The case of the Guantanamo Bay Arabic-language translator arrested for espionage yesterday illustrates the inevitable consequence of the critical shortage of reliable, American-born interpreters reported extensively by WorldNetDaily over the past year.
Syrian-born Air Force airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, who served at the U.S. prison camp in Cuba holding suspected al-Qaida terrorists, has been accused of trying to give Syria information about the detainees.
He could face execution on charges of espionage and aiding the enemy.
As Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin reported in January, U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf faced a severe shortage of trained interrogators who are fluent in Arabic.
Officials said the situation for linguists was so desperate that CENTCOM personnel were trying to get Kuwaiti soldiers to act as interpreters.
One source said the Army was having trouble finding interpreters because of “loyalty issues.” Many could not get security clearances because of family ties to terrorists and sympathizers.
A WND report in July said U.S. officials concluded the Pentagon underestimated the number of Arabic-speaking interrogators it would need to occupy Iraq, and the miscalculations have left U.S. troops there more vulnerable to ambush.
As WorldNetDaily first reported, a PERSCOM, or U.S. Total Army Personnel, official estimated just before the war the Army would need about 850 Arabic linguists to get the job done, based on original estimates of 200,000 POWs and 400,000 displaced Iraqis.
Yet the Army had only about 70 Arabic-speaking interrogators, and not all of them had been deployed to Iraq.
Also, in March, the General Accounting Office found the intelligence sectors of the U.S. military and key federal agencies were suffering from a lack of language interpreters, but it was allowed to happen because too few dollars were being spent to produce adequate numbers, according to officials.
WorldNetDaily reported in August the FBI was having a hard time recruiting fluent American-born translators, because the Arabic language is rarely studied in American colleges.
Consequently, the agency must hire translators born in the Middle East, who require longer background checks. Former FBI counterterrorism agents also have warned the problem has created loyalty issues.
WorldNetDaily reported the example of Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, an immigrant Muslim, who twice refused on religious grounds to tape-record Muslim terrorist suspects, hindering investigations of a bin Laden family-financed bank in New Jersey and Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, later indicted for his ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
A fellow FBI agent, Robert Wright, said Abdel-Hafiz finally explained to him that “a Muslim does not record another Muslim,” after first claiming he feared for his life.
Meanwhile, military investigators are questioning another serviceman about security violations at the Guantanamo naval station.
The investigators already are probing links between the Syrian-born al-Halabi and U.S. Army Muslim chaplain Yousef Yee, who studied in Syria and married a Syrian woman, Fox News reported.
Yee, an Islamic U.S. Army chaplain, counseled al-Qaida prisoners at Guantanamo. Upon his arrest Saturday, agents confiscated several classified documents in his possession and interrogated him.
Yee, 35, has not been charged, but a military magistrate ruled Sept. 15 authorities have enough evidence to hold him for up to two months while the Army Criminal Investigative Division examines the case.
Yee had sketches of the prison and documents about detainees and interrogators at the time of his arrest, Fox News reported.
Al-Halabi, 24, who grew up in Detroit, has been accused of sending e-mails with classified information “to unauthorized person or persons whom he, the accused, knew to be the enemy.” In addition to charges of espionage and aiding the enemy, he is accused of disobeying a lawful order, making a false official statement and bank fraud.
Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters yesterday officials are not presuming the “two we know about is all there is to it.”
“I think it sends a pretty clear message to the rest of the folks there that we’re pretty serious about safeguarding the activities that go on there,” retired military intelligence officer John Nolan told the news channel.
Officials are raising questions about Syria’s role in terror attacks against the United States. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said Syrian nationals comprise the largest number of foreign fighters captured in Iraq since major combat ended and U.S. troops became targets of frequent guerilla attacks.
Damascus has denied that accusation and also rejects claims it has chemical weapons. Syria is on the State Department’s list of terrorist-sponsoring nations.
Syrian Information Minister Ahmad al-Hassan yesterday called reports tying Damascus to the suspected spies “baseless and illogical.”