Federal Bureau of Investigation's Foreign Language Translation Program Follow-Up
Audit Report 05-33
Office of the Inspector General
Each FBI field office and the Language Services Translation Center at FBI headquarters is required to submit a survey quarterly to the LSS for each language processed at that office. The survey requires the reporting of the volume of FISA audio/video and text collected, forwarded to another office, received from another office, and reviewed by each language. However, the quarterly survey does not specifically report backlog, which the FBI defines as any unreviewed material. The quarterly survey also does not differentiate between counterterrorism and counterintelligence material or report the translation information by type of case. Rather, the quarterly survey reports the information by language.
Additionally, each field office and the Language Services Translation Center with active counterterrorism FISAs are required to submit a monthly survey to the LSS for each active FISA case. In contrast to the quarterly survey described above, the monthly survey reports by counterterrorism case the volume of FISA audio/video, text, electronic data files collected and reviewed, and any accrued backlog.
During our follow-up work performed in March and April 2005, we used the FBI’s quarterly and monthly surveys to assess the status of the FBI’s efforts to reduce the amount of total unreviewed audio material that we identified in our July 2004 audit. However, in doing so we also attempted to differentiate between counterterrorism and counterintelligence material.12
In the following sections, we first update the amount of counterterrorism and counterintelligence material collected by the FBI. We then examine the amount of unreviewed audio material, first by counterterrorism material and then by counterintelligence material.
Our follow-up review found that the FBI’s increased need for foreign language translations has continued. Table 1 depicts the amount of counterterrorism and counterintelligence material collected through the end of FY 2004 (as of September 30, 2004).13
As Table 1 illustrates, the FBI’s counterterrorism audio workload has increased by 19 percent from FY 2003 to FY 2004. The counterterrorism text workload increased by 52 percent during the same period. With regard to the counterintelligence workload, audio collection has decreased by 14 percent and text collection decreased by 24 percent during this same period.14
Table 1: FOREIGN LANGUAGE WORKLOAD
Our July 2004 report found the FBI had a significant backlog in translating counterterrorism and counterintelligence FISA audio material. However, identification of the precise amount of unreviewed counterterrorism material, as opposed to counterintelligence material, was difficult to determine because of the way the FBI collects its survey data. The FBI does not specifically track the amount of counterintelligence materials. Therefore, separating counterintelligence and counterterrorism unreviewed materials requires subtracting the monthly counterterrorism survey from the quarterly workload survey. After discussions with the FBI, we used this method in this follow-up review to distinguish counterterrorism and counterintelligence unreviewed audio backlog.17
Using this method, Table 2 provides the amount of audio collected and unreviewed through the end of the first quarter of FY 2004 (as of December 31, 2003) and also through the end of the second quarter of FY 2005 (as of March 31, 2005). As that table demonstrates, the FBI’s collection of audio material continues to outpace its ability to review and translate all that material.
Table 2: TOTAL AUDIO COLLECTED AND UNREVIEWED
Table 2 demonstrates that the total collections of counterterrorism and counterintelligence audio material increased from approximately 1.6 million hours as of December 31, 2003, to approximately 2.5 million as of March 31, 2005. During the same time period, the total amount of unreviewed audio increased from 478,573 hours to 707,742 hours. As a percentage of total collections, the percentage of unreviewed audio material remained relatively constant, only slightly decreasing from 29 percent to 27 percent.
As shown in Table 2, the FBI reported in its monthly counterterrorism FISA surveys that the accrued unreviewed counterterrorism audio was 24,786 hours as of December 31, 2003, and has increased to 38,514 hours as of March 31, 2005.
However, in its monthly surveys, the FBI attempts to refine the amount of counterterrorism audio that is reported as unreviewed by the FBI’s data collection system. The FBI tries to eliminate double counting of unreviewed material by more than one field office, unreviewed material in cases that are no longer active, and collections of materials from the wrong sources due to technical problems. To determine the amounts of unreviewed material that should be eliminated on the monthly surveys, FBI field offices submit what they believe is their total accrued backlog after eliminating these items. The FBI then accumulates the field offices’ submissions to reach a refined estimate of the total amount of unreviewed counterterrorism audio material.
According to this method, our July 2004 audit reported that the FBI’s estimated counterterrorism audio backlog that we reported in our July 2004 report was 4,086 hours as of April 2004. In this follow-up review, according to this same method, we found that the counterterrorism audio backlog had increased to 8,354 hours as of March 2005.18 Therefore, according to this method the counterterrorism backlog represented 1 percent of all counterterrorism audio collected as of April 2004 and 1.5 percent of all counterterrorism audio collected as of March 2005.
Table 3 below shows this counterterrorism audio backlog by month from April 2004 through March 2005. The table shows that the counterterrorism backlog remained relatively constant until November 2004, when it began increasing.
Table 3: COUNTERTERRORISM AUDIO ACCRUED BACKLOG
In addition, in this follow-up review we attempted to determine the priority of the counterterrorism material that was not reviewed. The FBI designates one of five levels of priority to its counterterrorism cases. We found that none of the counterterrorism audio backlog as of March 2005 was in the highest level priority cases. However, almost all of the 8,354 hours of counterterrorism backlog reported by the FBI was in cases designated in the second and third highest priority levels. Seventy-two percent of this backlog was in the FBI’s second highest priority counterterrorism cases, and 27 percent was in the third highest priority.19
With respect to counterintelligence material, as Table 1 shows total collections increased from approximately 1.3 million hours as of December 31, 2003, to 2 million hours as of March 31, 2005. The amount of unreviewed counterintelligence material increased from 453,787 hours to 669,228 hours during this same period. The percentage of unreviewed counterintelligence material remained relatively constant, decreasing from 34 percent to 33 percent.
In response, the FBI stated that it collects significant amounts of audio material that it does not intend to translate, either immediately or possibly ever. For example, it stated that the FBI’s digital collection systems cannot reliably filter out “white noise” (acoustical or electrical noise) and unintelligible audio, which is collected but does not need to be reviewed. In addition, the FBI stated that in many counterintelligence cases it collects audio material that it stores and only translates if additional information points to those materials as containing significant information that should be reviewed. It also stated that it believes that most of the unreviewed counterintelligence backlog fell into these categories, although it could not quantify or verify these amounts.
In sum, this follow-up review found that the FBI’s collection of audio material continues to outpace its ability to review and translate that material. The amount of unreviewed FBI counterterrorism and counterintelligence audio material has increased since our July 2004 report. According to the FBI’s calculations, the backlog of unreviewed counterterrorism material has increased from 4,086 to 8,354 hours, which represents 1.5 percent of total counterterrorism audio collections. The amount of unreviewed counterintelligence material also has increased. While the FBI believes that most of the unreviewed materials may not need to be translated, it has no assurance that all this counterterrorism and counterintelligence material does not need to be reviewed or translated.
During the past year, the FBI has continued its efforts to add additional linguists. The number of FBI and contract linguists has increased from approximately 1,200 as of April 1, 2004, as reported in our July 2004 report, to 1,338 as of March 30, 2005.20 Moreover, Foreign Language Program funding has increased from $21.5 million in FY 2001 to $36.2 million in FY 2005. Funding for language analyst salaries and benefits also has increased from $30.7 million in FY 2001 to $34.8 million in FY 2005.
The organization and structure of the FBI’s Foreign Language Program has continued to evolve since our July 2004 audit. On October 1, 2004, responsibility for the Foreign Language Program was transferred from the Office of International Operations to the FBI’s Office of Intelligence. The Office of Intelligence became the Directorate of Intelligence on February 28, 2005.
According to FBI officials, the Foreign Language Program was transferred to the Directorate of Intelligence to strengthen FBI efforts to create a single program to manage all FBI activities that produce intelligence. The LSS now consists of three Translation and Deployment Units, an Operations Management Unit, and the National Virtual Translation Center.24 Linguists in field offices have been reassigned to field intelligence groups, which also supervise intelligence analysts.