Advertisements will be placed in major US newspapers from this weekend, said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield on Thursday. The agency is also seeking Korean, Pashto and Farsi speakers.

With the United States stepping up intelligence activities since the 11 September attacks two years ago, experts have often pointed to poor foreign language skills as one of the major weaknesses of US intelligence agencies.

"Foreign languages are critical in order to perform our mission," commented Mansfield. "It doesn't matter whether they are operational officers, analysts or support staff."

Dismissals

The CIA’s new recruitment drive contrasts sharply with events in the US military last year.

Despite the paucity of foreign language speakers in the army, nine soldiers being trained as translators were discharged during 2002.

"There aren't a lot of Arabic speakers in the military to begin with, so the loss of six Arabic speakers is a very significant loss to the country"

Steve Ralls,
Servicemen's Legal Defence Network

The dismissals included six who were being trained as Arabic speakers, two in Korean and another in Chinese. The reason? They are gay.

Their linguistic skills were not in question. All nine translators received discharge papers stating that the reason for their dismissal was their sexuality.

Big loss

"All the service members had stellar service records and wanted to continue doing the important jobs they held, but they were fired because of their sexual orientation," said Steve Ralls of the Servicemen's Legal Defence Network in November 2002.

"There aren't a lot of Arabic speakers in the military to begin with, so the loss of six Arabic speakers is a very significant loss to the country," Ralls said.