U.S. intelligence agencies triple number of Arab linguists

Monday, March 8, 2004

WASHINGTON The U.S. intelligence community has tripled the number of Arabic and Persian linguists.

Congressional sources said the increase in Arabic- and Persian-language translators was recorded in every one of the nine U.S. intelligence agencies.

They said the largest increase was in the National Security Agency, which increased the number of foreign-language speakers by seven-fold since 1999.

The increase in the number of linguists in Middle East languages was reported in testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 26, Middle East Newsline reported. But a senior Defense Department official said the increase has not resolved the shortage of linguists in the intelligence community.

In her testimony, Letitia Long, a deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said linguists in Middle East languages remain in short supply for the U.S. Army. Ms. Long said up to 2,000 positions remained unfilled. The military and intelligence community has created 6,000 contract positions. The U.S. military has sustained the worst shortfall in Arabic and Farsi linguists, Ms. Long said. She cited such a shortfall in other languages, such as Urdu.

Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, released portions of the Feb. 26 committee hearing. Holt said the language deficiency "definitely contributed to our lack of preparation prior to the Sept. 11 attacks" and continues to hamper American intelligence operations in Iraq and around the world.

Congress has been urging the U.S. military and intelligence community to hire Arabic, Farsi and Urdu linguists. A 2003 report by the joint Congressional committee that examined the Al Qaida strikes against the United States in 2001 determined that the intelligence community has filled 30 percent of its linguistic needs in such languages as Arabic, Pashto, Persian and Urdu.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid said that greater efforts were required to collect foreign-language information in the Middle East and surrounding regions. He said the military has sought linguists fluent in the languages of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

"We must invest in greater culturally-literate HUMINT capabilities across the services and build networks that not only provide discrete target information but also help us anticipate enemy actions," Abizaid said.

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