The CIA is pushing its spooks into the field faster, giving 85 percent overseas assignments within a year after they finish training.
It will fall to the incoming spy chief — Michael Hayden, if he’s confirmed — to figure out how best to use them.
In the past, newly hired operatives have complained that they complete training at the CIA’s facility, called The Farm, and land behind desks. But now, only 15 percent stay stateside to study languages or get specialized instruction after the traditional yearlong training program, according to newly disclosed agency figures.
By next year, the CIA plans to have tripled the number of spies collecting intelligence around the world, compared with 2001.
The ramping up has been nearly five years in the works as the CIA and other spy agencies received an influx of money after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tough times on the Farm
Meanwhile, a new director will soon take the helm of a CIA that is trying to find its identity in an era of intelligence changes, no longer perched atop the 15 other spy agencies.
Outgoing Director Porter Goss led the agency as Congress approved the changes, and he embarked on a bumpy path of putting them in place. The incoming director moves in with a clean slate and an opportunity to steer the CIA’s direction.
In a nod to the state of the CIA’s morale this week, Hayden told the Senate Intelligence Committee, “It’s been a difficult time for the agency.”
Yet some officials have tried to dispel the idea of a spy agency in shambles by pointing to successes. They described a CIA that is taking more risks, enhancing its cadre of analysts and finding new — albeit covert — addresses around the world.
In his 19 months on the job, Goss opened or reopened more than 20 CIA stations and bases. The precise locations are classified, but officials in recent months have said he’s paid more attention to Africa, historically a low CIA priority.
Goss has also increased the focus on Latin America, where intelligence officials see Venezuela seeking closer ties with Cuba, Iran and North Korea.
Boosting the spy ranks
During his public confirmation testimony this week, Hayden didn’t offer specifics about his geographic interests but stressed a need for attention on Iran and North Korea as well as on al-Qaida and other issues.
Since November 2004, the agency has been under orders from President Bush to boost the number of operatives and analysts by 50 percent. Intelligence veterans say the challenge is to get quality with the quantity.
A senior intelligence official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said the CIA’s analysis division, called the Directorate of Intelligence, was on track to meet the goal of 2011.
The CIA held 865 recruiting events in the 2005 budget year, up from 340 the previous year. But a major challenge is getting qualified applicants through the rigorous screening process. To help, the CIA increased the staff for polygraphers and medical screeners by 60 percent, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck.
“You can’t just turn on a faucet and have 50 percent more officers in the field,” Dyck said. “You have to do it the right way.”
Culture of risk
At his Senate confirmation hearing, Hayden also promised to reaffirm what he said was the agency’s proud risk-taking culture. Intelligence officials said Goss has been doing that, too, even when it ruffled relations with colleagues at the FBI and State Department.
As an example, one official said, the CIA invited Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh, Sudan’s intelligence chief, to Washington for meetings in the spring of 2005. The U.S. has accused Gosh of participating in genocide in Darfur, and he was among those who hosted Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida fighters in Sudan from 1991 to 1996.
But now Gosh has given the U.S. access to al-Qaida fighters who never left the eastern African nation, and he has proven helpful in the war on terror.
In a September 2005 speech, Goss took criticism for saying the agency needed to become less dependent on allies. Later, officials said that shouldn’t be interpreted to mean the agency wasn’t interested in relationships with friendly intelligence services.
Widening the circle
During his Senate remarks, Hayden indicated that he wanted to open up more U.S. data to trusted foreign partners. “These relationships are of the utmost importance for our security, especially in the context of the fight against those terrorists who seek to do us grave harm,” Hayden said.
Hayden also said the CIA must remain the government’s top center for bringing together different types of intelligence — from spies, eavesdroppers, satellites — into assessments.
He’ll have opportunities to mold new hires. In the agency’s analysis division, Hayden said that for every 10 analysts with less than four years of experience, there is only one with 10 to 14 years of experience who can act as a mentor.
“This is the youngest analytic work force in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Hayden said. “In more disappointing language, this is the least experienced analytic work force in the history of CIA.”
The CIA is particularly looking for people who have lived overseas or who speak critical languages, such as Arabic or Farsi. It is also increasingly interested in different backgrounds — including anthropology, sociology or even forestry — or professionals making mid-career changes.
The trend comes as the CIA is increasingly asked to share its talent with other agencies. The former National Counterterrorism Center director, John Brennan, said he’s seen a siphoning off of the CIA’s analytic expertise — an issue Hayden will have to address.
“The community itself is at a loss,” Brennan said. “What are we aiming for? What is the intelligence community of 2010 going to look like?”