An Army linguist who claims he’s fluent in Egyptian Arabic says he can’t get reassigned to help interpret documents and other information gathered in the war against terror because the Army’s “antiquated” personnel management system is keeping him in a postal delivery slot.
Shortly after Congress and the Bush administration began the war on terror – in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks – the Navy and Air Force issued instructions to each command “that all linguist-qualified members should contact certain offices to notify them of their existence and to prepare for deployment if needed,” the soldier, who requested anonymity, told WorldNetDaily.
His current duty station also could not be revealed for fear of reprisal, he said.
Besides being a professional soldier, the linguist said, he is “a professional interrogator/debriefer and fluent in Egyptian Arabic, Croatian and Spanish.” He said he holds a degree in modern languages and studied at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, for a year.
“You would probably think that with these qualifications – and the shortage of qualified military linguists – that I am busy occupied in the war on terror, maybe in Afghanistan or in Guantanamo Bay [Cuba],” the latter where scores of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters are currently imprisoned and awaiting debriefing and interrogation, he said. “But no. I am [here] instead, working for the Defense Courier Service – in essence delivering official mail.”
The soldier said contrary to the actions taken by the Navy and Air Force, the Army has issued no such directive to contact appropriate officials and offer linguistic services.
Nevertheless, he said, “several weeks” after the Sept. 11 attacks, “I began to contact the Language branch and Military Intelligence branch [of the Department of the Army] to let them know [I am] still more than qualified and, more importantly, willing to serve the country as I was trained to do: as an Arabic interrogator.”
“I don’t want to discuss certain aspects, but I will say that I have the ability to work in any mission, at least regarding clearance,” he said.
Initially, however, he was rebuffed by every command he contacted. “‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ was their attitude,” he said.
Finally, he contacted the office of an “extra-military” agency and offered his services. “They were thrilled to hear from me and let me know that I could be used immediately in a very sensitive and critical mission dealing directly with national security,” he said.
But just when he thought he would be cleared for his new assignment, “the Army Personnel Management System stopped me dead in my tracks.”
“Even though this other agency is very critical in the conduct of the war on terror, my commander told them that he wasn’t going to let me go unless they gave up someone to work in my place,” the Army linguist told WND.
News of his dilemma comes on the heels of a series of reports detailing the military’s continuing struggle to produce enough linguists – and especially those who speak Arabic dialects – to assist various military and government agencies. The linguists are needed in a military intelligence and counterintelligence role to interview suspected terrorists and to interpret data collected by U.S. forces in the field and U.S. intelligence agencies abroad.
The military’s problem has at least partially been blamed on a chronic lack of funds, WorldNetDaily reported Saturday.
As early as January, sources told WND the Army’s counterintelligence and language school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., was set to cut salaries of language school contractors, a move that risked the loss of nearly 50 percent of the school’s instructors.
Since then the school has managed to obtain the number of instructors it says it needs, but others familiar with the school’s operations say it is still shorthanded and that some personnel – as well as key elements of current school curriculum – are substandard.
Worse, the need for interpreters seems to be growing. According to Fox News yesterday, U.S. military officers said Operation Anaconda, currently wrapping up in eastern Afghanistan, had yielded valuable information about the terrorist group al-Qaida, which included training manuals, bomb-making equipment and other intelligence.
Other sources said they believe the “extra-military agency” mentioned by the Army linguist is likely the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA.
“We are working hard to reshape our intelligence capability to deal with” new challenges, Vice Adm. Thomas R. Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during a February briefing.
“Our success will depend on our ability to recruit, develop and retain the highest quality work force; expand our collection coverage and analytic depth and breadth; improve the responsiveness and content of our data bases; and build on our past successes at improving the intelligence-operator interface,” he added.
One defense official said DIA was interested in securing Arabic interpreters, but where those interpreters come from – the military or from the civilian sector – depended on the particular needs of the agency. Forty percent of the DIA is military, said the official.
As to whether the DIA could obtain a linguist from any branch of the military if it needed one, the official hinted that the agency wouldn’t be automatically entitled.
“Ultimately, he’s owned by the Army,” the official said.
An Army spokesperson said she couldn’t divulge personnel issues “or how soldiers are placed on assignment.” But, she added, the Army is “always looking for Arabic linguists.”
Last week, the General Accounting Office, Congress’ watchdog agency, issued a report saying the military and key government intelligence agencies were suffering from a lack of language interpreters.
In its report, the GAO found that three agencies and one military branch – the Army – “reported shortages of translators and interpreters, as well as shortages of staff, such as diplomats and intelligence specialists, with foreign language skills that are critical to successful job performance.”
The FBI, State Department and Foreign Commercial Service rounded out the list of agencies examined.
“Many of the shortages were in hard-to-learn languages from the Middle East and Asia,” the report said, which “adversely affected agency operations and hindered U.S. military, law enforcement, intelligence, counterterrorism and diplomatic efforts.”
Both the Army and the State Department, in separate replies, generally agreed with the GAO’s findings.
“We believe that the single largest, and overwhelmingly, the most significant factor that prevents us from meeting our language staffing and proficiency goals is our staffing shortfall of over 1,100 people as outlined in our Diplomatic Readiness report,” the State Department said.