- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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The best spies were once well-heeled students recruited from the East Coast’s Ivy League universities.

That thinking has changed.

The intelligence community’s need for prospects fluent in languages ranging from Arabic to Chinese, and with varying skin colors and religious backgrounds, has forced it to grow its pool of schools.

“There are gold nuggets out there who we overlooked, and we don’t want to do that anymore,” said Lenora Peters Gant, who is leading an effort by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to broaden the search for intelligence professionals.

To do so, ODNI, which oversees the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies, is pumping money into 10 universities that offer national security degrees through its fledgling Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) grant program.

“This was one way to tap women, first- and second-generation foreign students and other minorities,” said Ms. Gant, CAE director. She added that the previous focus on predominantly white universities was a limiting relic of the community’s pre-September 11, Cold War mind-set.

Mark Clark, director of the National Security Studies program at California State University in San Bernardino, says finding students with the aptitude to work in the intelligence community “might lead to the unsuspecting kid next door.” “With this funding, we are able to send our students to study foreign language abroad,” said Mr. Clark, who speaks Russian fluently. “Many American students have never traveled outside the U.S. The assistance opens up the world to them.” Based on ODNI criteria, students in Mr. Clark’s program can study counterterrorism, homeland security, counterintelligence and risk analysis, as well as learning numerous other skills. The idea that the agencies are solely looking for covert operatives is “a myth,” said Ms. Gant, emphasizing graduates can become State Department analysts, Capitol Hill aides or civilian Pentagon employees. The intelligence community is looking for people with the ability to bring a different perspective to the war on terror. “Many of these students come from a diverse background, are less well-heeled, rough around the edges,” said an intelligence official who participated in Mr. Clark’s program. Mr. Clark’s program “was very Soviet-centric” and now, “post 9/11, with non-state actors of terrorism” it has shifted, the intelligence official said. “Back then the threat was known and quantifiable,” said the intelligence professional, whose focus now is in terrorism. “In many ways, that has all changed.”


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