WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- President Bush has ordered the CIA to embark on a massive recruiting drive to boost by 50 percent the numbers of analysts and spies with the language and other skills needed to improve intelligence about terrorist groups and rogue nations seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Some reformers praised the directive in the form of a memorandum sent to CIA Director Porter Goss last week and released by the White House late Tuesday. But others worried it plays a numbers game that might lead to a reduction in standards.
"It will be extremely difficult to increase the numbers of people like that, especially because you cannot afford to let standards slip," Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Md., a member of both the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, told United Press International.
The memo gives Goss 90 days to work with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and the Office of Management and Budget to produce a plan and a budget to:
-- increase by 50 percent the numbers of "fully qualified officers in the Directorate of Operations," also known as the clandestine service, which recruits and runs agents;
-- ensure that "a majority" of the new recruits are "drawn from diverse backgrounds with the skills experience and training needed";
-- increase by 50 percent the numbers of "CIA officers tested and proficient in mission-critical languages" like Arabic, Persian and Pashtu;
-- increase by 50 percent the numbers of analysts in the Directorate of Intelligence; and
-- double the numbers of CIA staff involved in research and development of new technologies to help with the war on terror and the fight against proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The number of staff currently in the Directorate of Operations is classified, but it is thought to be several thousand, and the Directorate of Intelligence is several times larger than that.
The memo gives no time frame within which the plan must be executed, but such a huge undertaking is likely to take several years, and the memo asks for biannual updates on its implementation starting in June 2005.
The huge expansion will have to be accomplished "within existing budgets," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan told UPI. "We have already been beefing up intelligence budgets," she added. "That will provide the additional resources necessary."
Advocates of reforming U.S. intelligence management praised the fact that the memo directs Goss to make sure the plan and budget includes "performance measures, with timelines for the achievement of specific measurable goals."
One former intelligence official working the reform issue told UPI that those kinds of metrics and deadlines were exactly the parts of previous management plans that tended to be removed in the pre-Sept. 11 era. The former official called the recruitment goals "ambitious and achievable."
But critics of the CIA said there would be no way to reach the goals without lowering standards and poured scorn on the idea of measuring success by numbers of officers.
"The numbers will force them to lower the bar," said retired Col. Pat Lang, a former case officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, who quoted Napoleon to illustrate his point. "In war, men are nothing; the man is everything."
Ruppersberger said there was a need to maintain standards and "focus on the crucial issue of training. ... Otherwise you get credibility problems."
But Lang, author of a textbook about recruiting and running agents called "Intelligence: The Human Factor," said that there were very particular skills involved that could not necessarily be imparted through training.
"The people who are good at this are a kind of elite, a group not of the common clay," he said, explaining that they needed to be both "empathetic and domineering," able to simultaneously "represent themselves to (the agent) as caring about their welfare, while being prepared to sacrifice them without hesitation if necessary."
"People like that -- people with the potential to become like that -- don't grow on trees," he said.
During the Vietnam War, Lang said, the U.S. military had made a comparable mistake with its special forces, choosing quantity over quality. "We got a lot of losers that way," he said. "It's inevitable once you're playing a numbers game."
Indeed, Lang argued that the recruitment drive -- and the metrics that went along with it -- would likely prove counterproductive. "You're going to recruit useless people who will produce useless information that will clog up the system," he said.
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