The Director of National Intelligence issued a new directive that is intended to improve foreign language skills throughout the U.S. intelligence community.
“Foreign language capabilities are essential to the performance of intelligence missions and operations,” the May 2012 directive notes.
Foreign language competence for intelligence purposes extends well beyond mastery of a common vocabulary or the ability to translate a newspaper article.
“Foreign language capabilities include a broad range of language proficiency skills and other abilities, such as cultural awareness and understanding, regional expertise, skill in translation and interpretation, and knowledge of the scientific and technical vocabularies of critical foreign languages,” the directive says.
“This Directive establishes an integrated approach to develop, maintain, and improve foreign language capabilities across the Intelligence Community (IC).” See Intelligence Community Directive 630, “Intelligence Community Foreign Language Capability,” May 14, 2012.
Shortfalls in foreign language abilities are a recurring problem in U.S. intelligence agencies.
“U.S. intelligence efforts are complicated by unfilled requirements for foreign language expertise,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
“A major constraint on HUMINT collection is the availability of personnel trained in appropriate languages. Cold War efforts required a supply of linguists in a relatively finite set of foreign languages, but the intelligence community now needs experts in a wider range of more obscure languages and dialects,” wrote CRS specialist Richard A. Best, Jr. last year.