Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Idiocy in the American Security Sector

Chart from the Washington Post Showing
FBI "Progress" in Hiring Arabic Speakers

Hardly a big surprise. The Washington Post reports that five years after 9/11 only thirty-three FBI agents have even minimal Arabic proficiency. Guess how many of those work in international terrorism sections? Zero. Yes, that's right. The numbers are not much better for Farsi.

What seems to be the hold-up? Apparently, the FBI cannot bring itself to hire "foreigners" - basically anyone who has relatives overseas. It's American provincialism at its worst. Among those who are routinely rejected by the FBI - I have this on anecdotal evidence - are Jews from Iraq, Yemen, North Africa, and Iran who came to the US as children or teenagers.

Great quotation from Georgetown professor Daniel Byman, head of that university's Security Studies Program:
It is easier to get a security clearance if you don't have any interaction with foreigners, which is not what you want if you want better interaction with foreigners.
All of this came to light during a lawsuit filed by Special Agent Bassem Youssef. Youssef, who happens to be one of the Bureau's highest-ranked Arabic speakers, is suing the FBI and the Justice Department for "retaliation." Instead of protecting Americans by having people on staff who actually understand what al Qaeda members are saying, the FBI decided to cut Youssef out of terrorism cases post-9/11. After he complained about his treatment to a congressman, the FBI blocked Youssef's promotion.

Way to go, chumps!


John said...

The FBI really comes across as a ridiculous bastion of American provincialism.

Anonymous said...

It's not provincialism, it's based on security. Family members in some of those nations could be used to compromise the agent.

critical thinker said...

The problem is that even CONTACT with foreign nationals and TRAVEL abroad makes people suspect in the eyes of the FBI's security department. A better balance has to be struck between the need for agents with the right language abilities and valuable international experience and the field security requirements. Unfortunately, the impression that one gets too often is that even a hint of "foreignness" is enough for some FBI or DHS bureaucrat to disqualify some very good candidates. Could it be that some of the top anti-terror cops are afraid of people challenging their expert status in the FBI hierarchy?

Anonymous said...

There are literally hundreds of thousands of people in the US with Arabic and Farsi language skills - Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Christian Arabs, etc. Many of them no longer have family in those countries and in general they are fiercely loyal to the U.S.

John said...

Thanks for this discussion. I actually agree with both anonymous and critical thinker. America's (and Canada's) domestic security agencies need to recruit people with language skills and experience abroad. The presence of family members in certain countries does, however, pose a security problem, mainly because of the danger of them being blackmailed. I am just not as confident as anonymous of the FBI old guard's ability to make their decision without bias against foreign applicants. Also, I highly doubt that personnel security officers/screening officers at the FBI know enough to identify the confessional/ethnic background of an applicant.

Halla said...

Nice piece Amos! I did not know about this! They will never get their numbers up with those standards. We all have cousins somewhere in this world, an arab can find a relation somewhere, somehow!! lol