Saturday, May 30, 2009

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta will ask Congress in the coming weeks to fund an “aggressive” five-year plan to enhance the spy agency’s language capabilities.

In a letter to agency employees Friday, Mr. Panetta said the goal of doubling the number of analysts and collectors proficient in foreign languages is imperative for dealing with developing threats around the world.

“Language skills are the keys to accessing foreign societies, understanding their governments and decoding their secrets,” Mr. Panetta said. “This important initiative will require significant new funding. In the coming weeks and months, I will reach out across the intelligence community, to the Office of Management and Budget, and most importantly, to our partners in Congress to find the necessary resources.”

The clandestine agency hopes to dramatically transform the way the CIA trains officers in foreign languages. Languages of particular interest are Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Pashto (spoken in Afghanistan), Urdu (used in Pakistan), and Persian.

“Stronger language skills will give our officers enhanced access to the information our policymakers need to protect our nation,” he said.

Mr. Panetta said the CIA University, where many of the officers receive education and training, will take the lead in identifying the best approaches.

In a change from existing policy, “qualified prospective employees” will be allowed to take language training while awaiting their security clearances. In addition, the agency will offer night school, more external and online training and more full-time training overseas in specialized areas, Mr. Panetta said.

“To gather intelligence and understand a complex world, the CIA must have more officers who read, speak, and understand foreign languages,” Mr. Panetta said. “Our national security demands nothing less.”

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