Panetta tries to remedy language lag in CIA

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CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said Friday the agency still needs more agents fluent in foreign languages for espionage and other critical missions.

Mr. Panetta in a letter to employees announced a five-year plan to double the number of employees proficient in languages.

“Our agency has improved its language capabilities in recent years, but we can and must do more,” he said. “Whether an officer is conducting a meeting in a foreign capital, analyzing plans of a foreign government or translating a foreign broadcast … language skills are the keys to accessing foreign societies, understanding their governments and decoding their secrets.”

Mr. Panetta identified Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Pushto, Urdu and Persian as “mission-critical” languages.

The plan also calls for dramatically changing how the agency teaches foreign-languages, including more officers in full-time training.

The number of officers in full-time training in the agency’s National Clandestine Service will increase by 50 percent and the number of analysts in full-time training at the agency’s Directorate of Intelligence will triple. “We will find innovative ways to acquire, teach and maintain these skills,” Mr. Panetta said.

He also said the agency needs to hire more Americans whose first language is not English.

“We cannot train our way out of this problem,” Mr. Panetta said.

The director said the agency also needs to examine its application of computer-based translation and other technologies.

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