September 10, 2004
Theres a sharp competition going on between the CIA, FBI and NSA (National Security Agency) for people who can speak Arabic, and who understand Arab culture (usually these are Arab-Americans, often those who immigrated to the U.S. as adults.) The CIA has been the most aggressive in its general recruiting, and is getting about 2,000 resumes a week. But few of these candidates can speak Arabic, or grew up in an Arab culture. All three agencies need people to translate print (especially email) and audio (usually phone or radio conversations) messages in Arabic. However, the CIA and FBI are trying to train Arab-Americans to be overseas agents. These men would be used to recruit overseas Arabs who are already connected with al Qaeda type organizations, or could plausibly let themselves be recruited. These guys are the spies, but their CIA handlers have to know the local language and customs in order to manage their network of informants and operatives (people who do more than just report the latest gossip or terrorist activities and plans.) The FBI also needs handlers, for better dealing with possible terrorist cells in the United States. Right now, non-Arab speaking FBI agents can still get a lot done because most Arab-American men speak English. Many Arab-Americans also speak Arabic, especially those who emigrated as teenagers or adults. But the most likely, and hardest to spot, terrorists will be illegal Arab migrants. These guys now know to keep away from the majority of Arab-Americans, who will turn them in if they suspect terrorist activity. The terrorist Arabs will deal with criminal gangs, especially Arabs in the United States who are involved in various illegal activities, and are good at avoiding the FBI and cops in general.
The FBI has been losing lots of experienced people to the CIA and NSA, which offer quicker promotion, and leadership that is less bureaucratic. Such losses are particularly painful when it comes to new recruits who speak Arabic and grew up in an Arab culture. It takes up to a year to get a security clearance for people like this, and several years to get them basic training in intelligence and undercover operations. To see someone like that lured away by another agency is painful indeed. But when you have a small number of people with very valuable talents, which are in great demand by several organizations, this sort of competition will occur.