Tuesday, June 02, 2009
You'll find no disagreement from me on this. The CIA has certain "mission critical" languages that it desperately needs more fluency in, to the extent that it's willing to pay hiring bonuses of up to $35,000 for those that speak these languages - languages like Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Russian, Bulgarian, etc. Now the CIA is going to embark on a 5-year program to build up its ability in foreign languages. Three articles here, here and here have more or less the same story.
-Hopes to double the number of people proficient in these languages over five years
-Will offer night classes and online training, as well as letting new recruits study these languages while awaiting security clearance (I was a bit surprised to be honest that they weren't already doing that)
-Only 13% in the CIA at present are fluent in a second language
-A lack of skilled translators was cited as one reason for failure to prevent the attacks on September 11, 2001
-One problem with finding those fluent in these languages is that those with fluency in a language will often have family or ties in other countries that prevent them from obtaining the required security clearance to work in the agency. Upon application applicants have to show in detail for example every place they've been for the past few years (five, I think) and for those that haven't been planning an application to the CIA all that time this could prove to be difficult. A person who spends a few years in another country, comes back and then gets the idea to apply to the CIA for example would have a hard time going back to dig up documents to prove where he or she had been all that time.
-Money will be needed from Congress to fund this five-year program
Issues like this are why the debate on torture ("enhanced interrogation techniques") is really missing the point, because the idea behind their use is based on the assumption that intelligence gathering is already working at close to 100% efficiency and just needs that little extra push to get the extra intelligence the nation needs to keep its people safe, when in reality the agency isn't operating at anything close to this level of efficiency and thus is better served by very basic and common-sense approaches such as these. It's like debating whether trying to get a few hits under the belt without anyone looking in a boxing match is a good idea when the boxer you're talking about hasn't even learned to jab and block all that well yet.