US: Intel agencies seek help recruiting immigrants (especially speakers of Arabic, Farsi and Pashtu)
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Sun May 18 16:16:06 UTC 2008
Intel agencies seek help recruiting immigrants
By PAMELA HESS – 1 day ago
McLEAN, VA (AP) — The U.S. is its own worst enemy when it comes to the
desperately important task of recruiting immigrants as spies, analysts
and translators in the war on terror, new Americans are telling
intelligence officials. The government's policies raise suspicions and
fear in the immigrants' home countries and disturb potential recruits
here who might otherwise want to help. The U.S. knows it needs the
help. At the heart of a Friday summit with immigrant groups was a
stark reality: The intelligence agencies lack people who can speak the
languages that are needed most, such as Arabic, Farsi and Pashtu. More
importantly, the agencies lack people with the cultural awareness that
enables them to grasp the nuances embedded in dialect, body language
and even street graffiti.
At the suburban Virginia summit, not far from the CIA and National
Counterterrorism Center, officials gathered more than a dozen
representatives of recent immigrant and other ethnic groups to get
their recruiting assistance. "We are going to ask you to open up your
communities to us," said Ronald Sanders, an assistant national
intelligence director, and the son of an Egyptian immigrant mother.
The officials got an earful in return — about immigration and hiring
rules and foreign policies that make life harder in immigrants' old
countries. The intelligence agencies' own practices also came under
criticism: extraordinary rendition, holding prisoners at Guantanamo
Bay in Cuba, harsh interrogation practices that some say amount to
"Basically they've scared people," said Amina Khan, of the Association
of Pakistani Professionals and an attorney formerly with the U.S.
Energy Department. Immigrants "have always seen and regarded the
United States as a law-abiding country," Khan said in an interview
with The Associated Press. "Now we are the only superpower in the
entire world. For us, when we hear things like renditions or
Guantanamo Bay, which for many is considered outside the letter of the
law, there is an element of fear." Many immigrants come to the United
States already fearing the intelligence agencies of their home
A man named Aung, from Myanmar, said his countrymen in the United
States are spied on by Myanmar agents."Basically by attending this
conference I myself am on the list," he said. It will complicate his
visits home to see his father, he said, asking that his full name not
be used. "In our culture it is looked down on to be a ... spy," added
Humira Noorestani, whose family is from Afghanistan. Some U.S.
policies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks made things worse, said
Kareem Shora, of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
"The policy missteps and mistakes tended to alienate the very
community they are now trying to approach and work with," Shora said.
"The NSA wiretapping, rendition, waterboarding, linking the war in
Iraq with the issue of radicalization and the terrorism threat. ...
What I ask is that at some point that these conversations address
these hard issues." Even the Japanese-American experience of World War
II haunts this conference. Larry Shinagawa, of the University of
Maryland's Asian American studies program, said immigrant groups have
reason to be suspicious of the government's sudden interest. The
government admitted in 2000 after years of denials that census records
were used to track down Japanese-Americans by name and address for
imprisonment in internment camps during the war.
One major need now is for people who can speak the languages most
needed in the anti-terror fight. The children of immigrants, even if
they don't grow up speaking their parents' language, can learn it to
the required level of proficiency in 16 weeks. It takes people without
that cultural heritage about 63 weeks, according to Jean AbiNader, a
government cultural trainer with IdeaCom. Inc. And then there are
cultural matters as well. Immigrants and their children don't need to
learn these things; they can teach them.
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are collaborating on a
summer internship program to begin to tap that expertise. Twenty
college students are coming to Washington, D.C. for 10 weeks. They
will get free Arabic classes in the morning at George Washington
University and spend the afternoons working in the agencies'
"We need these people, their expertise, their understanding of
culture, of language. We don't have it today and it is a great
deficiency," said Charles Allen, a long time CIA officer who is now
the Homeland Security Department's intelligence chief. "This will be
an enormous augmentation."
U.S. policies have until recently forbidden recruitment of
first-generation Americans who have direct family ties abroad, a
practice that began after World War II, despite the fact that many
code breakers in that conflict were not born in America, said National
Intelligence Director Michael McConnell.
New rules drop that obstacle, he said. Still, the security clearance
process can take 12 to 18 months for a citizen without close ties
abroad. It can go on for years for children of recent immigrants.
McConnell wants to shorten that to 60 days.
The agencies will try to contain the risk of giving people with close
foreign associations access to top secret information by increasing
the scrutiny that all employees get once they are cleared, a practice
known as life cycle monitoring.
McConnell told the meeting of immigrant community leaders that he is
increasing sensitivity training for the intelligence agencies' 100,000
U.S. officials are trying to adjust how they talk about the war on
terrorism so as not to alienate Muslims. That adjustment is needed,
said Mohammed H. Ali, an imam with a Virginia Muslim community
"I'm concerned about the language used to describe terrorism," he said.
McConnell said he is, too.
"We try not to refer to 'jihad' as something that's bad," McConnell
noted, referring to a recent government communications policy.
It's a first and somewhat controversial step toward shaping the
language the United States uses to compete with the international
messages of al-Qaida. The terror group's messages are increasing: In
2005 it issued about 15 video or audio messages. In 2006, there were
50. In 2007 there were 97. There will probably be even more in 2008,
including a fresh message from Osama bin Laden this week.
"We did a good job in the war against Communism. We have not done a
halfway decent job of countering the virulence (of al-Qaida) and the
message properly," Allen said.
"I never use the term 'global war on terrorism,'" Allen said. "I have
never used it publicly, and I don't write it that way either."
"We have so much work to do because countering this ideology is
absolutely central to everything that we do. This is our way of
countering al-Qaida in the future. If we don't get it right and we
don't do the outreach correctly, we will simply lose ground," Allen
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