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FBI fights terror – but can’t speak Arabic

Five years after mass terror attacks on US which prompted America’s sweeping war on terror, only 33 federal agents speak Arabic. FBI says it's a problem to recruit Arabic-speaking agents - as they often don't pass stringent security checks

Five years after the mass terror attacks on the United States which prompted America’s sweeping war on terror, only 33 federal agents speak Arabic, according to new information given by the FBI and published by the Washington Post. Further, none of those 33 agents work in the international terror investigations departments.


The agency is indeed recruiting translators and linguists, but applicants fluent in foreign languages, especially Middle Eastern languages, usually don’t make it past the stringent  background security checks.


Counting agents familiar with only a few Arabic words - some of whom scored an “F” in standard qualifications tests - the total number of agents with knowledge of Arabic stands at 120 – a mere one percent of the total 12,000 agents employed by the agency.


Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, the paucity of Arabic speaking agents has been an issue of debates in the past, one of the report specifically stating that many documents were not translated because.


The paucity of Arabic-speaking agents has been discussed in the past, especially in light of the investigation reports into the events of 9/11, which exposed numerous documents in Arabic that were not translated because of the shortage of able personnel.


Two years have passed since the report was issued. New information shows the extreme difficulty the agency is experiencing in recruiting agents that speak Arabic, Urdu or Persian, among other Middle Eastern and South Asian languages. Meanwhile, a significant number of terror groups operate within these geographic areas.


A testimony given by a senior agent, as part of a recently filed legal charge against the agency, states that neither of the FBI’s anti-terror departments requires its agents to know Arabic.


Official: 'They can do their jobs without Arabic'

A senior FBI official asserted that agents do not need to know Arabic to do their jobs because in most cases they receive already translated documents. He further declared that agents in the field do not need Arabic either, and if it becomes necessary in a certain case, they can be partnered with a translator within a day.


Another official noted that it was a challenge to recruit agents fluent in foreign languages, but the FBI enlists no few translators and linguists who handle the bulk of data that accumulates.


She pointed out a certain paradox: It is easier for applicants to receive security authorization to continue training if they don’t have extensive ties to foreign communities, especially those from the Middle East – but then they also do not have the knowledge required and high levels of familiarity with the language.


Experts say this is a severe problem, which not only makes it difficult for the FBI to fulfill its mission but also strains relations between the FBI and the large Arab immigrant community in the United States.


פרסום ראשון: 10.11.06, 17:29
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