Personnel with foreign language skills are critical to the success of U.S. foreign policy. And they are especially valuable when they don’t speak or understand the languages of our adversaries. That is what “diversity” is all about.
Confused? Here is Donald Kerr, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, explaining the paradox on May 16 at the Second Intelligence Community Heritage Summit.
In this work there are countless stories about the importance of diversity. There’s one I recently learned from an FBI intelligence analyst who had worked on Saddam Hussein’s debriefing team in Iraq. While Saddam was being interviewed, a key component of the strategy was to keep him isolated from people outside of the FBI agencies who were questioning him, but he was fluent in several languages. Not deeply so, but sufficiently, and the interviewers needed to find guards who could speak a language that he wouldn’t understand. It turned out to be really difficult. He knew bits of Spanish, but not the rapid fire Spanish of Puerto Rico. So Puerto Rican speakers would really flummox him, they certainly do me. And that’s what the FBI settled on for his guards. U.S. military members who were native Puerto Ricans in terms of the Spanish that they spoke.
So the importance of diversity comes up in even the most unexpected circumstances.
In this global conflict, this struggle with violent extremism, the clarion call for diversity, diversity of experience, of culture, of interest, has to be our call to action.
Kerr revealed some other sensitive secrets in his talk. Among them is a new danger.
We have to watch our words. . . .We have to avoid words like jihadist, mujahedeen. We have to be clear. It’s not just political correctness, it’s to avoid legitimizing the action of terrorists.
Our spies have recently made some other new discoveries. Here’s an amazing one. CIA analysts have been working the problem for years, and here’s what they found: there’s a big country near Japan, and like the United States, it is also “diverse.”
We need to understand China, not as a vast assemblage of 1.3 billion people, but to recognize that there are differences in different parts of China. We know there are different languages, different dialects and different cultures. That’s part of what we need to understand as well.
Is Kerr’s speech the final straw? Is it time to abolish the intelligence community and start from scratch?