- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Obama administration is promoting the establishment of an Intelligence Officer Training Corps (IOTC) to train future clandestine intelligence officers while they are in college. The new program would be modeled on the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), which has produced military officers for almost a century.

President Obama is seeking to modernize the intelligence community, especially its ability to confront emerging security challenges.

The IOTC program was devised originally by Third Way, a nonprofit policy think tank. It was then adopted by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee as one of its major initiatives, or “big ideas,” for 2008. It is being advocated by the administration and is likely to draw bipartisan support. The new program would provide highly competitive scholarships for students who want to enter the clandestine service.

College graduates are glaringly deficient in intelligence-gatherling skills, Third Way says, echoing the findings of the 9/11 Commission. For example, entry-level applicants to intelligence agencies do not possess the language and analytic skills the intelligence community requires. IOTC students would become familiar with the intelligence community through internships. They also would develop their knowledge of languages, analysis and the hard sciences.

The intelligence community also lacks the ethnic diversity needed to be effective in its clandestine mission, a problem the IOTC would hope to address, Third Way says.

Although the program has gained considerable support, especially among Democrats, it has critics. Justice studies professor J. Peter Pham at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., is skeptical about the program. He has been a consultant for U.S. intelligence agencies and has helped place former students in intelligence positions. He said he recognizes the difficulties the CIA and other agencies have in finding qualified recruits who can serve as clandestine agents in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. However, he added, he doubts that locating formal intelligence-officer-training programs at colleges and universities is practical or even desirable.

“Academic institutions are, by their very nature, open,” he said. “If a university department applied for and received a grant to develop courses which might meet the needs of the intelligence community with respect to training of future officers, do we want that unit to be hiding the grant? But if you don’t hide the fact that Professor X’s 101 course is being funded by the director of national intelligence, wouldn’t you expose his or her students to scrutiny as possible intelligence-community trainees?

“And since resources are not unlimited, only some institutions would get funding. Hence, any hostile services seeking to expose future operatives would have a fairly narrow target set. … Even if we could somehow protect the identity of future agents in the clandestine service, do we really want them to be drawn predominantly from the handful of institutions that would be funded as intelligence-officer-training centers?” Mr. Pham asked rhetorically.

Third Way estimates the cost of the program to be about $300 million annually, which is a small fraction of the intelligence budget. Yet, as a result of the economic crisis, the cost of this program could become a major concern for legislators as well as the general public.

“Although many of my colleagues would undoubtedly disagree with me, I believe that the academy has a civic obligation to assist the government, including its intelligence agencies, in carrying out the common defense of our Constitution, which, after all, protects our freedom of inquiry, speech and publication,” Mr. Pham said. “However, the mechanism for this partnership has to be carefully considered.”

• David Centofante is a graduate student at Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies.

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