FBI still lacks translators, eight years after 9/11, says report

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By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An internal audit by the US Justice Department’s inspector general has found that the FBI faces a critical shortage of foreign-language specialists, eight years after 9/11. The audit report (redacted version available in .pdf here) issued last Monday by inspector general Glenn Fine, reveals that the lack of translators prevented the FBI from accessing 31 per cent of the foreign-language material it collected in counter-terrorism operations from 2006 to 2008. This means the Bureau, which serves as America’s primary counterintelligence and counterterrorism force, has been unable to read tens of thousands of pages and listen to or review 1.2 million hours of audio intercepts in the last two years alone. Remarkably, despite the well-understood need for foreign-language specialists in the post-9/11 security environment, the audit found that the total number of FBI translators dropped from 1,338 in March 2005 to 1,298 in September last year. And this despite the FBI’s “100 percent” increase in workload since 9/11. US government auditors and Congressional committees frequently issue warnings about the low numbers of foreign-language linguists working in US law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The most recent such warning was issued in June by the US House Intelligence Committee, which authorized the 2010 US intelligence budget while drawing attention to “the continuing lack of critical language-capable personnel in the Intelligence Community, and the need to address this shortage”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

One Response to FBI still lacks translators, eight years after 9/11, says report

  1. Chas Ward says:

    Unfortunately, this is a very common problem and the FBI does not have a monopoly. If reliable translators cannot be recruited, then extra incentives should be paid to gifted linguists to learn the correct language. During my time, I had an officer who spoke seven or eight languages fluently, prompting a Russian to say that he had never heard a non-Russian speaking so fluently and idiomatically. These people are out there and if the price ticket is high, then it is well worth the payment. The report of the Justice Departments inspector general does not provide much in the way of encouragement or incentive. Let us hope that the situation never arises when a terrorist attack has taken place and all the material is available, unheard, untranslated and probably archived.

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