July 28, 2005


FBI slow to translate counterterror tapes (Kaitlin Bell and Charlie Savage, July 28, 2005, Boston Globe)

The FBI is falling further behind in translating intercepted communications from terrorist suspects, leading to a backlog of unreviewed tapes that has doubled in the past year to more than 8,000 hours, the Justice Department's inspector general disclosed yesterday.

The backlog has surged despite efforts by the FBI to hire more Arabic-language and other translators, because the bureau is collecting much more counterterrorism data than it used to, Inspector General Glenn Fine said. In some cases, the FBI is failing to translate highest-priority intercepts within 24 hours, despite a bureau policy mandating that deadline.

''The FBI's collection of audio material continues to outpace its ability to review and translate all that material," Fine told the Senate Judiciary Committee, warning that ''the FBI's ability to translate foreign-language materials is critical to national security."

The fatal flaw in paranoia about the rise of a surveillance state is that there's no one to watch what you do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 28, 2005 10:05 AM

New York State Senator Dov Hikind has produced a list of thousands of Arabic-speaking Sephardic Jews(familiar with all of the various dialects of the Arab world) who would not only translate these tapes but many would do so for free. The FBI Director, Robert Mueller, a Roman Catholic of German descent, has refused their assistance, claiming inter alia that there would be PR problems with the Arab community if they were to use Jewish translators for this work.

The attempted entrapment of innocent lobbyists working for AIPAC continues apace.

I'm glad to see the Nazis at the FBI know where their priorities lie.

Posted by: bart at July 28, 2005 12:45 PM

It'd be like having Hiss translate Venona.

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2005 12:52 PM

What are you babbling about and please be specific?

Posted by: bart at July 28, 2005 1:15 PM

what do you think they'd say they said?

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2005 1:24 PM

I repeat my prior request, and stop babbling. You may write your response in standard English in order for others here to be able to follow along, but if you are incapable of doing so, answers in French, German, Spanish, Latin and/or Modern Hebrew will be acceptable. If you need to answer in Portuguese or Italian, you will have to wait till I get home for a response.

Posted by: bart at July 28, 2005 1:28 PM

What no Klingon or Esperanto? William Shatner speaks both fluently, you know.

Posted by: Governor Breck at July 28, 2005 1:40 PM

Nobody under about 90 speaks Esperanto, and there is no language called Klingon.

It is apparent, Governor, that OJ cannot make write his answer to my original question in simple standard English, so I am offering him alternatives. I think he is pettyfogging about something that would be pretty ugly and I would like him to be able to come out and say it like a man instead of beating around the bush.

Posted by: bart at July 28, 2005 1:46 PM


That would be like trusting me to translate Ebonics? OK trust maybe, but always verify.

Posted by: h-man at July 28, 2005 1:51 PM

Hiss - a Soviet spy.

Venona - KGB documents revealed after the implosion (which completed the story of Hiss and his guilt, among other things).

Orthodox Jews translating Arabic tapes - not a bad idea, but there is too much temptation for embellishment and/or fabrication, no?

I agree with Bart, however, that there should be absolutely ZERO concern with PR in this situation. Until we experience terrorism from Irish grandmothers and Mestizo teen-agers (or elderly Nisei, like Norman Mineta), profiling doesn't bother me at all.

Posted by: ratbert at July 28, 2005 2:00 PM


Klingon is about as real as Esperanto, for whatever that's worth...

Posted by: Mike Earl at July 28, 2005 2:08 PM


Although I don't understand why people feel free to maintain Gentile conceits about purported Jewish disloyalty(when I look at my father's disabilities from serving in WWII and Korea such sentiments actually make my blood boil), I accept that they exist. In the interest therefor of promoting confidence in the work of Arabic-speaking Jewish translators from Boro Park and elsewhere, let me propose that it would be a simple matter for the FBI to hire examiners to spot check the translations for accuracy and dismiss the people who fail to do their jobs adequately. One would hope the FBI would do this for any of its translation projects whether the language were Arabic or Russian or for that matter Hairy Ainu.

Posted by: bart at July 28, 2005 2:14 PM

I must have the same brain disease oj has because I got it. Had to Google Venona to be sure but that took all of five seconds.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 28, 2005 2:16 PM

The Brothers Judd research desk will happily translate all our French intercepts, but when we hand them in they'll lead to the inescapable conclusion that we should pre-emptively nuke Paris.

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2005 2:34 PM


I am fully cognizant of what Venona was and who Alger Hiss was. What I do not understand is their relevance to the discussion.

Please enlighten me.

Posted by: bart at July 28, 2005 2:37 PM

And that would be would human nature, not Juddian disloyalty.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 28, 2005 2:39 PM


I don't think it's so much a Gentile view of Jews, as much as it is the analogy with the foxes guarding the henhouse (or having the CBO audit the IRS).

Posted by: ratbert at July 28, 2005 2:41 PM

I'm with Bart on this one.

I'd trust the Sephardim a heck of a lot more than I'd trust the Arabs they do have as translators.

A lot less chance any of the Jews are splodey-dopes themselves.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 28, 2005 2:45 PM


The point being the translators determine what was said, not the sayers.

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2005 3:20 PM

Of course Bart is right. Every translation would be double-checked before action is taken. In the first round, to go through vast material and flag the 0.1% that has damaging material, Arabic speakers hostile to the terrorists would be perfect - they'd be less likely to miss something; more likely to diligently scan the material for wickedness. Then you can get cautious translators for the verification stage.

Since the overwhelming majority of work is at the first stage, there's certainly no barrier to hiring the Jews.

Posted by: pj at July 28, 2005 3:35 PM

given the traiterous behavior of the cia, and the overall incompetence of the fbi, i can't imagine there is anything remotely as "bad" about having jewish people doing the translations. i mean, what are they going to do, change the messages to read "we love christians and won't do anything bad again" ? on the other hand, i can easily see leftists doing just that, so maybe that should be the filtering test for translators.

Posted by: cjm at July 28, 2005 4:44 PM

I'm with bart on this one, and like Jim in Chicago, I'd also trust the Sephardim a heck of a lot more than I'd trust the Arabs they do have as translators.

These scholars should be at the prison camps to verify the translations of the Arab translators. PR problems with the Arab community be damned!

To these fanatically religious Jews, a deliberate lie would be unthinkable.

Posted by: erp at July 28, 2005 5:53 PM

The fatal flaw in paranoia about the rise of a surveillance state is that there's no one to watch what you do.

There have been plenty of times and places when that was NOT TRUE, when the spies and informers were as thick as fleas on a stray dog.

The late Soviet Union, the old East Germany, North Korea right now, Czechoslovakia under the Nazis...

As for the rising surveillance state, within twenty years facial recognition software, automatic voice transcription software, and computer AI will negate the need for human processing of the raw data at the lowest level.
Smart dust will ensure that 90%+ of public activity, (and probably 25% of supposedly private), is monitored.

While most of the uses will be benign, the possibility of malignant use always exists.
Rather like laws, lawyers, and legislatures.

BTW, the "twenty year" estimate is super-cautious. A lot of this stuff is already being used, and is improving rapidly.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 28, 2005 6:23 PM


Even in those states you weren't at risk for what you did, said or thought. The charges that got you sent away were seldom real.

Posted by: oj at July 28, 2005 6:55 PM

oj - Solzhenitsyn told a story: some guy got sentenced to the Gulag for twenty years and on his arrival a guard asked him what he had done. He said "Nothing at all." The guard beat him, saying, "You're lying! The punishment for nothing at all is ten years!"

Posted by: pj at July 28, 2005 8:40 PM


Posted by: oj at July 28, 2005 8:43 PM

I see both OJ's and Bart's points. I do think Bart steps on his point quite a bit when he calls the people at the FBI Nazis. They aren't and it is just like leftists calling President Bus one.

Posted by: Bob at July 28, 2005 10:00 PM

And did having folks sent away for nothing at all have a liberating or chilling effect on the words and behaviors of those not sent away ?

To say that oppressive surveillance states don't work for long is of little comfort to those harmed by such states.

In any case, "Big Brother" is getting more efficient, so a whiff of paranoia is rational.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 29, 2005 5:46 AM


Your point is an interesting one. The British are claiming, whether it is true or not, that their extensive network of camera surveillance is helping them round up terrorists. It would have been nice had it been helping them do so prior to 7/7.

I think we should keep in mind that the DDR, where roughly 1/3 of the population were informing on their neighbors at any given time and the Stasi kept samples of people's breath on file, hung around for about 50 years. It was only because their economy was so lousy that it collapsed. A similarly oppressive state with a tad better economic policy might have an effectively infinite shelf life.

Posted by: bart at July 29, 2005 6:45 AM

Their cameras let them watch the acts be committed later, not stop anyone at the time.

Posted by: oj at July 29, 2005 9:12 AM


Yes, sending people away completely at random worked just as well or better than surveillance would have.

Posted by: oj at July 29, 2005 9:16 AM


Good point.

However, in the U.S. of the future, we (probably) won't be sending people up the river for imaginary crimes; we'll be convicting them for crimes committed in view of our rapidly multiplying cameras and other sensors.

There were a couple of highly publicized cases last year of child abductors who were caught, because they had been recorded on security cams that happened to be pointed their way.

Further, hundreds of millions of people, who won't be accused of any crime, will have their activities monitered by numerous public and private organizations, for various reasons.

Although, as I said previously, the intent will in most cases be benign, it does serve as an available infrastructure for any future malicious organization, or even rogue elements within benign organizations, like present-day credit bureau employees who sell millions of files to identity thieves.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 29, 2005 8:55 PM

No one ever looks at the feed until there's a crime. There aren't enough people or time.

Posted by: oj at July 29, 2005 9:01 PM

Perhaps you missed the main point of my previous posts.

No, people WILL NOT be looking at the feeds.

They won't have to.

The auto-monitoring systems will alert humans when specific criteria are detected.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at July 30, 2005 2:53 AM

So, indeed, people will not be observed even in the most far out surveillance state.

Posted by: oj at July 30, 2005 7:17 AM