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All About FBI Linguists

More Than Talk
All About FBI Linguists

07/29/08

Margaret Gulotta, head of our foreign language programIn today’s global society, much of the intelligence and investigative information that we gather is in a foreign language and must be carefully interpreted. And because of our international role, we need to understand a variety of cultures and often have to articulate our operational needs—and our law enforcement training—in many different languages.

So who do we call? Our very own “language busters,” also known as FBI linguists.

The Bureau has 1,400 linguists who work in 114 locations domestically and overseas. We consider nine languages critical to our investigations—Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese. But FBI linguists may also be called upon to provide foreign language and cultural expertise in many more languages.

And our linguists, a cadre of highly specialized professionals, answer that call in a big way. Last year alone, they reviewed or translated millions of foreign language materials and provided over 22,000 hours of interpretation support. In addition, linguists testified at trials; helped interview suspects, victims, and witnesses; occasionally accompanied agents on searches or arrests; and served as interpreters at overseas training sessions.

The role of our linguists has grown in direct proportion to our expanded mission, according to Margaret Gulotta, who heads the FBI’s foreign language program. “Today’s linguists, experts in the cultural and historical aspects of their languages, have access to the same intelligence information that our agents and analysts have, which helps them put the data they are working with into an even more useful context, particularly in our counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations.” She says that linguists also use sophisticated technology that enhances their ability to perform their job.

Since 9/11, we have had a huge influx of linguists, increasing our capability in all languages by 77 percent. And we’ll be hiring hundreds more over the next several years. Gulotta also notes that we have more than 1,450 agents proficient in foreign languages who use these skills while performing their regular duties.

Another post-9/11 note: we have increased our language capability in Arabic by 310 percent among linguists and 90 percent among agents.

In their own words. Working as an FBI linguist is a challenging and rewarding calling. Read what some of our linguists had to say:

  • Nazaret B. says, “I love my job and working with a great group of people from different backgrounds and different parts of the world.”
  • The best part of his job, according to Atef S., is “when my work is submitted as evidence at trials and when I contribute to disrupting the plans of terrorists.”
  • Jamie G. says, “Translating is both a science and an art, and I am proud of every word because every word is a challenge.”
  • And Juan D. is extremely proud of the fact that he “contributed to investigations by translating and transcribing hundreds of telephone calls for case agents. Our teamwork led to the dismantling of Chicago-area drug organizations and gangs.”

But perhaps Danuta K. sums up the importance of a linguist’s work best: “Building bridges among people who do not speak the same language, acting as an intermediary who may make or break the case, and helping a victim or adversary trust the Bureau enough to cooperate gives me the most satisfaction and pride.”

Want to join us? Apply for a job as an FBI linguist.