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Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Manhattan Project for Language Skills?

Newt Gingrich appeared with Joe Biden on the July 16 edition of Meet the Press and, at one point, made a comment that the United States only has EIGHT (count 'em, EIGHT) CIA officers on the Korean peninsula who speak Korean.

As I recall, we have a similar language skills deficit in Arabic, Chinese and Farsi.

A quick Google search for "CIA language skills chinese arabic korean" yields the following job posting on the Careers section of the CIA homepage:


Foreign Language Instructors

Work Schedule: Full Time
Salary: $49,397 - $70,558
Location: Washington, DC metropolitan area

Foreign Language Skills Are Essential to CIA's Mission

The Central Intelligence Agency is hiring qualified and experienced Language Instructors of Arabic, Chinese/Mandarin, Dari/Pashtu, French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian (Farsi), Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Thai, and Turkish to work in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

Hmmmm. "Essential to CIA's Mission." This has been a problem since before September 11, 2001 and the government HAS made efforts to hire additional foreign language resources. I would think for a skill shortage so critical to our nation's security, upping the ante a bit on pay for these positions might enlarge the size of the talent pool. I'm not sure you can rent a parking spot in the DC/Virginia area to live in your car for $49,397 a year. Why not offer $200,000 a year? $300,000? Ten or twenty of the right people focused on reviewing the right communications could save the United States TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars, not to mention TENS OF THOUSANDS of lives.

We need to treat language skills like the Manhattan Project of the 21st century. An increase in the number of people trained in the language, literature, culture and history (if not "social myths") of our opponents is one of the cheapest but most likely methods of reducing the occurrence of another major world war. This training is valuable under any circumstance because if military action is eventually required, we need those lanaguage skills anyway. Providing stablity requires boots on the ground and boots on the ground require communication with the locals. You cannot adequatly communicate your goals and objectives at the street level with a 1:100 ratio of translators to troops. That's one of many lessons we should be learning from Iraq.