Tags: Shortage | Linguists | for | Key | Security | Jobs

Shortage of Linguists for Key Security Jobs

Monday, 16 April 2001 12:00 AM

The FBI must translate a million pages and untold hours of intercepted conversations a year, and faces a mounting backlog that inhibits its ability to prevent some crimes and investigate others.

The need for language proficiency has grown as security threats have fragmented and the ability to eavesdrop has expanded.

But government layoffs and employee buyouts have trimmed foreign language expertise drastically, said Theodore Crump, who is updating a book cataloging the federal government's foreign language needs. These days, most agencies can only hope to catch up with, rather than anticipate, their needs.

"Back in 1985 the terrorist thing didn't really come up," he said of the year he first prepared the book. "Now, when you have the possibility of someone coming in with a weapon of mass destruction in a suitcase, it changes the whole picture," he told the Times.

While the Cold War's end has brought waves of immigrants with knowledge of obscure languages to the United States, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been reluctant to hire great numbers of them, citing a weakness in English and, frequently, difficulties in gaining security clearances for them.

Intelligence agencies say they are frequently caught short in times of crisis, lacking a sufficient pool of agents and analysts with needed languages, from Arabic to Korean and – most recently – Macedonian.

A sobering illustration, the newspaper said, came in 1993. When a band of trained terrorists plotted to blow up the World Trade Center, clues to the future devastation were available to law enforcement officials.

The FBI held videotapes, manuals and notebooks on bomb making that had been seized from Ahmad Ajaj, a Palestinian serving time in federal prison for passport fraud. There were phone calls the prison had taped, in which Ajaj guardedly told another terrorist how to build the bomb.

There was one problem: They were in Arabic. Nobody who understood Arabic listened to them until after the explosion at the Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993, which killed six people and injured more than a thousand.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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The FBI must translate a million pages and untold hours of intercepted conversations a year, and faces a mounting backlog that inhibits its ability to prevent some crimes and investigate others. The need for language proficiency has grown as security threats...
Shortage,Linguists,for,Key,Security,Jobs
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2001-00-16
Monday, 16 April 2001 12:00 AM
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