Needed: Arabic-speakers

The FBI has zero agents (as in, none at all) who have native-equivalent fluency in Arabic. That has to change, or we need a new anti-terror agency not as hidebound as the Bureau.

If, five years after 9/11, FBI hiring and background-check procedures have managed to recruit exactly zero Special Agents with native fluency in Arabic, we need:

1. New hiring and background-check procedures for the FBI, so the Bureau doesn’t simply keep reproducing its current demographic and ideological profile; or

2. A new counter-terrorism group, not part of the FBI; or

3. Both.

The millions of loyal Americans who speak fluent Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pushtu, etc., is a great national asset, one which which Europe can’t match. The failure to exploit that asset is a great national scandal.

It’s not just that the FBI can’t understand documents and phone calls; if no FBI agent speaks Arabic like a native, then no FBI agent can pretend to be a native Arabic-speaker. If you were trying to recruit jihadists in the United States, wouldn’t that fact make you happy?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

5 thoughts on “Needed: Arabic-speakers”

  1. Yeah, the FBI said after I finished my MA in IR I could apply for a clerk position. This was after I offered to immerse in one of the 'critical' languages, go overseas and already have some language experience. Nevermind the never smoking-pot-more-than-fifteen-times-in-your-life requirement. All that and I was just looking into an analyst position. I also know a native of Pakistan who hasn't been able to get hired by any government agency. The FBI told him (while I was in the room) a background check for a complicated overseas history could take up to five years. I hope I can find another way to serve my country, perhaps at the State Department that will be a little more progressive in its hiring.

  2. After 5 years of preparation, after two planes hit two buildings in New York City killing thousands and a president who has made his political crusade the safety that his increased security has provided, how has another plane hit another building?
    Surely we can not be expected to account for human or mechanical error, but there is something very telling in the fact that planes are still free to hit buildings. Anyone who had any reservations about crashing more planes into more buildings, especially in NYC, should take this as a note that small planes don't get noticed.
    Off specific topic I know, but applicable to category.

  3. Of course if your starting point is that the ability to speak Arabic ipso facto makes you a terrorist then you're not going to make much progress. cf the ongoing saga of the DoNotFly list.

  4. Mark: "The millions of loyal Americans who speak fluent Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pushtu, etc., is a great national asset, one which which Europe can't match."
    Um, how is that again?

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