Bush advises new spy chief to recruit language specialists
Says knowledge of Arabic, Farsi key in terror war
WASHINGTON -- President Bush instructed the nation's new spy chief to focus on finding more recruits with the language skills and cultural background to collect information on Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
During a swearing-in ceremony yesterday at Bolling Air Force Base outside Washington for retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell as the second director of national intelligence, Bush said the intelligence community still needs significant improvements more than five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He charged McConnell, who took his new post several days ago, with better integrating the nation's 16 spy agencies, improving information-sharing among those agencies and with other officials throughout government, and finding better intelligence technologies.
The president -- and later McConnell -- also focused on a persistent weakness in American intelligence-gathering: a dearth of operatives who speak critical languages, such as Arabic or Farsi.
"The old policies have hampered some common-sense reforms, such as hiring first- and second-generation Americans who possess native language skills, cultural insights, and a keen understanding of the threats we face," McConnell said.
Speaking to 300 invited guests at McConnell's new office at Bolling, Bush said: "These are enormous challenges, and Mike McConnell has the experience and the character and the talent to meet them."
"This is an opportunity and a privilege of a lifetime," said McConnell.
After taking the oath of office from White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, McConnell kissed his wife, Terry, and shook hands with a smiling Bush.
To go after the fast-paced threat of terrorism, McConnell said, the government must start acquiring new technologies and capabilities with the agility that was seen during the Cold War.
Yet terrorists, he said, also are seizing on advances in technology.
"The time needed to develop a terrorist plot, communicate it around the globe, and put it into motion has been drastically reduced," said McConnell. "The timeline is no longer a calendar. It is a watch."
McConnell's resume includes nearly four decades of work in the intelligence community. He heads an office created by Congress just over two years ago to coordinate national intelligence.
The office oversees activities spread across 16 government agencies, including the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency. But critics have questioned whether Congress gave the post enough power to adequately manage the work of the highly independent -- and sometimes headstrong -- organizations.
McConnell, 63, was first commissioned as a Navy line officer in 1967 and served in Vietnam. He gained renown as an intelligence briefer who could skillfully present complex national security matters to military leaders and policymakers.
From 1990 to 1992, covering the first Gulf War, he was intelligence officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving then Joint Chiefs chairman Colin Powell. From 1992 to 1996, he headed the National Security Agency, the world's largest codebreaking and eavesdropping agency.
For the past decade he has worked for Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a large defense and intelligence consulting company with sales of $3.7 billion worldwide in 2005. A specialist in the subjects of cyber security and critical infrastructure assurance, he has been earning a salary of almost $2 million a year.
The first director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, has been nominated to become deputy secretary of the State Department.