More than 120,000 hours of terrorism-related recordings have not been translated by linguists at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and computer problems may have led the bureau to erase some al Qaeda recordings, the New York Times reports. The disclosure came in an inspector general’s report issued yesterday. Inspector General Glenn Fine said the FBI lacked the capacity to translate all the terrorism-related material from wiretaps and other intelligence sources and that the influx of new material has outpaced resources.
Congressional officials who have been briefed on the translation issue said the report offered a much bleaker assessment than the FBI has acknowledged. Leading senators from both parties denounced foot-dragging in fixing the problem. Said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee: “The Justice Department’s translation mess has become a chronic problem that has obvious implications for our national security.” FBI director Robert Mueller said, “More remains to be done in our language services program, and we are giving this effort the highest priority.” With $48 million additional since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the number of FBI linguists rose to 1,214 as of April from 883 in 2001, with sharp increases in the number of translators of Arabic, Farsi and other languages considered critical in counterterrorism.