Intelligence back­log

The Washington Times Weekly - - National -

Army Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexan­der, the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, told Congress re­cently that the NSA is strug­gling to deal with a large vol­ume of for­eign lan­guage in­ter­cepts on ter­ror­ism.

Gen. Alexan­der said there is a back­log of un­trans­lated elec­tronic intelligence leads on ter­ror­ists that has grown since 2001.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it is a very la­bor in­ten­sive ex­er­cise to sift through large vol­umes of for­eign lan­guage data and painstak­ingly at­tempt to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff,” he said in writ­ten an­swers to ques­tions from sen­a­tors.

“This dilemma is com­pounded by the fact that the tar­get set has ex­panded ex­po­nen­tially since 2001 in terms of ge­o­graphic reach and lan­guages used,” he said. “To­day’s back­log is no longer con­fined to Ara­bic and its mul­ti­ple di­alects, but also in­cludes a variety of other less com­monly taught lan­guages, where lin­guists el­i­gi­ble for se­cu­rity clear­ances are in short sup­ply.”

Gen. Alexan­der said spy­ing on “vague and frag­men­tary” ter­ror­ist com­mu­ni­ca­tions is only one step in foil­ing at­tacks. “It is more likely that a com­bi­na­tion of intelligence sources will be nec­es­sary to pre­vent a ter­ror­ist at­tack,” he said, warn­ing that al Qaeda is still plot­ting “cat­a­strophic” at­tacks.

“What [sig­nals intelligence] can do is work hand-in-glove with other intelligence agen­cies, the mil­i­tary and law en­force­ment to en­able key take­downs, so that the de­tails of a plot can be un­cov­ered through in­ter­ro­ga­tion and foren­sics ex­ploita­tion,” he said.

“That be­ing said, the trans­la­tion back­log can pre­vent the timely de­liv­ery of key in­for­ma­tion to NSA’s cus­tomers and stall de­vel­op­ment ef­forts against new tar­gets.”

NSA cur­rently is hir­ing lin­guists ca­pa­ble of trans­lat­ing “GWOT lan­guages,” he said, us­ing the Pen­tagon acro­nym for the global war on ter­ror­ism.

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