Skip to comments.JUSTICE DEPARTMENT DROPS BALL ON INTERCEPTED AL-QAEDA RECORDINGS
Posted on 10/09/2004 7:17:32 AM PDT by Calpernia
OLEAN -- Somewhat lost in all the media mist over who won last week's initial debate in the presidential election is a stinging John Kerry reference to late September news that I thought would draw much more play and citizen attention than it did. It should have triggered a public furor.
Three days before the Kerry-Bush face-off in Miami, the Justice Department released a classified summary of a frightening report by that agency's Inspector General. The bad news literally sent a chill down my spine.
The IG investigation discovered that 123,000 hours of eavesdropped recordings related to possible terrorist plans since the Sept. 11 attacks are still sitting around the FBI -- yet to be listened to, yet to be translated.
Not only that, but "computer problems" in the FBI's notorious Fred Flintstone software and hard drives have systematically erased many apparent al-Qaeda recordings before FBI agents and linguists could get to them. In other words, limited computer storage capacity in the sluggish FBI system has automatically resulted in the obliteration of older material to make room for new. Same thing happens on my creaky old tube.
Kerry's rebuke -- a verbal drive-by shooting in the Miami debate -- came on the heels of a statement by President Bush to the effect that his administration "has to be right" 100 percent of the time, while "the enemy only has to be right once." The Democratic challenger shot back that "we now learn the FBI has over 100,000 hours" of potential terrorism tapes that are unlistened to.
"On one of those tapes may be the enemy being right just once," warned Kerry.
Bush, on split screen, screwed up his face in a there-you-go-again look, but dodged the issue throughout, devoting the rest of the blabbering match to his Kerry-is-a-flip-flopper mantra. The president's spinners, of course, never mentioned it.
This is scary stuff.
On Sept. 10, 2001 -- the day before the infamous attack that changed all our lives -- the National Security Agency intercepted from its worldwide listening posts provocative messages like "Tomorrow is zero hour" and "The match is about to begin."
They were in Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages.
They were not translated until several days after the 9/11 attacks.
At the time, the FBI had about 880 translators -- far too few of them capable of translating the several Muslim-usage languages we now associate with terrorism. The FBI started advertising online for anyone who could speak Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun and several other languages.
Astonishing starting salaries were offered. At least one FBI linguist already on board complained loudly that the quick, new hires were leaving the bureau open to the threat of internal espionage.
She was fired for her temerity, and the FBI's assessment of her observations is still classified. I was hoping Kerry would blurt out something about that rancid situation to the scowling Bush.
Congress and the White House quickly coughed up another $48 million to hire linguists fluent in these difficult and very nuanced tongues. The number of translators now employed by the FBI is slightly more than 1,200. If one does the math, it's still a mind-boggling and horrific proposition.
Even at maximum efficiency, it still means each translator would have about 100 hours of tapes to wade through just in listening to this immense pile of recordings. Then it would take even more time to complete intelligent translations of them.
Even if the FBI's antiquated computers can be quickly upgraded, counting for coffee breaks, other non-terrorist workload, vacations, sick time, down time, medical and pregnancy leave, report writing, case officer briefing, tape restoration time, reduced workweek time, etc., you're looking at an FBI that is about a year behind in translating conversations the Pentagon and White House may need to know about yesterday. And that's counting on 100 percent maximum concentration in a task that is deadly go-to-sleep boring.
The material from the NSA is still cascading in, of course, from intercepted phone calls, e-mails, voice mails, bugged conversations, confiscated documents, electronically surveilled faxes, Project Echelon listening post recordings, wiretapped discussions and human intelligence recordings and reports.
Much of the undeciphered material was garnered right here in the United States under surveillance warrants issued here.
But all the intercepts are useless unless deciphered.
The FBI can't even figure out how to prioritize the work.
And the IG's summary is only the tip of a much broader classified report. If they're telling us the above, think what they aren't telling us.
Members of the House and Senate who have been briefed on the matter have told The New York Times and other papers the picture is even worse than portrayed in the IG report.
How bad is it? Well, the official FBI policy is that all potential al-Qaeda intercepts get reviewed within half a day of reception. The IG went through more than 800 intercepts and found that in at least 36 percent of those, that strict deadline was missed. In about 50 of the reviewed al-Qaeda conversations, it took at least a month to translate them.
And keep in mind, these untranslated, unlistened to, suspicious foreign language intercepts are but a small part of the Matterhorn of material collected.
For all languages, the IG said almost half-a-million hours of audio tapes remain ignored. Who knows what our enemies said in English or French?
Congress is starting to pay attention to this dangerous gap in performance.
President Bush should.
The complacent American public probably won't give it a second thought.
Excellent article. Good find NW_AZ!
much to do about nothing.... you should have seen the back log with the ole soviet union stuff..... and the china stuff.... and the drug lord stuff... and ...
you can never buy or get enough translators..... never .... it s like hard disk size what ever size you have you will need more..
I believe that the US should offer a program that teaches Arabic to US military members that are separating from the military.
They should be paid very well.
>>>I believe that the US should offer a program that teaches Arabic to US military members
I think they do. All the members I know that specialize in Asian affairs have to learn the language.
I'm talking about offering it to members separating from the military with various job descriptions, as long as they meet certain aptitude requirements.
Considering soldiers, sailors and airmen with a Top Secret security clearance is another plus, as it will help cut down on the cost of the background investigation. In the end, you have new FBI/CIA members who have demonstrated some form of loyalty to the US and have a form of discipline that this job seems to require.
When I was in the Navy, everybody had to do what was called "cross-training" -- you learned something other than your primary duty. This was not intended to make one an expert in the new subject, but it did assure that someone else would have some idea of what to do in the event of catastrophic circumstances.
>>>I'm talking about offering it to members separating from the military with various job descriptions, as long as they meet certain aptitude requirements.
Then that is a good idea.
"I believe that the US should offer a program that teaches Arabic to US military members that are separating from the military.
Well, that would work....in about three or four years. Learning a language well enough to translate tapes of spoken Arabic ain't easy. I know. I was a Russian linguist in the USAF. After our year of full-immersion language training, I was ready to do a good job about two years later, and I was #1 in our class.
Your idea is an oversimplification of the task.
Very interesting, I wish I knew other languages.
I really think kerry has stepped in it a few times in these debates.
He openly talks about things as to help the enemy.
It's disgusting how he leaves us open for pinpoint attacks.
He tells the world where we are vulnerable.
90% of our containers are not inspected, our luggage gets checked,
but the cargo hold isn't.
He needs to shut up and someone needs to tell him so.
There is no easy way.
Simply put, we need to refrain from using Arabs to do the job, as their allegiances are more likely to be toward those we investigate, than would be any American born person.
We need people to do this with last names like Smith and Jones.
There are Sephardic Jews and Egyptian Coptic christians who would be more than willing to translate.
That is acceptable in my mind, but we also can't be as sure that these people won't spy against to their own nations.
No offense, but our own allies spy against us.
Use the Medieval Italian method. Get a translator from both aformentioned communities and quietly toss in one of our own. See if there are discrepancies. This method was successful for them.
My concern is not as much over accuracy, as it is over trusting foreign born translators.
I was alluding to that. However in Brooklyn there are thousands of American born Sephardis.
The reason it wasn't picked up is because Richard Clarke told Sandy Burger about this problem while Clinton was President back in 1998. As such, that would mean Sen. Kerry was well aware of it, but since Sandy Berger was caught stealing documents relating to this communication, I'm sure the editors decided it would just be too sticky for Sen. Kerry and gave him a pass on it.
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