Correction to This Article
This article on the recruitment of minorities for U.S. spy agencies incorrectly said that 14 percent of CIA officers are minorities. The correct figure is 21 percent.

Intelligence Agencies Urged to Hire Minorities

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By Spencer S. Hsu and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

EL PASO, Aug. 14 -- U.S. spy agencies need to recruit more racial and ethnic minorities, especially first-generation Americans whose language skills and cultural backgrounds could help fill critical gaps in knowledge and analysis, two top intelligence officials said.

Despite efforts in the past six years to diversify the workforce, only 14 percent of those in the CIA's officer corps are minorities, said Jose Rodriguez, director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, the agency's foreign espionage unit.

"Nothing is more important to the intelligence profession than cultivating different perspectives on the foreign threats and challenges facing our nation," he said Monday at a border security conference. He said that agencies need workers "of diverse ethnic backgrounds, with different languages and cultural backgrounds," to collect and analyze information on threats to national security.

Although the CIA went on a hiring spree after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the agency continues to lag in meeting key goals for hiring and promoting minorities. Recruiting native speakers of Arabic, Farsi and other Middle Eastern languages has posed a particular challenge.

Rodriguez's appearance at the Texas forum was itself a reflection of the emphasis the agency is placing on minority recruitment: The native of Puerto Rico and 30-year veteran of CIA undercover operations had his cover officially lifted last week so he can become the agency's public face for minority recruitment, officials said. Rodriguez said he was told that he is the intelligence community's highest-ranking ethnic minority.

Rodriguez told an audience of government and law enforcement officials and security contractors that diversity is not just the "politically correct thing to say" but also an important means of protecting against group-think.

Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, echoed this theme Tuesday in his remarks at the conference, in which he called for the hiring of first-generation Americans. For years, he said, intelligence agencies habitually screened out candidates born outside the country, fearing they might be susceptible to foreign influences or blackmail if they had relatives living abroad.

"The rationale was, we couldn't bring them into our midst -- there was too much risk," McConnell said. "We are going to change those habits. It is now our policy across this community: We do not screen out first-generation [Americans]."

Immigrant Americans of Middle Eastern background are a top priority, he said. They are "the very people we need . . . who have knowledge of these communities."

Warrick reported from Washington.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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