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FBI Foreign Language Program

According to a Justice Department study, about 27 percent of the 2.6 million hours of recordings made between 2002 and March of this year have not been analyzed. FBI Directore Robert Mueller told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary today that this wasn’t so. Most of the material had been audited, he said, and of the remaining backlog, over 90% was attributable to “white noise” and to audio from highly obscure languages and dialects.

We currently have translation capabilities in approximately 100 languages. The languages in the backlog are so rare that, in some cases, we have found that there is no one within the Intelligence Community with a proficiency in the language. We have addressed this issue through intense recruiting efforts, and have hired 9 additional linguists in one very rare language.

Mueller told the committee that since 9/11, the FBI has recruited and processed more than 50,000 translator applicants which has resulted in the addition of 877 new contract linguists and 112 new language analysts – their total now stands at 959 and 406 respectively. However, “strong demand for their language skills from other government agencies and the private sector” (meaning, most likely, the FBI doesn’t pay very well) leads to an annual attrition of 7% among FBI language analysts and of 11% for contract linguists.

I did not have time to watch the questions and answers on c-span but hope to catch up when they post the transcripts.


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