Intelligence: November 1, 2002


American intelligence agencies are still in crises mode when it comes to rounding up enough translators for interrogating captured al Qaeda suspects. It turns out that there are some 2,500 such people in custody worldwide. There are some 600 in Guantanamo Bay, the rest are in many undisclosed locations. The translator problem is partly due to many of the needed languages (like those spoken in Afghanistan), not being on the official list of foreign languages that the Department of Defense trains translators for. The military still does not maintain an official database of which foreign languages people in the military speak, although many have been urging, for decades, that such a database be created. The military is also reluctant to recruit too heavily from immigrants in the United States, mainly for security reasons. Getting a security clearance for immigrants from countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran or Iraq is difficult because of the lack of suitable translators, and inability to access areas in some of these countries. As a result of this, there are some al Qaeda suspects that can't really be interrogated. This is because some of these people only speak a dialect for which there are no translators, or refuse to speak anything but their dialect (even if they know other languages or dialects for which translators are available.) As a result of all this, interrogations are going very slowly, and the situation does not appear to be getting better quickly.




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