A new audit report by Department of Justice Inspector General Glen Fine says the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been slow to complete translations of electronic data collected in foreign languages. But the Bureau has shown improvement, according to the report, which was released today.
While the FBI managed to slog through 4.8 million pages of foreign-language texts from 2004 to 2008, the agency had only translated two thirds of its backlogged electronic information from the same period. That left 25 percent of its audio from 2005 to 2008 untranslated. The agency’s translation staff was also reduced, from 1,338 in 2005 to 1,298 in 2008. According to an article in the New York Times, The FBI met its hiring targets in 2008 for only two of 14 targeted languages.
In 2004, Fine wrote, there were “significant backlogs” of audio information collected on the FBI’s “highest priority” cases. In 2005 that backlog, even on the most important cases, had increased, and the FBI “was not prioritizing” the translation of the material, the report said.
For fiscal year 2008, according to the OIG audit, the FBI recorded almost 880,000 hours of audio in foreign languages and English, 1.6 million pages of text and almost 28 million electronic files.
While Fine’s report praised the FBI for its catch-up efforts, the Inspector General noted that the FBI left more than 180,000 hours of data in terrorism and counterintelligence investigations untranslated. The recommended the FBI improve its quality control standards for its translators and revamp its record-keeping system to better keep track of its data.
It’s crucial the FBI have the resources to translate non-English material, the OIG report said, because “without accurate and timely translations, the FBI’s ability to effectively investigate criminal enterprises that communicate in a foreign language is severely hampered.”
FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said in a written statement that the FBI’s translation efforts were making progress. “With regard to counterintelligence collections, we are doing a careful job of prioritizing and monitoring the most important material,” Pistole said.
The FBI released another statement on its Web site in response to the OIG’s audit, in which it described further efforts to improve its translation operation, including a two-week crash course for new department linguists, “and the establishment of the Quality Control Standards Unit, which ensures compliance with the linguist quality control standards.”
Since the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI said, its effort to translate foreign language data and information has doubled.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement urging the FBI to redouble its efforts. ‘These shortcomings just make it harder to get the bad guys,” Grassley said in the written statement. “The FBI needs their feet held to the fire in order to make substantive changes in the translation area.”