NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Agencies Find It Takes Time to Hire Arabic Speakers

December 30, 2002

In the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency sent out announcements they were hiring linguists proficient in Arabic and other Middle Eastern speech. They were deluged with as many as 100,000 inquiries.

But the actual hiring process has taken time -- especially for jobs requiring national security clearance.

  • The NSA hired more than 800 people this year -- but needs many more and hopes to bring in nearly twice as many in 2003.
  • The FBI has so far hired only about 100 Arabic speakers.
  • FBI officials say it takes 10 applicants to yield just one hire.
  • Some 65 percent of applicants fail language tests, 20 percent can't pass a required polygraph and 10 percent are eliminated for security reasons, FBI officials report.

Background investigations can last from six months to a year, but FBI's position is they would rather create large obstacles to prevent moles from getting hired, according to a spokesman for the American Translators Association (ATA), which is trying to help the government recruit speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Pashto, Farsi and other Middle Eastern languages

Native speakers are of less value than academically-trained speakers who have lived abroad, because they often don't have the additional skills that intelligence agencies are seeking.

Source: Susan Schmidt and Allan Lengel, "Help Still Wanted: Arabic Linguists," Washington Post, December 27, 2002.


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