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Friday, May 16, 2008

Intel agencies seek help recruiting new immigrants

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. 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' intelligence offices.

"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. [Link]

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