The CIA’s Plan for Improving Foreign Language Capability

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Last May, CIA Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon E. Panetta released a statement on strengthening the agency’s foreign language capabilities saying:

Within five years, we aim to:

  • Double the number of analysts and collectors who are proficient in languages, particularly those that are mission critical;
  • Increase by 50% the number of people with the right language skills serving in language-use positions; and
  • Dramatically transform the way CIA trains our officers in foreign language capability.

To reach these goals, we will increase the number of officers in full-time language training. The number of officers from the National Clandestine Service in full-time training will increase by 50% and the number of analysts from the Directorate of Intelligence in full-time training will triple.

We will find innovative ways to acquire, teach, and maintain these skills. I have asked CIA University, our focal point for educational and training initiatives at CIA, to take the lead in identifying a mix of approaches to meet our objectives.

Among the initiatives that will be explored:

  • Allowing qualified prospective employees to take language training while they await clearance,
  • Offering night school, more external and online training, and more full-time training overseas, and
  • Providing specialized training to officers who need to reach a higher level of proficiency in mission-critical languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Pushto, Urdu, and Persian.

Another major initiative will be to recruit and retain new officers who have critical language skills. We cannot train our way out of this problem. If we are going to succeed in this effort, we have to further diversify our workforce. I have directed our Human Resources office and our Recruitment and Retention Center to provide a long-term plan for hiring a qualified cadre of Americans who have foreign language skills.

“We cannot train our way out of this problem.”
I agree. I’m just wondering if the State Department still think it can …

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