Monday, September 27, 2004

The Work's Been Piling Up Ever Since Sibel Edmonds Left 

Dept. of Feeling Safer by the Minute: The report below congratulates the FBI for "substantially increasing its capabilities" and hiring linguists "at the maximum rate that its funding allowed." But when the agency is sitting on half a million hours of untranslated intelligence materials -- and yes, we did say half a million hours, which works out to 415 hours' worth of audiotape for every linguist on the payroll -- isn't it just maybe time to place another goddam want ad?
The FBI is collecting more foreign language material than it is able to translate, with audiotape backlogs now totaling hundreds of thousands of hours in material associated with terrorism and intelligence cases, according to a new report.

The report, released Monday by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, blames the FBI's backlog of unreviewed material on an insufficient number of linguists and limitations in information technology systems.

"Our audit found that the FBI's collection of material requiring translation has continued to outpace its translation capabilities," the inspector general said. "The FBI cannot translate all the foreign language counterterrorism and counterintelligence material it collects," he said . . . .

The summary released Monday said that since the attacks, more than 123,000 hours of audio associated with counterterrorism and 370,000 hours of audio associated with counterintelligence have not been reviewed.

However, the inspector general said, "all this unreviewed audio may not necessarily represent critical intelligence information or even material that required translation."
Undeniably true. The problem is, there's only one way to be sure what's crucial and what isn't: translate the shit.

UPDATE: Security moms take note -- according to the NYT, it's even worse than the CNN account might indicate:
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 . . . .

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 translated.

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."

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