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C.I.A. Is Reviewing Its Security Policy for Recrui

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C.I.A. Is Reviewing Its Security Policy for Recruitment

 

 

By Published: June 8, 2005

WASHINGTON, June 7 - The Central Intelligence Agency is reviewing security procedures that have led the agency to turn away large numbers of Arabic-language linguists and other potential recruits with skills avidly sought by the agency since the attacks of 2001, Congressional and intelligence officials say.

 

 

Many of those rejected, the officials say, have been first-generation Americans who bring the linguistic facility and cultural knowledge that the C.I.A. has been trying to develop in seeking to improve its performance in penetrating terrorist organizations and otherwise gathering intelligence in the Middle East and South Asia.

 

Many of these applicants still have relatives abroad, often in countries that raise alarm among security officers. Former intelligence officials say that besides the problems of conducting thorough background checks in those countries, the agency also worries that recruits could be blackmailed if their families were vulnerable.

 

The C.I.A. prides itself on security guidelines that are the strictest in government, allowing the hiring only of American citizens with a top-secret clearance. In recruiting for its clandestine service, the agency invites applications only from those under 35 years old.

 

The officials would not say how many otherwise-qualified applicants had been turned away for security reasons, and they cautioned that in some cases the security concerns might have been well-founded. But they suggested that the numbers could range from the scores into the many hundreds, at a time when President Bush has ordered the C.I.A. to increase the ranks of its clandestine service and its analytical branch by 50 percent each over the next five years.

 

"We are taking a fresh look at the process to determine what works, what doesn't, and what can be done better," said Jennifer Millerwise, the top C.I.A. spokeswoman. Ms. Millerwise said the agency was "incredibly focused from the top down on looking at new ways to get new people who have the right skills, the right experience and would make great officers."

 

Among the possibilities under review are revised standards for background checks and the creation of new job categories subject to less stringent requirements. But the C.I.A. is likely to resist anything that would be perceived as a scaling back of security restrictions.

 

Representative Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said the goal of any review should be "to allow people who have relatives in other countries to help us out if they are law-abiding patriotic Americans," and added, "We have cut them out at our peril."

 

In a unanimous report issued last week, Republicans and Democrats on the committee joined in complaining that the C.I.A. was still lagging far behind targets set by Congress in developing expertise in languages like Arabic; Chinese; Farsi, spoken in Iran; and Pashtu, spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Congress and intelligence officials appear divided over how best to address the problem, with C.I.A. officials concerned that any lowering of security barriers could prove disastrous.

 

"The answer is not to weaken the standards," a former senior intelligence official said. "But it may be that we are using the standards in a way that is archaic by the needs of the time."

 

Any final decision is likely to fall to John D. Negroponte, who as the new director of national intelligence oversees the C.I.A. and 14 other agencies. In its report, issued on June 2 to accompany a bill authorizing spending for intelligence programs in 2006, the House committee urged Mr. Negroponte to put in place a more flexible security system devised "to leverage the cultural and linguistic skills" of unconventional hires that it says may be "critical to national security."

 

Former intelligence officials said the fact that a potential C.I.A. employee had close relatives abroad would not automatically be disqualifying. But they said the C.I.A.'s security office had traditionally treated such relationships as a major obstacle to a top-secret clearance, particularly if those relatives were in countries like Syria or Iran, where it would be difficult for the C.I.A. to conduct a full background investigation, or if there was any hint that relatives had ties to terrorist organizations.

 

Among other concerns, the former officials said, C.I.A. officers who had close relatives abroad might be more susceptible to blackmail if threats were made against their family members.

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