ATLANTA - CIA Director Leon Panetta told students at the nation's only all-male historically black college that the agency needs a more diverse workforce that represents the world it engages.
Panetta told about 100 Morehouse College students last week that about 22 percent of the agency’s employees come from a minority background, but his goal is to expand that number to 30 percent over the next few years.
“We can’t afford to have a workforce of people who all look and think alike,” he said. “We need the perspective of officers who have different backgrounds.”
The agency gets thousands of job applications each year - more after each James Bond flick comes out, Panetta joked. CIA officers and analysts aren’t going to advance if they don’t have language skills, he said, and proficiency in a foreign language will help students no matter what career they choose.
“This comes down to the security of this country,” he said. “If we can’t interpret that kind of communication quickly and understand what the hell they’re saying, then frankly we’re in trouble.”
Panetta has been part of the effort advising President Obama on what steps he should take to pressure Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to end the violence and leave power. He said the regional instability in the Middle East “presents both risk and opportunities for the United States” but didn’t talk much about the upheaval.
He urged the students to stay true to their “internal compass” as they prepare to graduate, and warned them to keep an eye out on what they put on social networking sites.
“I have a hard time understanding why I would put my most private information on a Facebook account that can go out to the entire world,” said Panetta. “I tell young people, ‘For God sakes, look at your Facebook account and get rid of the crap on there. Because that will affect your ability to get a job.’”
He then told the students that when he worked as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, he refused to accept any e-mails, opting instead for face-to-face contact.
“And it was the smartest damn thing I ever did,” he said as the crowd roared in laughter.