CIA Head to Review Use of Private Contractors

CIA Director Michael Hayden is reviewing his agency's use of private contractors and the number of people who are resigning to fill the often lucrative positions.

"I am going to investigate to see how much of an issue it is, and then we will take some action," Hayden said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Monday, after he spoke to CIA personnel about his vision for the agency.

He is in his fourth month as chief.

Current and former government officials have expressed concern about a so-called "brain drain" to the private sector, which is impossible to quantify publicly because the contracts and personnel figures at spy agencies are secret.

CIA employees generally can retire with full benefits after a career of at least two decades, and some return as contractors. But Hayden said he's more concerned about another issue: the early resignation of employees who get CIA training, leave their jobs and return in higher paying, private-sector contracting positions.

If resignations are higher than historic norms, "you begin to look like the farm system for contractors around here," Hayden said.

In its Sunday editions, the Los Angeles Times provided new evidence about the trend among spy agencies to hire contractors for roles once filled by U.S. government personnel. The work is particularly bountiful given the war on terror and the extended conflict in Iraq.

Jim Pavitt, who headed the CIA's clandestine service from 1999 to 2004, said the CIA has to rely on contractors because its mission expanded rapidly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and budget cuts in the 1990s meant the CIA hadn't hired enough people.

"It was on the 12th of September, when just about anything I asked for — dollars or more people — everyone was willing to give me," he said.

Hayden did not speak to the CIA work force Monday about contractors specifically, but he did tell the thousands gathered in person and on closed-circuit television about the need to focus on developing new leaders.

As part of the massive boost in national security spending following 9/11, the agency's ranks have grown by about 17 percent, with a roughly 6 percent increase last year, according to CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield.

Some of that growth stems from President Bush's November 2004 order to boost the number of CIA operatives and analysts by 50 percent. Yet intelligence veterans say the challenge is to get quality with the quantity.

"We need a lot of coaching and mentoring," Hayden said in the interview.

He also said the CIA needs to be able to support its personnel — with everything from office space to better technology. He noted that the power went out in June for several hours at the agency's suburban Virginia headquarters, calling attention to the need for an uninterruptible power supply.

While essential work continued thanks to backup power generation, Hayden said, "you had a lot of people sitting around, looking at computers that now became bookends."

Speaking to the work force, Hayden also said he wants to focus on relationships with allied intelligence services, send more U.S.-based intelligence analysts overseas to get them on-the-ground experience and put an even greater emphasis on the clandestine work that's done around the globe.

He only briefly touched on the issue of detainees, which has dominated headlines since Bush announced that the CIA's last 14 high-value detainees had been transferred to military custody.

With the move, the administration also asked Congress for legislation that would clarify in law that the CIA's program is appropriate and legal, allowing it to continue in the future. "All I want to say on that subject is that this agency will continue to reflect the conscience of the republic in everything we do," Hayden said.