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Gates to White House: 'Put Their Damn Pencils Down' Gates to White House: 'Put Their Damn Pencils Down'

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Gates to White House: 'Put Their Damn Pencils Down'

The former Defense secretary has blunt advice for the White House on how to prevent leaks.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon approved his book, and he doesn't believe he's given away any national security secrets.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

photo of Jordain Carney
January 17, 2014

 Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave some simple advice Thursday for how the administration can prevent leaks: "Tell everyone to put their damn pencils down."

The comment about administration meetings came during a wide-ranging interview Thursday night at a Politico event in Washington, D.C. — the latest stop of his media tour to promote Duty, his new book about his time as secretary for President George W. Bush and President Obama. The book criticizes — and has been criticized by — a spectrum of top political officials.

Chief among those criticism is that Gates should have waited until after Obama was out of office to publish the book, but Gates defended that decision, nothing that he hasn't been "disloyal" to the president.


"The reality is, if you talk with anybody in the administration, you'll find I was as open in expressing my concerns directly, face to face, with the president. ...What I didn't do was be disloyal to the president by taking those concerns public, or leaking," the former administration official said.

He added that the Pentagon approved the book, adding "none of this is new news, so I don't think I've revealed anything that wasn't already common knowledge."

He said, when asked about Sen. Harry Reid's assertion that he is out to "make a buck," that he will donate a "significant" portion of the money brought in, including to organizations that support military members and veterans.

"It's common practice on the Hill to vote on bills you haven't read, and it's perfectly clear that Senator Reid has not read the book," Gates said, in a sharp response to the majority leader's comments.

But Gates's assertion in the book that the president had serious doubts about the mission in Afghanistan has caught widespread attention. He acknowledged that it is "one of the few" policy areas where he criticizes the president.

"It has been in his reluctance —particularly for the troops— on why success in Afghanistan is important; why their cause is just and noble; and why their sacrifice is worthwhile," he said.

The former Defense secretary also touched on a handful of current issues and past experiences:

On his biggest pet peeve about the Obama administration: "I think what bothered me the most is the attempt to micromanage military affairs."

On Bob Woodward, who was critical of Gates's book: "I actually would have really liked to recruit him for CIA, because he has an extraordinary ability to get otherwise responsible adults to spill their guts to him."

On Hillary Clinton, who Gates sidestepped questions asking if he would support if she runs for president: "My position —at this point and going forward— is that I don't think the Democrats are actually very interested in having a Republican handicapping their 2016 race."

On listening to members of the Obama administration criticize the Bush administration: "[Everyone in a meeting] would just be trashing the Bush administration. What a mess they had made of foreign and national security policy. What a lousy team they had and everything. [Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael] Mullen and I would just sit there and look at each other, 'Don't they realize we were integral members of that team. What are we invisible?'"

On military sexual assault: "It's both a legal issue, but it is also a leadership issue. ...If they find people that are negative in this… they need to be sacked. Because there is nothing inside a hierarchical organization that gets people's attention like firing a big shot."

On North Korea: "We're now on our third generation of Kims, and frankly I think that with each generation we have been swimming in a shallower and shallower part of the gene pool."

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