"Linguist" shortage

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Nov 11 14:06:37 UTC 2002

>>From CNN.com 11/09/02:

Linguist shortage hampers U.S. intelligence
Saturday, November 9, 2002 Posted: 11:46 AM EST (1646 GMT)

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- The nation's chief information experts probably
wouldn't recognize a foreign terrorist threat because they don't know the
languages commonly spoken, an FBI expert said.  The FBI has hired more
than 300 linguists since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but
there's still a severe shortage of people in the United States who know
languages used by terrorists and who can decipher intelligence, said
Margaret Gulotta, chief of the FBI's Language Services Section.

"Yes, we were unprepared. We needed more linguists than we had," Gulotta
told more than 500 people at the 43rd annual Conference of the American
Translators Association on Friday. "The situation has improved
tremendously." Warnings of terrorist attacks may not be translated in time
unless more people are hired by the nation's defense and intelligence
agencies, she said.

The American Translators Association said only 614 students are now
studying Pashto, Dari, Farsi and Uzbek at U.S. colleges, although 40
million people speak those languages. There's also a need for many more
Arabic speakers, the group said, which more than 200 million people speak
in 25 countries. "We still need a lot of people to work for us," Gulotta
said. "They're not getting languages through the American school system."

Language investment The government commits money to language education
only in a time of international crisis, and then interest lags, said
Richard Brecht, Director of the National Foreign Language Center, a think
tank in Washington. "We've never made that investment, " said Brecht, a
panelist at the meeting. Intelligence agencies often don't have the
resources to process information fast enough, the panelists said. It
wasn't until September 12, 2001, that the government was able to analyze
information suggesting people with terrorist connections believed
something significant would happen September 11.

More taxpayer money should be spent boosting government translators' pay
so that the FBI and CIA can compete with private businesses, the panelists
said. They said it's also important to promote foreign languages in
America's public schools. Computer translating programs don't do the job
because meaning is often lost in translation, said moderator Kevin
Hendzel. A computer couldn't pick up on code words used by terrorists
speaking in a foreign language.

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