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Message from the Director: Strengthening Our Foreign Language Capability

Statement to Employees by Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Leon E. Panetta on Foreign Language Capabilities

May 29, 2009


Today, I’m pleased to announce an aggressive plan to build the truly multilingual workforce we need at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Deep expertise in foreign languages is fundamental to CIA’s success. Whether an officer is conducting a meeting in a foreign capital, analyzing plans of a foreign government, or translating a foreign broadcast, language capability is critical to every aspect of our mission. Language skills are the keys to accessing foreign societies, understanding their governments, and decoding their secrets. Stronger language skills will give our officers enhanced access to the information our policymakers need to protect our nation.

Through good recruiting and training, our Agency has improved its language capabilities in recent years, but we can and must do more.

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.

Even as we focus on our people, we also will take a strategic look at the application of computer-based translation and other technologies. We will identify gaps and invest in equipment and practices that will help us more quickly and effectively exploit the foreign-language material we collect.

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.

In sum, we’ll work this issue every way we can, so that officers across our Agency have the resources, support, and tools they need to pursue language learning and apply it to key jobs.

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

Leon E. Panetta


Historical Document
Posted: May 29, 2009 10:59 AM
Last Updated: Apr 29, 2013 01:13 PM