Audit finds FBI backlog of untranslated intercepts

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The FBI has a backlog of hundreds of thousands of hours of untranslated audio recordings from terror and espionage investigations, despite large increases in money and personnel for translations since the 2001 terror attacks, a Justice Department audit released Monday said.

In addition, the audit by Glenn A. Fine, the agency's inspector general, found more than one-third of al-Qaida intercepts authorized by a secret federal court were not reviewed within 12 hours of collection as required by FBI director Robert Mueller.

The audit was completed in July in classified form. The version released Monday was edited to remove sections classified as "secret" by the FBI.

Despite budget increase

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 123,000 hours of audio in languages associated with terrorists still had not been reviewed as of April 2004, the audit found. In addition, more than 370,000 hours of audio associated with counterintelligence had not been reviewed.

This backlog existed even though money for the FBI's language services had increased from $21.5 million in fiscal 2001 to about $70 million in fiscal 2004. The number of linguists had risen from 883 to 1,214 over that period.

The FBI also is not meeting Mueller's requirement that all al-Qaida communications collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act be reviewed within 12 hours of interception. During April 2004, the audit found, 36 percent of such communications were not even received at FBI headquarters within 12 hours.

The audit found that the FBI still lacks language personnel necessary to do all the needed translation work, and limitations in its technology, especially computer storage capacity, also cause problems that lead to backlogs.

The audit made 18 recommendations for the FBI, many of which already have been implemented, Fine said. FBI officials told auditors they are hiring linguists as quickly as they can be found in such languages as Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Chinese, Turkish and Kurdish.

"The FBI appears to be taking steps to address these issues, which are critical components of the FBI's counterterrorism and counterintelligence efforts," Fine said.

Mueller said the FBI's translation workload has doubled since the Sept. 11 attacks, and the bureau is committed to hiring more linguists and fixing the technological problems. One difficulty is that the FBI has trouble finding qualified linguists who can pass required security clearances for sensitive terrorism and intelligence investigations, he said.

But Mueller also said FBI linguists are now connected worldwide so that someone in one office can work on information collected by another office far away.

"We agree with (the inspector general) that more remains to be done in our language services program, and we are giving this effort the highest priority," Mueller said.


On the Net:

Justice Department inspector general: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig

FBI: http://www.fbi.gov

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