President Bush has ordered CIA Director Porter J. Goss to increase by 50 percent the number of qualified CIA clandestine operators and intelligence analysts, an ambitious step that would mean the hiring and training of several thousand new personnel in coming years.
Bush also ordered the doubling of CIA officers involved in research and development "to find new ways to bring science to bear in the war on terrorism, the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and against new and emerging threats." In the presidential order, dated Nov. 18 and released by the White House yesterday, Bush also called for a 50 percent increase in the number of CIA officers proficient in "mission-critical languages" such as Arabic.
The directive comes as the CIA is under intense scrutiny and in a period of transition under Goss's new leadership, and as the administration is under pressure to show progress in addressing the shortcomings documented by the Sept. 11 commission this summer. Last week Congress was unable to agree on details of legislation to dramatically reorganize the U.S. intelligence community.
In addition to calling for such a reorganization, the 9/11 commission had also urged strong increases in the number of clandestine officers, intelligence analysts and language specialists, as had the Senate and House intelligence committees.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA has undertaken an unprecedented recruiting and training campaign. The president's order left unclear how that would be accelerated.
The 50 percent increases he called for "are huge," requiring a new training facility "and even more aggressive recruiting, or lowering the quality of people," a former CIA official involved in the recruiting effort said.
The exact number of CIA officers in one area targeted for increase -- the clandestine service, officially known as the Directorate of Operations -- is classified, but former officials say it is around 4,500. Only about one-third are in the field as case officers who recruit agents, a former official said. The rest provide support from headquarters and overseas. Overall, the agency is believed to employ about 20,000 people.
U.S. officials said much of what Bush proposed was already being undertaken by the CIA and had been outlined in a strategic plan finished in December 2003. Officials said the White House was not aware of that planning when the president signed the directive, the existence of which was first reported by the New York Times.
Goss has said he wants to make significant changes in the way the agency does business, but he has been unclear on many specifics.
His tenure so far has been tumultuous. Several senior and mid-level clandestine officers, including the director and assistant director of the Directorate of Operations, have resigned or retired.
In his order, Bush gave Goss 90 days to put together a budget and implementation plan for hiring and training the new personnel. One former senior agency official said yesterday that the task "could take years."
Bush's order said the increases should be done "as soon as feasible."
Since many new trainees will be used against tough targets such as terrorists and closed governments such as North Korea and Iran, the training and eventual placement overseas will be even more difficult. Many will not be able to work out of embassies with diplomatic cover -- as many traditionally have -- but will operate covertly in their target countries. These officers will be "NOCs," which means they are there under "non-official cover," and subject to arrest as spies if they are caught.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, suggested that Congress should be "prepared to triple the budget for intelligence" if needed. "We will answer the issue of resources," he said.