FBI ‘used Google Translate’ to indict alleged Syrian spy, claims lawyer

Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid

Mohamad Soueid

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The lawyer of a Syrian national accused by the United States of spying for Syria has accused the Federal Bureau of Investigation of resorting to Google to prepare the case against his client. Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid was arrested last summer and charged with conducting political espionage against Syrian and American citizens participating in demonstrations against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The alleged espionage appears to have been organized by members of the Syrian embassy in Washington, DC. A few weeks prior to Soueid’s arrest, the US Department of State had communicated to Syria’s ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, “a number of […] concerns with […] reported actions of certain Syrian embassy staff in the United States”. The concerns centered on confirmed sightings of Syrian diplomats conducting technical surveillance against Syrian opposition activists in several US cities. Soueid was subsequently arrested for allegedly gathering intelligence on protesters and planning an extensive intimidation campaign. But Soueid’s lawyer, Haytham Faraj, told the court last week that his client’s name, as transcribed in the FBI indictment, had been wrongly transliterated into English using Google Translate. He also wrote in a court filing that the prosecution had “demonstrated a serious deficit in its ability to translate recorded conversations from Arabic into English”. Soueid’s defense also argues that federal prosecutors appear “to have taken extensive liberties with a playful [telephone] conversation” between the accused and his wife back in Syria, eventually producing an English-language translation “that has no basis in fact”. In one case highlighted by the defense, the accused allegedly told his wife that the Syrian intelligence agency was monitoring telephone calls; but in English, the phrase was changed to say “this phone belongs to intelligence agency”. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #397

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US agencies still lack basic language skills, says new report

GAO report

GAO report

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A major US government audit into the performance of national security departments and agencies has once again criticized the substantial absence of skilled foreign-language speakers. According to the Government Accountability Office’s latest assessment (.pdf) of the US Department of Defense and the Department of State, not only has the availability of foreign language fluency not improved, but has actually deteriorated during the past few years. The situation is especially desperate in the State Department, says the report, where the percentage of “generalists and specialists in language-designated positions” who fail to meet essential language criteria increased from 29 percent in 2005 to 31 percent last year. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #361

  • FBI linguist jailed in leak probe. The Obama administration’s crackdown on government whistleblowers continued on Tuesday with the jailing of Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI contract linguist who disclosed classified information to the media.
  • Yemen sentences alleged Iranian spies to death. Two members of an alleged Iranian spy cell operating in Yemen were sentenced to death on Tuesday. The Yemeni government accuses Iran of arming the Shiite so-called Sa’adah insurgency along the Yemeni-Saudi border.
  • New Turkish intel chief has big plans. Among the changes that Hakan Fidan, new chief of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), intends to spearhead is “starting a separate electronic intelligence organization like the American NSA or the British GCHQ”.

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

Report cover

Report cover

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. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0111

  • Obama supports extending USA PATRIOT Act domestic spy provisions. The move confirms the US President’s support for the Act, whose warrantless communications monitoring provisions he approved with his Senate vote in 2008.
  • Poland jails alleged Belarusian spy. The man, known only as “Sergei M.” was sentenced Wednesday to five-and-a-half years in prison by a Warsaw district court for spying against Poland between 2005 and 2006. Meanwhile in Belarus four local army officers are still on trial, accused of spying for Poland.
  • Tolkien was trained as a British spy. Novelist JRR Tolkien, whose day occupation was in linguistics research, secretly trained as a British government spy in the run up to World War II, new documents have disclosed.

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