Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/1107security07.html

Linguists are needed for war on terror
Federal agency to hire 300 civilians
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 7, 2003
Dennis Wagner

Declaring that America's intelligence agencies are crippled by a shortage of national security translators, the leader of a new federal agency Thursday announced plans to hire more than 300 civilian linguists nationwide for help in the war on terror.

"Terrorism knows no particular language set," Scott Brennan, president-elect of the American Translators Association, said in a Phoenix speech. "We in government today are facing a challenge. And I'm here to ask for your help."

Everette Jordan, director of the National Virtual Translation Center, said the center will recruit language experts to work out of their homes or local offices, converting classified and unclassified documents from 30 to 40 other languages to English

The translations, including intercepted phone calls, seized government records, media reports and other materials, will be routed back to analysts with the CIA, FBI, NSA and a dozen other agencies responsible for counterterrorism and national security.

Jordan's announcement comes just one day after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., blamed the CIA's lack of Arabic translators for botched information-gathering before the war in Iraq.

According to the New York Times, Goss decried intelligence gaps and said, "Our capabilities were not what they should have been."

Jordan told the 9,000-member Translators Association about a similar failure leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist hijackings.

Just days before jetliners hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon, he said, U.S. agencies received foreign-language intelligence hinting at an imminent attack. But those documents were not translated until Sept. 12, Jordan said, and no one will never know if the catastrophe might have been averted.

"Of all the luxuries we as Americans enjoy today, arrogance is one of the most expensive," Jordan said. He added that "linguistic arrogance" assumes everyone, including terrorists, will speak English.

"Not when they speak with each other," he noted. "And especially not when they're trying to do bad things to us."

Jordan said intelligence agencies have been forced to dump tons of potentially valuable material for lack of translators.

"The work right now, we measure it by the truckload. We can't keep up with it all," he added. "It does mean lives. And it has an impact on decision-makers in the White House."

Without help from a new corps of linguists, Jordan noted, there is a danger that translators will be rushed into duty before they are qualified or screened. He mentioned the recent arrest of two military linguists at the Guantanamo Bay camp for terrorism suspects.

Jordan said he launched the new agency at Thursday's conference of the American Translators Association because its 9,000 members understand the challenge and will be vital in meeting it.

Kevin Hendzel, an association spokesman, said there is a 70 percent shortage of translators. Referring to the Virtual Translation Center, he said, "This nationwide resource for the intelligence community couldn't come at a more critical time. . . . Translators are the gatekeepers in the war on terror."

The center will hire only U.S. citizens who meet rigorous proficiency skills and pass a national security screen. Jordan said the critical need now is for Arabic and other Middle Eastern translators, especially specialists in subjects such as science, engineering, politics and the military. Information about the new agency and its jobs can be found at www.nvtc.gov.

Reach the reporter at dennis. wagner@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8874.