CIA Director Asks U.S. Muslims to Aid Anti-Terror Effort

September 17, 2009 - 7:07 AM
Speaking in the heart of Michigan's large Middle Eastern Community, Leon Panetta said the country is safer than it was when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, though al-Qaida still remains a threat.
Dearborn, Mich. (AP) - The director of the CIA beseeched Arab-American and Muslim leaders Wednesday to join efforts to reduce the threat of terrorism in the U.S.
 
Speaking in the heart of Michigan's large Middle Eastern Community, Leon Panetta said the country is safer than it was when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, though al-Qaida still remains a threat.
 
"I need you. The nation needs you," Panetta said during a 25-minute speech to about 150 people at an iftar, the evening meal that breaks the fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
 
The address represented one of the Central Intelligence Agency's highest-profile recruiting efforts aimed at Arab-Americans and Muslims. Panetta said it was his first speech at a Ramadan break-fast dinner.
 
The agency this year announced a five-year plan to boost fluency in Arabic and other languages the CIA deems critical to its work. Panetta aims to raise foreign language proficiency inside the CIA from less than a third to at least half of all analysts and intelligence operatives.
 
He told the gathering he hopes to increase the share of the agency's work force that has foreign language skills. The agency seeks highly skilled workers in 90 different areas, including analysts, engineers and doctors, he said.
 
"We have to reflect the face of this nation, and we have to reflect the face of the world," said Panetta, drawing applause from the gathering.
 
Earlier, he told reporters he never considered resigning from the job he took in February, despite a battle with Attorney General Eric Holder over Holder's his decision to investigate some agency officials in past interrogations of terrorism case detainees.
 
"My concern is ... that we don't get trapped by the past. My feeling is ultimately, we're going to be able to move on," Panetta said. "I think the reason I felt the way I did is because I don't believe there's a basis there for any kind of additional action."
 
He also sought to allay concerns of many in the Arab and Muslim communities who say they have felt the sting of suspicion and discrimination since Sept. 11. About 300,000 people with roots in the Arab world live in the Detroit area.
 
"President Obama has done a tremendous amount of outreach in the Muslim community," Panetta said. "He very much considers them part of the American family."
 
Imam Hisham al-Husainy of Dearborn's Karbalaa Islamic Center said he originally thought he shouldn't attend because he wanted to remain independent. But he said his faith compelled him to help the Obama administration.
 
"I don't want to be CIA. ... But I will be an American Muslim who wants to bring peace and love between Muslims and Christians," said al-Husainy, who sat at the same table with Panetta. "Maybe I'll have a burden to pay later on, but I'm proud of what I'm doing."