Incoming Intelligence Chief Plans To Ease Hiring of Arab Americans

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The incoming director of national intelligence, retired Navy Vice Adm. John M. McConnell, plans to change security rules to make it easier for intelligence agencies to hire first-generation Arab Americans for highly sensitive jobs.

These rules, dating from World War II, limit intelligence agencies' ability to employ first-generation Americans "who might have native language capabilities from serving in some of these very sensitive positions in the intelligence community" and hinder efforts to deal with radical Islam, McConnell said during his confirmation hearing Friday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The rules McConnell described are in a directive from the director of central intelligence, or DCI. They require citizenship verification for access to the most highly classified data, known as sensitive compartmented information. For the foreign-born, there must be verification of U.S. citizenship and legal status in this country of immediate family members, including "spouse, cohabitant, father, mother, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters," the directive states.

Another element that must be considered when hiring is "foreign influence," according to adjudication guidelines that the White House adopted in December 2005. One section of the guidelines refers to "contact with a foreign family member, business or professional associate, friend, or other person who is a citizen of or resident in a foreign country if that contact creates a heightened risk of foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure, or coercion."

An intelligence agency chief can waive these criteria, but McConnell said he wants to change them because they constitute "one of the areas that needs probably the greatest deal of attention and improvement . . . using people who speak the native language, understand the culture and the tribal conditions."

A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said yesterday that he could not comment directly because McConnell has yet to be confirmed. But, as part of transforming the old DCI directives into the new "intelligence community directives," the spokesman said, "the issue of first-generation access will be addressed."

McConnell is not the first to raise the issue, though his proposal to alter the relevant security rules goes further than did his predecessor's. In his farewell address as national intelligence director on Jan. 19, John D. Negroponte talked about the need to "tap into the great diversity of ethnicities and talents our nation possesses" and "increase training and education in foreign language."

In April 2005, former CIA case officer Lindsay Moran raised concerns about language expertise and security on PBS's "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." No one in her initial training class, she said, "spoke any of the languages that the CIA needs to go after terrorist groups, such as Arabic, Pashtu or Urdu."

And, she added, "The agency has completely ignored a whole pool of potential employees of second-generation Americans . . . because there's this inherent distrust of foreigners within the agency, they're unwilling to hire these kinds of people -- exactly the kinds of people that we need in order to gather effective intelligence in the Middle East."

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