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Lawmakers: Counterterrorism Agencies Making Progress, Fixes Needed

The CIA, FBI and other agencies have addressed some deficiencies in their counterterrorism efforts, but still must improve training, recruiting and intelligence sharing, two lawmakers involved in the congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks said Thursday.

Reps. Saxby Chambliss and Jane Harman, members of the House Intelligence Committee, told a House panel that the FBI is changing its mission from investigating past terrorist attacks to trying to stop new ones before they occur.

The CIA, meanwhile, has relaxed rules governing how it works with foreigners who can provide intelligence but have a violent background. The entire intelligence community also has improved its training in foreign languages, the representatives said.

"The number of CIA operations officers -- those who recruit spies -- who are adequately trained in a foreign language, any foreign language, is embarrassingly low. The number trained in languages spoken by terrorists is even lower," said Chambliss, R-Ga., in testimony before a terrorism panel composed of members of the House Armed Services' Committee.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said the agency has tripled its number of Arabic speakers in the last five years. Of its two most recent classes of recruits -- the largest since the Vietnam War -- 70 percent speak at least one foreign language, he said.

"We are working very hard to make improvements in this area," he said.

Chambliss and Harman, the ranking Democrat from California, provided testimony on their subcommittee's July report, which identified weaknesses in counterterrorism efforts by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency before the attacks. The National Security Agency eavesdrops on electronic communications.

Their recommendations included fixing communications problems among agencies and adding linguists. Their report also said both agencies and Congress had not paid enough attention to terrorism before Sept. 11.

"There was not a commitment on Congress' part to provide the resources requested by the intelligence community," Chambliss said.

FBI and intelligence officials have previously said many of the report's proposed changes were already being implemented.

The representatives' testimony comes as the full Intelligence Committee is conducting a larger, joint inquiry with its Senate counterpart into the Sept. 11 attacks.