The U.S. government, in dire need of intelligence agents skilled in the languages and cultures of the Muslim world, is struggling to recruit from American ethnic communities grown wary of its policies.

Relations with many minority communities, first soured by a post-Sept. 11 crackdown on Muslim immigrants, have been further strained by uproars over the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. interrogation practices and President George W. Bush’s now-suspended domestic spying program, experts said. . .

But officials recognize the need to engage ethnic communities to ‘demystify’ the nature of the intelligence service through meetings with community leaders whom they hope to persuade to encourage people to consider intelligence careers.

“In order to be able to recruit from a particular heritage community, we need to have a relationship with that heritage community. You can’t just wander in, set up your recruiting booth and wait for the lines to form,” Sanders said.

That is good news to Muslims such as Arsalan Iftikhar of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who says the Bush administration needs to engage ethnic communities more vigorously.

“The silver lining is that this divide has slowly begun to close. But there’s still a lot to be done,” Iftikhar said.

“There is still a misnomer that the war on terror has become a war on Islam. We all know that not to be the case. But it’s important for our administration to take active steps.”

Iftikhar said the FBI has made progress using its 56 field offices for outreach efforts in local communities.

Thanks partly to that effort, the FBI has received about 1,000 applications in the past few months from people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent wanting to become agents. FBI officials believe that to be a marked improvement over previous periods but could not provide comparative figures.

As a rule, only a small handful out of every 100 agent applicants for positions requiring critical language skills prove fully qualified for the job, the FBI said.


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