- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2008

U.S. intelligence agencies have loosened security-clearance and hiring rules to open their ranks to first- and second-generation Americans and to outside professionals with cutting-edge technological skills, a top intelligence official said Friday.

First- and second-generation immigrants have been essentially blackballed from getting the highest security clearances because their family ties to people in other countries have been considered security risks, said Ronald P. Sanders, the associate director of national intelligence, in an interview with the Associated Press.

The same concerns have all but blocked applicants with dual citizenship.

The problem is that those are exactly the kind of people the intelligence agencies need to spy on the decentralized and shadowy world of terrorism. They speak foreign languages, understand the culture and have associations that can help penetrate extremist networks.

“Security-clearance rules served as impediments,” Mr. Sanders said. “They had their roots in the Cold War, and a lot of their assumptions are no longer valid.”

Until October, it was nearly an automatic disqualification to have close relatives who were not U.S. citizens, and dual citizens had to renounce their foreign citizenships.

Now dual citizens are being actively encouraged to apply, as they can travel more freely between the U.S. and their other nation without raising suspicions.

Potentially risky new hires will have their work and associations monitored more closely throughout their employment to uncover potentially troublesome activity.

Mr. Sanders is also seeking authority from the Office of Management and Budget to survey existing intelligence employees and applicants to determine their ethnic backgrounds and national ties.

The agencies are limited by law to soliciting only race, which blocks Mr. Sanders’ ability to know whether they are successfully recruiting from so-called heritage communities.

Also in October, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell approved a program to hire outside experts - mostly technological professionals - for temporary projects inside the intelligence agencies, paying salaries competitive with the best in industry.

The Pentagon got similar authority in 2004, but none of the other intelligence agencies has been able to seek temporary hires. Mr. Sanders said they would most likely be looking for experts to overhaul intelligence-personnel and financial-information systems.


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