WASHINGTON ø 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
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.