Thursday, October 12, 2006

FBI Lacks Arabic-Speakers & Readers

The Washington Post has an article on the dearth of Arabic speakers in the FBI.

To be fair, there does not seem to be as much a need for the domestic-oriented FBI for skilled language speakers as the State Dept[where I learned my Arabic, tested at 3-plus speaking, 4 reading], CIA, NSA or even DIA. And Arabic translators at FBIS do a great job at covering Arabic newspapers and press [or they did back in my day].

However, I saw a recent CNN news special on the FBI arrest and trial in Lodi, CA, which concerned some Urdu-speaking [unless it was Punjabi or Sindi] Paki immigrants who were busted by an Urdu-speaking informant [who happened to collect $250K for his pains]. I'm sure the use of expensive informants is also taking place in Detroit or Newark or elsewhere among Arabic-speaking immigrants. The problem always surfaces when the informants are paid well for their pains, and this tends to cause the FBI to push prosecutions harder and less justly in order to justify the expensive snitches.

Finally, the vast number of local dialects in Arabic make it exceedingly hard for an American learning the absurdly complex language [which the State Dept ranks with Japanese as the two most difficult "hard" languages] in one context to switch to another. As an example, the best Arabist I encountered [along with Amb. April Glaspie, who ran the FSI Arabic School in Tunis] was Hume Horan, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia before becoming L. Paul Bremer's resident espert for the Provisional Government in Baghdad. Hume learned his Arabic in Libya and was extremely fluent, although with a Libyan accent, which puzzled many Arabs who had never heard a Libyan speak such good Arabic [Libyans are not known for the purity of their usage].

I imagine that the new push for recruiting U.S. Arabic speakers will have to surmount the obstacle of Christians with Arabic-language abilities, since at least half of the Americans in the late '80s from Arab countries were Christian refugees [Lebanese or Iraqi Assyrians]. For an American to infiltrate the AQ, for example, would be exceedingly difficult [unless Adam Gadahn is a mole of the CIA!] if he had a Christian Arab background. His accent and body language would betray him.

In any event, the future for Arabists in the US government still seems at a standstill, unless stronger incentives are given to attract USG employees to study this brain-busting language.

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