- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

The FBI and the Justice Department are investigating a whistleblower's accusations of security lapses in the translator program that has played an important role in interpreting interviews and intercepts of Osama bin Laden's network since September 11, officials said.
FBI officials said they believe the program is solid and secure even as they let the investigations move forward. The officials said there have been some minor bumps as a large number of translators, many of them Arabic-speaking, were brought aboard after the attacks.
The FBI has been using a mentoring program that pairs newcomers with experienced translators to address some of those issues, officials said. Some translators have been let go because of poor performance, and the government is conducting a quality-control review of the program, they added.
Government officials and legal sources familiar with the review said the whistleblower's accusations range from shoddy transcriptions by unqualified translators to suggestions one interpreter with a relative who works at a foreign embassy may have compromised national security.
Government officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said the FBI has been unable to corroborate the whistleblower's accusations. Both the whistleblower and the linguist she accused have passed lie-detector tests as part of security reviews, the officials said.
The whistleblower, a contract employee in the FBI linguist program, was fired last spring for performance issues. She subsequently was subjected to a security review herself, the officials said.
The matter has reached the highest levels of the FBI, including Director Robert S. Mueller III, who received information about the accusations during a meeting with senators in recent weeks.
The FBI has focused its investigation on whether either the accused or the whistleblower compromised national security, officials said.
The Justice Department's inspector general is conducting a separate review into whether the FBI retaliated against the whistleblower, who was fired and subjected to the security review after she had raised her accusations, according to lawyers and officials familiar with the case.
The government also has been conducting a quality-control review and is examining a sampling of translations by linguists to determine their quality, the officials said.
Some contract linguists have been let go, nearly all for performance issues as the bureau keeps a close monitor on their work, the officials said.
Since September 11, the linguists have played a key role in interpreting and translating such sensitive documents as al Qaeda-related wiretaps, documents recovered in Afghanistan and interrogations with al Qaeda prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
The FBI acknowledged a shortage of Arabic-speaking translators after September 11 and put out immediate pleas to find people willing to work as contract employees. More than 20,000 linguists applied, and numerous new translators were hired after extensive security background checks, officials said.
Last fall, however, was not the first time the FBI was aware it suffered from a shortage of Arabic-speaking linguists.
Documents obtained by the Associated Press show that the FBI in 1995 in the period immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing, when Islamic terrorists were among the potential suspects was forced to borrow 10 Arabic linguists from the U.S. military.
"The linguists are required for immediate use in FBI field offices involved in the investigation of the 19 April bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City," an Army memo from the day of the bombing states.
Those linguists were not permitted to listen to live surveillance but were used to translate tapes of "wiretaps of radical fundamentalist Islamic organizations," according to an April 22, 1995, follow-up memo and government officials familiar with the operation.
The borrowing not only illustrated the FBI's shortage of Arabic linguists, it also raised legal questions concerning the forbidden use of the military in domestic surveillance.
The Army memo said the use of the linguists was justified, despite the domestic surveillance restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act, because the monitoring was designed to "protect the president from possible attack during his attendance" at a memorial service for Oklahoma City victims.

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