Spies in Training | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Dear editor,

Mark Scheffler rightly points out the alarming dearth of fluent speakers of languages vital to intelligence community efforts to fight terrorism ["What's Urdu for 'We're Screwed'?" October 10]. His diagnosis that this shortfall is caused simply by a lack of government interest in and funding for academic pursuit of these languages is, however, misleading. In fact, it is the academics themselves who are largely to blame for both the lack of funding and the lack of interest of qualified graduates in intelligence careers. For example, as Peter Beinart noted in the New Republic (11-12-2001), "When the government tried to establish a program [in 2000] under which college students would receive free language instruction in return for pursuing a career in intelligence, the University of Michigan refused. As assistant professor of Arabic Carol Bardenstein told Time, 'We didn't want our students to be known as spies in training.'" Similarly, in response to the announcement of the National Flagship Language Initiative--Pilot Program, part of the National Security Education Program, the board of directors of the Middle East Studies Association announced that they were "uneasy about the directed goals of NFLI-P, and in particular the direct link that it envisions between academic programs and government employment" and that they "deplore the channeling of funds for education through defense or intelligence agencies." That Professor Poulos recognizes the important role of academia in national security already sets him apart. If he had more like-minded colleagues, America's analytic capabilities and the argument for greater funding to enhance them would both be much stronger.

Anonymous beneficiary of federal foreign language and area studies funding

Washington, D.C.

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