- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

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 expand 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 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.”

Ms. Gant established the CAE in 2005, with Trinity University in Washington, D.C., being the first to test it and receive a grant. Since then, it has awarded approximately $5 million in grant money to 10 universities selected by a panel of specialists from intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI.

In the 2006-07 academic year, more than 30 universities across the nation applied for the grant and only six were selected. By 2015, the ODNI is expected to add 10 universities.

The universities participating in the program are both “majority and minority schools,” but with “sizable minority enrollments,” said Ms. Gant, who was first approached for the project in 2004 by CIA Director George Tenet.

Some of the other participating schools are Clark Atlanta University, Florida International University and the University of Washington.

Mr. Clark, who started his school’s program in 1989, said military personnel from Southern California’s surrounding bases comprised the majority of his students initially; however, a growth of interest in intelligence work surged after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Now, Mr. Clark heads the Cal State Universities Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence (CSU-ACE), a consortium of seven colleges — heralding it as “the gem of the West.”

The consortium, the only multicampus partner of ODNI’s CAE, has been awarded roughly $4 million in grant money over five years to assist with campus resources and aid students with foreign language and travel studies abroad.

The Cal State consortium is comprised of Bakersfield, Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Northridge, Cal Poly Pomona and San Bernardino.

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