was created last year. And Gates turned it down. At the time... he made clear he thought the job was a pretty bad idea and would add a layer of bureaucracy. So it's interesting to see he's coming back to Washington to serve his president.

Conan: Of course, as head of the Defense Department, if he's confirmed, he will be dealing with that new intelligence chief. The majority of the funding and the majority of the efforts in American intelligence come from the Department of Defense.

Kelly: He'll also be grappling first and foremost with Iraq. He is a member of the Iraq Study Group, this bipartisan commission the president has appointed. It's being run by a pair of insiders. There are a number of heavy hitters on that panel, and Bob Gates has been one of them. So he's been very involved right up to this current moment in terms of looking at Iraq and asking how can it be done better.

Conan: You describe him as a Bush family loyalist.

Kelly: I don't think he'll be seen as a partisan. That's my impression from having talked with him. He's served six presidents, a bunch of administrations. To speak to him, he does not come across as someone who is going to toe a hard Republican Party line. His CIA tenure was memorable on a couple of accounts, one of which was that on his confirmation hearings for that post in 1991, there was a controversy about what role Bob Gates played in the Iran Contra controversy. [The Senate voted, 64 to 31 to confirm Gates after contentious CIA confirmation hearings.] I would be surprised if any of that came up to threaten his current nomination.

He has been in and out of the CIA for most of his career. He certainly has experience dealing with allies such as Pakistan and across the Middle East. He's going to come at this from a different angle. He does not have tremendous military experience, although he did spend a couple of years in the Air Force in the Vietnam era. It's a little ways back, but those credentials will now be serving him well.

Robert Gates Nominated as Defense Secretary

NPR's Coverage of Bush Press Conference

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Q&A: Who Is Robert Gates?

In His Own Words

Responding to Terrorism

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- from Weekend Edition Saturday, May 18, 2002

'Frontline' from PBS

Robert M. Gates, President Bush's choice to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, is an old ally of the president's father and a veteran of Capitol Hill political wars.

Now president of Texas A&M University, Gates served as CIA chief under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993, during the first Iraq war. After one of the most contentious confirmation processes on record, Gates' nomination was passed by a 64-to-31 vote.

Even so, experts say Gates is well regarded in Washington intelligence and military circles. He is also known as a longtime friend of the Bush family.

This is at least the second attempt by to bring Gates into the current Bush administration. Gates was said to be the first choice for the new position of national intelligence director. He turned it down.

Gates, 63, is also a member of the Iraq Working Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, another Bush family loyalist, and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton (R-IN). President Bush appointed the bipartisan group to make recommendations on Iraq strategy.

William Webster, former head of the CIA and FBI, says Gates is a "consensus builder."

"He's been there before, but he comes without any context on the issues that have been debated in the election. That's a good thing," Webster says.

He also notes that as a member of the Baker panel, Gates will bring perspective on the issues facing the administration on Iraq.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mike Davidson, former assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, notes that Gates is respected among military officers. Gates served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, but does not have extensive military experience.

Davidson says Gates' priority will be to provide a channel for the recommendations of the Baker panel.

"You needed a new set of eyes to come in and look at the strategy. Gates is the new set of eyes," Davidson says.

Webster, the former CIA head, says of Gates: "I know him as a man of exceptional character, someone who headed the Eagle Scouts nationally. He's an educator, bright, with a lot of qualities that will help carry us forward, including the ability to attract consensus and get information."

A native of Kansas, Gates spent nearly 27 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, which he joined in 1966. He is the only career officer in the agency's history to rise from entry-level employee to director.

Prior to taking the top spot at the CIA, Gates served as the agency's deputy director and as deputy to Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President H.W. Bush.

Gates has served six presidents, of both parties, and spent nearly nine years at the National Security Council.

Author of the 1996 memoir From the Shadows, Gates is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. He received his master's degree in history from Indiana University and his doctorate in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University.

Since leaving the CIA, Gates has often weighed in on U.S. policy and security. Excerpts from some of his speeches and articles are below: