US Still Lacks Translators in Vital Languages

Intelligence, military officials often unable to read texts, emails
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2009 2:03 PM CDT
In this Oct. 29, 2004 image from video, Osama bin Laden speaks in this image made from an undated video broadcast by Al-Jazeera television.   (AP Photo/AlJazeera via APTN)
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(Newser) – Nearly eight years have passed since 9/11, but national security agencies remain disturbingly low on translators for crucial dialects, the Washington Times reports. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives email and text-message each other freely in languages the CIA largely ignored before 2001. "I can't explain it," says a congressman. "No. 1, Congress has been pestering them. No. 2, you would think it's important for them to do their job."

Intelligence officials say they’ve offered big money for translators but are still coming up short. Many promising candidates can’t pass background checks, according to one former officer—as first-generation immigrants, they have families deemed “not trustworthy.” He says tapped phones often remain unmonitored because of the translator shortage, and in one case, an Iraqi bomb maker got away because his calls were intercepted but not translated.