Buried in this story is a paragraph that made me blink:
The CIA recently reported that a small fraction of its overall workforce — about 13 percent — is fluent in a second language. Among officers of the agency’s National Clandestine Service, to which most foreign-deployed officers are assigned, the figure is about 30 percent.
Wait…this is a college-educated workforce, right – thirteen percent? Thirteen?
And – thirty percent? …not “the language of the country they’re working on”, any second language, including French and Spanish, which must be a large fraction. I guess if the Aussies or Canadians or Texans are up to something we’ll be on top of it in a flash, unless they’re counting Strine as foreign. And anyway, if people are plotting against us in Urdu or some damn hard language, it’ll just serve them right if we ignore them, let ’em wait their turn for the translator if they’re going to be difficult and stuffy like that.
UPDATE: A reader talks me down some: this problem may be part language skill deficiency and part administrivia/data resolution issues. If there are lots of people with effective command of useful languages out among the cubicles and the consulate basements who aren’t fluent enough for a pay bonus, can the system find them to do actual work? …or are their practical skills invisible to managers except by accident? Why is the pay system so lumpy and stingy with incentives?
Regarding this language issue 13% may not be real accurate. The standards for language proficiency and the testing process can produce some really skewed results. At DHS/ICE prior to my retirement in 2004 we used the DOS testing group. Applying the standards and following testing my colleague, born and educated through High School in Odessa, was not considered fluent in Russian and was not eligible for the incentive pay for language. Similarly some other colleagues who are native speakers of Spanish but illiterate in Spanish also failed to be certified. Based on this I never took the test as a speaker of French,German and Romanian even though we only speak primarily Romanian with a smattering of German at home. Its my opinion that some folks I worked with, myself included, couldn’t pass in English based on what I have heard.