[Homestead] Ideology triumphs over security

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Tue Sep 28 15:30:44 EDT 2004

I was horrified to see that within two weeks after Bush took office, the 
CIA fired all of their expensively-trained Arabic translators because 
they were gay---who the hell needs to find out what our enemies have in 
mind for us anyway.  I never liked flying blind, but it is a way of life 
in the Oval Office.

The New York Times

          September 28, 2004

    F.B.I. Said to Lag on Translations of Terror Tapes


WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 - Three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 
120,000 hours of potentially valuable terrorism-related recordings have 
not yet been translated by linguists at the Federal Bureau of 
Investigation, and computer problems may have led the bureau to 
systematically erase some Qaeda recordings, according to a declassified 
summary of a Justice Department investigation that was released on Monday.

The report, released in edited form by Glenn A. Fine, the department's 
inspector general, found that the F.B.I. still lacked the capacity to 
translate all the terrorism-related material from wiretaps and other 
intelligence sources and that the influx of new material has outpaced 
the bureau's resources.

Overhauling the government's translation capabilities has been a top 
priority for the Bush administration in its campaign against terrorism. 
Qaeda messages, saying "Tomorrow is zero hour" and "The match is about 
to begin," were intercepted by the National Security Agency on Sept. 10, 
2001, but not translated until days later, underscoring the urgency of 
the problem.

The inspector general's report on the F.B.I., the lead agency for 
combating domestic terrorism, said the bureau faced "significant 
management challenges" in providing quick and accurate translations.

The report offered the most comprehensive assessment to date of the 
F.B.I.'s problems in deciphering hundreds of thousands of intercepted 
phone calls, conversations, e-mail messages, documents and other 
material that could include information about terrorist plots and 
foreign intelligence matters. It revealed problems not only in 
translating material quickly, but also in ranking the work and in 
ensuring that hundreds of newly hired linguists were providing accurate 
translations. While linguists are supposed to undergo periodic 
proficiency exams under F.B.I. policy, that requirement was often 
ignored last year, the inspector general found in the publicly released 
summary of its investigation. Most of the report remains classified.

Congressional officials who have been briefed recently by the F.B.I. on 
the translation issue said the report offered a much bleaker assessment 
than the bureau has acknowledged, and leading senators from both parties 
denounced what they described as foot-dragging in fixing the problem.

"What good is taping thousands of hours of conversations of intelligence 
targets in foreign languages if we cannot translate promptly, securely, 
accurately and efficiently?" asked Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, 
the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "The Justice 
Department's translation mess has become a chronic problem that has 
obvious implications for our national security."

In its response to the report, the F.B.I. said it had taken "substantial 
steps to strengthen our language capabilities," but it acknowledged that 
a shortage of qualified linguists and problems in the bureau's computer 
systems had led to a backlog in translating terrorism material. Robert 
S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., said he agreed "that more 
remains to be done in our language services program, and we are giving 
this effort the highest priority."

With $48 million in additional financing since the Sept. 11 attacks, the 
number of linguists at the F.B.I. rose to 1,214 as of April 2004 from 
883 in 2001, with sharp increases in the number of translators of 
Arabic, Farsi and other languages considered critical to 
counterterrorism investigations. But Mr. Fine's report made clear that 
the expansion had not eliminated the management and efficiency problems 
that dogged the bureau even before Sept. 11.

The investigation blamed in part the F.B.I.'s computer systems, long 
derided by Congressional critics as antiquated and unwieldy. The 
investigation found that limited storage capacities in the system meant 
that older audio recordings had sometimes been deleted automatically to 
make room for newer material, even if the recordings had not yet been 

In field tests conducted by the inspector general at eight F.B.I. 
offices, three offices had "Qaeda sessions that potentially were deleted 
by the system before linguists had reviewed them," the report said.

An F.B.I. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 
officials have had to go back to original Qaeda recordings on some 
occasions to restore them after realizing that the copies had been 
inadvertently deleted because of capacity problems.

But the inspector general's report said that linguists might not have 
realized that material was deleted unless a case officer happened to 
notice it missing from the final translations. Moreover, the report 
found that the F.B.I. had failed to institute necessary controls "to 
prevent critical audio material from being automatically deleted."

Audio recordings that relate to Qaeda investigations are supposed to be 
reviewed within 12 hours of interception under F.B.I. policy. But the 
report found that deadline was missed in 36 percent of nearly 900 cases 
that the inspector general reviewed. In 50 Qaeda cases, it took at least 
a month for the F.B.I. to translate material.

The F.B.I. "has not prioritized its workload nationwide to ensure a zero 
backlog in the F.B.I.'s highest priority cases - counterterrorism cases 
and, in particular, Al Qaeda cases," the report found.

Computer problems and the shortage of qualified linguists have worsened 
the backlog in translating material, the report found.

In counterterrorism cases, more than 123,000 hours of audio recordings 
in languages commonly associated with terrorism have not been translated 
since the Sept. 11 attacks, amounting to 20 percent of the total 
material, the report found. For all languages, nearly half a million 
hours of audio tapes, or 30 percent of the material collected, was not 
reviewed, it said. The data reflected material gathered under foreign 
intelligence surveillance warrants in operations within the United States.

Several lawmakers who have pressed for improvements in the F.B.I.'s 
translation abilities said the report reinforced their concerns that the 
bureau was headed in the wrong direction.

"Since terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11, the F.B.I. has 
been trying to assure the Congress and the public that its translation 
program is on the right track," said Senator Charles E. Grassley, 
Republican of Iowa. "Unfortunately, this report shows that the F.B.I. is 
still drowning in information about terrorism activities with hundreds 
of thousands of hours of audio yet to be translated."

Mr. Grassley also urged the inspector general to release a public 
version of an internal report about the case of a former F.B.I. 
linguist, Sibel Edmonds, who complained of ineptitude and possible 
espionage in the translation program. A still-classified version of the 
report found that Ms. Edmonds's complaints played a part in the F.B.I.'s 
decision to dismiss her in 2002, officials said.

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