FBI 'could not afford anti-terror experts'

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The Independent US

The FBI wanted to hire almost 1,900 translators, linguists and analysts to help counter the threat from terrorism before 11 September 2001 but could only afford to recruit 76, it was claimed yesterday.

The FBI wanted to hire almost 1,900 translators, linguists and analysts to help counter the threat from terrorism before 11 September 2001 but could only afford to recruit 76, it was claimed yesterday.

At the same time the al-Qa'ida network was turning out its own "graduates" five times faster than the US was training specialists.

The former FBI director Louis Freeh told the 11 September commission that the US government had failed to provide sufficient funding for experts on the Islamic world. In particular, there was a shortage of Arabic and Farsi speakers.

"In the budget years 2000/2001/2002, we asked for 1,895 people - agents, linguists, analysts: we got a total of 76 people during that period," Mr Freeh said. "That's not to criticise the US Congress. It's not to criticise the Department of Justice. It is to focus on the fact that that was not a national priority."

He added: "We asked for the authority to hire Arabic and Farsi speakers at a higher rate than the [low to mid-level] scale provided for in New York City. You can't hire an Arabic or Farsi speaker for that salary, which is what we were relegated to."

The problem of insufficient translators may forever haunt the FBI. Two messages intercepted from suspected al-Qa'ida members on 10 September warned: "Tomorrow is zero hour" and "The match begins tomorrow". They were translated on 11 September and only given to senior officials on 12 September.

Accusations about incompetence within the translation department have been made by a former FBI translator, Sibel Edmonds. Mrs Edmonds, a Turkish-American, has also said that intelligence she translated in the aftermath of the attacks - but collected prior to 11 September - showed there was evidence that al-Qa'ida was planning to attack the US with aircraft.

Mrs Edmonds has suggested to the commissioners several questions that it should pose to current FBI Director, Robert Mueller, when he appears before the commission today.

In a letter to a senator, she suggested they ask: "Director Mueller, is it true that certain translated information pre- and post-9/11 contained specific information regarding terrorists and their direct and indirect 'support networks' activities in the United States? Is it true that some of this information was available as early as April and May 2001? Is it true that some of these investigations were not forwarded to counter-terrorism, even after 9/11?"

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