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Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Robert Gates was the featured speaker Thursday at the annual Eagles Honors Banquet of the Southeast Alaska Area Council of Boy Scouts of America.
At a press conference held earlier Thursday at the Capitol, Gates was introduced as president of the National Society of Eagle Scouts by Bob Malone, also an Eagle, who is the president and chief executive officer of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.
With Eagle (and state Attorney General) Bruce Botelho also present, ``There are a lot of birds flying around today,'' Malone joked.
Botelho introduced Gates as ``a distinguished American who has served under six presidents in positions of great authority.''
Gates served as CIA director from 1991 to 1993 and earlier as deputy national security advisory under President George Bush.
He is currently the interim dean of the George W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M University. He commutes to that job from Seattle, he said.
Gates said he has spoken to at least 75 Boy Scout councils in the past two years. ``I enjoy doing it,'' he said. ``I think it's important.''
Of American boys ages 8 to 18, one in every 4.5 is in some branch of Scouting, he said.
``From the point of view of parents, the attraction of Scouting is its emphasis on building character,'' Gates said. ``Character building is no longer part of the educational program, and it's nice to have something outside the church which is teaching character. Single moms see Scouting as a way for their sons to have positive role models and show them how a man is supposed to behave.''
During the press conference, Gates fielded questions about Chinese threats to Taiwan as well as the proposed ballistic missile defense system. The proposed system will be located in either the Dakotas or Alaska.
``For the United States to be unable to defend itself against a single missile launch either by a terrorist group or a rogue state is ridiculous,'' Gates said.
He noted that 40 nations are developing ballistic missile systems.
``North Korea probably already has them, and Iran is close,'' he said. ``The location of our defense system should be dictated by where it can best do its job to defend us against a potential attacker.''
Ballistic missiles aren't very accurate, he noted, but they don't need accuracy if they are used as ``terror weapons.'' All they need to do is hit a large urban area.
Gates has a Ph.D. in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University, and is the author of ``From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War.''
He said he had been pessimistic about the Soviet Union during his days as CIA director, and that, in fact, his pessimism prompted former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and others to try to get him ousted. He is less pessimistic about Russia today, he said.
``It is moving toward a regulated oligarchy - a heck of a lot better than anything they have had in the last thousand years,'' he said.
The finished product ``will not look like the U.S. It will be uniquely Russian. But it will allow freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of religion - a dramatic improvement.''