Washington Times: ‘Panetta to expand CIA language training’

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The brief article Panetta to expand CIA language training in Saturday’s edition of the Washington Times makes an important point – the need to furnish CIA personnel with foreign language training.

In point of fact, I am in complete agreement with the need to furnish those employees of the CIA with foreign language training. Now you may wonder why I would be writing a commentary about CIA Director Leon Panetta’s intentions to provide language training for the people in the agency he is in charge of.

This is the point to consider: When I began my career with what was the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) in 1971, I was told that a critical part of my training would be training in the Spanish Language. It is estimated that at least 75% of the aliens in the United States are Spanish speakers and hence it was logically decided that in order to do our jobs at the INS it was essential to provide all immigration inspectors, investigators and deportation officers with Spanish language training.

Shortly after I entered duty with the INS as an immigration inspector assigned to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York I was sent to the Border Patrol Academy at Los Fresnos, Texas located close to Brownsville, Texas. One of the courses all of us were required to successfully complete was Spanish language. There were a number of trainees who were proficient in every other course, but because they failed to pass Spanish, they were dropped from the program and their employment with the INS was terminated.

I recall spending a few nerve-wracking weekends with a number of my colleagues, working in the language lab to get our Spanish grades up.

The instructors were terrific, they really worked with us. I cannot tell you how useful that language training was for me and my colleagues. My basic Spanish language skills were extremely helpful and highly valued by agents of other agencies I worked with when I was assigned to the Unified Intelligence Division at the DEA and when I was promoted to senior special agent at the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

What was astounding to me is that when the INS was disbanded and the Department of Homeland Security was created, not only was Spanish language training no longer considered essential- it was not even offered to the employees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement!

I have raised this issue at numerous Congressional hearings. I even recommended that in addition to restoring Spanish language training to the curriculum for ICE special agents and for all CBP (Customs and Border Protection) personnel, strategic languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and other strategic languages should be provided to employees who come routinely into contact with foreign nationals.

There are a number of reasons that this is important including the safety of our personnel. Law enforcement personnel are paid to have confrontations on a nearly daily basis. It is important for our agents to know if individuals being interviewed or especially being arrested, are having a discussion about how to react to the agents who may ultimately arrest them.

Additionally, it is not uncommon for illegal aliens to falsely claim to be citizens of the United States. Illegal aliens from Latin America typically claim to have been born in Puerto Rico. One of the components to the training syllabus when I was at the Border Patrol Academy and when we had follow-up training, was to recognize dialects and be mindful of idioms and language peculiarities that would be vital to breaking false claims to United States citizenship.

This training often helped my colleagues and me to uncover false claims to United States citizenship. This had extremely important implications in a number of situations, not the least of which when we interviewed individuals who were incarcerated in prison for having committed serious crimes. If we had failed to identify an illegal alien who had made a false claim to being a United States citizen, that alien would be able to avoid being deported from the United States.

Another point that is important to understand is that while everyone knows that the CIA’s mission is to develop intelligence, (after all, the term “Intelligence” is a component of the name of that agency) ICE agents are often in the possession to develop intelligence while they are conducting field investigations.

An ICE agent who is making an arrest and searching an individual or his residence or business pursuant to a search warrant, may well stumble across invaluable intelligence, provided, of course, that he is able to understand what he (she) is looking at.

During my first year as an INS special agent, in fact, I found a document on an Israeli national that contained a diagram of an oil refinery in Israel. The writing was in Arabic but, fortunately because the Israeli government had become involved in the investigation, when I found that document, their officials were able to quickly identify it is a plan to penetrate the perimeter of that refinery and plant explosives.

Because of the discovery of that document, a deadly attack was averted and many lives were saved.

The problem is that because the immigration issue has become so politicized, the administration is seemingly unwilling to take reasonable steps to make immigration law enforcement as effective as it absolutely needs to be.

Immigration law enforcement is a serious matter that has national security implications. It is imperative that the citizens of our nation reach out to their elected representatives and make their concerns known in clear and unequivocal terms.

Good citizenship does not end at the voting booth but it simply begins there. In order for our representative democracy to represent us, we need to communicate with our elected representatives to let them know in clear and unequivocal terms what we want.

I implore you to get involved!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue- simply stated, this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue! You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport! Lead, follow or get out of the way!

Michael Cutler, a former Senior INS Investigator, an expert witness in more than a dozen Congressional Hearings is a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and an advisor to the ‘911 Families for a Secure America.’ He writes about the nexus between immigration and national security.