CIA unusually public over need for Arabic, Farsi speakers

Jeff Tyler Jun 25, 2010

CIA unusually public over need for Arabic, Farsi speakers

Jeff Tyler Jun 25, 2010


Bill Radke: The CIA has been trying to hire more people who are fluent in languages spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. So Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler reports the usually secretive agency is trying a more open approach.

Jeff Tyler: Few of the CIA job openings are for spies.

Zahra: People tend to think that most of the jobs are related to the clandestine service, and that, in fact, is really one of the smallest pieces of our organization.

That’s Zahra, a program manager with the CIA. I can’t share her last name, for security reasons. But the fact that’s she’s speaking publicly is revealing.

Zahra: Compared to 50 years ago, when my father joined CIA, it’s a much more open hiring process for sure.

Zahra recruits from Middle-Eastern communities in the U.S.

Zahra: Maybe those communities did not realize there were jobs for scientists and engineers and administrators.

Current CIA job openings include a Foreign Media Analyst. It pays between $50,000 and $97,000, depending on experience. The starting salary for Foreign Language Instructor is slightly higher. In the next five years, CIA plans to double the number of employees who are proficient in languages. The agency is advertising on websites like Career Builder and Facebook, and it’s taken out radio ads.

CIA Radio Ad: I am an Iranian-American attorney. An electrical engineer. An analyst. And we all work for CIA.

There’s a hiring bonus of up to $35,000 for people who speak languages such as Farsi, Pashtu or Arabic. And Zahra says it doesn’t end there.

Zahra: We have incentives as you continue in your career, where you get a certain amount in every paycheck based on maintaining the language.

CIA recruiters attended a recent Arab-American Festival in Dearborn, Michigan. Paul Saba, a lawyer fluent in Arabic, says the Department of Defense is also recruiting Arabic speakers.

Paul Saba: They’re paid quite handsomely. I think it’s in the six figures. The CIA, they have to compete with that.

He’d consider working for the CIA, even though he says some folks in his community might say he’s selling-out.

Saba: My philosophy is, if you want change, you change from within. To me, that’s the promising aspect of working for the CIA.

Working for the CIA does require relocating to Virginia. And there’s a lengthy background check that can take up to one year.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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