CIA to Recruit Korean Speakers — Do you know your ABC? [UPDATE — 2021 Duolingo Language Report]

“Fluent in Korean?
US citizen with a 4 yr college degree?
Interested in national security?
Your skills are needed here!”

CIA Directorate of Operations

Twitter (August 17 2018)

August 23 2018 — On May 10 2017, the CIA announced the establishment of a Korea Mission Center. The US Intel agency is now recruiting US citizens — with a college degree — fluent in Korean. Did you know that linguists regard ‘Hangul’ as the most logical alphabet of all? Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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“It is clear that there has been a shift away from more traditionally taught European languages to non-European.”

Emma Cayley — UCML chief executive (Dec. 2021)

UPDATE (December 29 2021) — According to the 2021 Duolingo Language Report, love for Asian languages continues to grow around the globe.

In 2021, Asian languages—especially Japanese and Korean—attracted learners worldwide, building on the impressive growth observed in 2020.

Japanese surpassed Italian globally to become the 5th most popular language to study, and it’s the fastest-growing language in the U.S. and U.K.

Korean — holding strong at the 7th most popular language to study around the world — is the fastest-growing language in Brazil, France, Germany, India, and Mexico, and it ranks as the second-fastest growing language in Japan!

Chinese, which was the 10th most popular language to study in 2020, has overtaken Russian and Portuguese for the 8th spot worldwide. It is also one of the top 5 fastest-growing languages in Mexico and Brazil.

The growth of interest in studying Asian languages shows no signs of slowing. The world is tuning in to more Korean and Japanese entertainment, listening to more K-pop, and reframing language study as something you do to complement and support your interests and other activities—not just something required of you in a classroom.

Illustration of Duolingo characters Junior, Oscar, Zari, and Lucy enjoying Japanese and Korean books, music, and media.
“In 2020, Japanese and Korean were on the map as the most popular languages to study in some of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and their popularity has grown: there are now more Korean learners than English learners in Mongolia, and these languages occupy both of the top spots in Bhutan, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, and the Philippines.” [2021 Duolingo Language Report]

This seems to be an important global phenomenon. Japanese and Korean are driving the recovery of the study of languages and culture in European universities.

For instance, in the UK, a boom in Korean and Japanese university degrees is helping to revive modern languages departments struggling with falling enrollments. [The Guardian — Interest in anime and K-pop drive boom in Korean and Japanese degrees]

According to a report published this year by the University Council of Modern Languages (UCML), more students now study Korean than Russian, and more take Japanese than Italian.


“We referred to North Korea as the hardest of the hard targets. It’s extremely difficult to get good information.”

Bruce Klingner — Former CIA deputy division chief for Korea and now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation

On May 10 2017, the CIA posted the following information:

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has established a Korea Mission Center to harness the full resources, capabilities, and authorities of the Agency in addressing the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea.

The new Mission Center draws on experienced officers from across the Agency and integrates them in one entity to bring their expertise and creativity to bear against the North Korea target.

A veteran CIA operations officer has been selected as the new Assistant Director for Korea and presides over the Mission Center.

The new Mission Center will work closely with the Intelligence Community and the entire U.S. national security community.

“Creating the Korea Mission Center allows us to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

“It also reflects the dynamism and agility that CIA brings to evolving national security challenges.”

About Andrew Kim

The unnamed veteran CIA operations officer selected as the new Assistant Director for Korea and head of the CIA KOREA Mission Center is Andrew Kim, also known as  the ‘grim reaper’ for his hawkish views.

Andrew Kim (center), head of the Korean desk at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), arrives for a meeting with Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, and North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol (not pictured), in New York May 31. | PETER FOLEY / VIA BLOOMBERG

Kim had spent a career in the agency and retired after working as station chief in Seoul. He was then brought back to lead the Korea Mission Center, a body that Pompeo set up in May 2017 when he was still CIA director.

RELATED POST: CIA Establishes Korea Mission Center [UPDATE: Andrew Kim resigns]

According to a person familiar with Kim’s role, Pompeo picked Kim with the advice of Gina Haspel, his deputy at the time and now the CIA Director.

About Hangul (Korean alphabet)

The first fully phonemic script, the Proto-Canaanite script, later known as the Phoenician alphabet, is considered to be the first alphabet, and is the ancestor of most modern alphabets, including Arabic, Greek, Latin, Cyrillic, Hebrew, and possibly Brahmic.

Of the dozens of alphabets in use today, the most popular is the Latin alphabet, which was derived from the Greek, and which many languages modify by adding letters formed using diacritical marks.

In Korea, the Hangul alphabet was created by Sejong the Great. Hangul is a unique alphabet: it is a featural alphabet, where many of the letters are designed from a sound’s place of articulation (P to look like the widened mouth, L to look like the tongue pulled in, etc.).

Its design was planned by the government of the day. It places individual letters in syllable clusters with equal dimensions, in the same way as Chinese characters, to allow for mixed-script writing.

Linguists generally consider Hangul the most logical writing system in the world.

How Korea crafted a better alphabet

Meet the king who invented it and watch him work his linguistic magic in this chapter in the history of writing.


CIA Establishes Korea Mission Center — CIA Website

Mystery CIA Officer Thrust Into Spotlight Ahead of Korea Summit — Bloomberg


CIA to Recruit Korean Speakers

CIA to Recruit Korean Speakers — Do you know your ABC? [UPDATE — 2021 Duolingo Language Report]

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