August 15, 2007

Baby Steps to Awareness

Excellent article on a frequently overlooked aspect of intelligence reform: the intelligence community's, particularly the CIA's, employment practices.
Mike McConnel, 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]."

As some of my close friends could attest to, this issue has been a big beef of mine for a long time now. There has been a few articles recently talking about the stupid hiring practices of the CIA. In effect, it is biased against Naturalized Citizens and first generation Americans as "foreign contacts" is a significant justification used to not hire otherwise excellently qualified candidates for Analysis or Operations. This de facto policy is the product of equal parts "cover your ass" bureaucracy, risk aversion, and paranoia. With a good helping of failure to understand and adapt to the changing geopolitical landscape. The end result: sacrifice improved access to hard targets and enhanced intelligence products on the off chance that we might hire a bad apple. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

McConnel has been a breath of fresh air in the IC. On this issue, as on the issue of interagency intelligence sharing, he is saying the right things. I wonder how long it will take for the bureaucracy to catch up with the vision. In the mean time, I will continue to recommend to any Naturalized Citizen or first generation American that asks about working in the intelligence field, don't even bother applying to the CIA.

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