WASHINGTON -- The CIA is pushing its spies into the field faster, giving 85 percent overseas assignments within a year after they finish training.
It will fall to the incoming spy chief -- General Michael V. Hayden, if he's confirmed -- to figure out how best to use them.
In the past, newly hired operatives have expressed concern that they complete training at the CIA's facility, called The Farm, and land behind desks. But now, 15 percent stay stateside to study languages or receive 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.
Meanwhile, a new director soon will 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 also has increased the focus on Latin America, where intelligence officials see Venezuela seeking closer ties with Cuba, Iran, and North Korea.
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 Qaeda 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 on the 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.
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 Major General Salah Abdallah Gosh, Sudan's intelligence chief, to Washington for meetings in spring 2005. The United States has accused Gosh of participating in genocide in Darfur, and he was among those who hosted Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda fighters in Sudan from 1991 to 1996.
But now Gosh has given the United States access to Al Qaeda fighters who never left the eastern African nation, and he has proved helpful in the war on terror.
In a September speech, Goss was criticized 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.
During his Senate remarks, Hayden indicated that he wanted to open up more US 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, and satellites -- into assessments.
He'll have opportunities to mold new hires. In the agency's analysis division, that for every 10 analysts with fewer than four years of experience, there is one with 10 to 14 years of experience who can act as a mentor, Hayden said.
''This is the youngest analytic workforce in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency," Hayden said. ''In more disappointing language, this is the least experienced analytic workforce 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 also is increasingly interested in different backgrounds or professionals making midcareer changes.
The trend is occurring 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?"