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FBI lags in translating audio from terror probes

The FBI has a backlog of hundreds of thousands of hours of untranslated audio recordings from terrorism and espionage investigations,  the Justice Department reported Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

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

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

“Our audit highlighted the significant challenges facing the FBI to ensure that translation of key information is performed timely and accurately,” Fine said.

‘Secret’ sections of report excised
The audit was completed in July in classified form. The version released Monday was edited to remove sections classified as “secret” by the FBI.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 123,000 hours of audio in languages associated with terrorism 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 the FBI’s language services funding had increased from $21.5 million in fiscal 2001 to about $70 million in fiscal 2004. The number of linguists has 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.

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

The audit made 18 recommendations for the FBI, many of which have already been implemented, Fine said. FBI officials told auditors they are hiring linguists as quickly as possible.

“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.