Washington Post: It is a mark of how far the FBI still has to go to remake itself into a first-rate counterterrorism force that five years after Sept. 11, 2001, it has only 33 special agents, with one more on the way, who speak Arabic. Most of them don't speak it very well. Only six have a rating of "advanced professional" in the language -- one-twentieth of 1 percent of the bureau's 12,000 agents.
The bureau, to be sure, has not ignored the need for institutional competence in Arabic. It has added nearly 200 Arabic translators, who are available to assist agents with documents and interviews. And language training is available to agents -- with a sizable number studying Arabic either with self-study materials or in classes. Nor is the bureau the only government agency that has struggled to get its people up to speed in a difficult language that Americans don't typically grow up studying. Only recently, for example, the Justice Department's inspector general reported that the federal Bureau of Prisons was not reading large volumes of terrorists' mail in part because it lacked sufficient language expertise. The military's shortage of linguists has caused no end of problems in Iraq.
There is no substitute for investigators who understand the communities into which they delve -- and language training is essential to that.