Federal Bureau of Investigation's Foreign Language Translation Program Follow-Up

Audit Report 05-33
July 2005
Office of the Inspector General

Issues Affecting Timely Translation of Materials

In our July 2004 audit report, we noted that the FBI Director had established an expectation that counterterrorism FISA interceptions should be reviewed within 24 hours of interception. In addition, we reported that FBI policy required Al Qaeda FISAs to be reviewed within 12 hours of interception. However, our July 2004 audit found that these types of interceptions were not always reviewed within the expected timeframes.

During our follow-up work, several senior FBI officials stated that not every Al Qaeda case is of the highest priority and that it was no longer FBI policy to review material in all Al Qaeda cases within 12 hours.

We discussed this issue with the FBI Deputy Director, who said that after the September 11 attacks the FBI intended that all materials in every Al Qaeda case be reviewed within 12 hours. This policy was promulgated in an e-mail from the FBI Deputy Director to all Special Agents in Charge on July 15, 2002. However, the Deputy Director told the OIG that, over time, the FBI has come to realize that this goal was unreasonable, because of the number of linguists available, and because not every Al Qaeda case is of the highest priority. Rather, the Deputy Director said that it is the FBI’s goal to review the highest-priority material within 12 hours, regardless of whether it pertains to an Al Qaeda case or another matter. The Deputy Director also said that 24 hours is a more realistic goal for “high priority” cases, but this target has not yet been officially promulgated. The Deputy Director said the key is to prioritize and “triage” material according to what is considered to be the greatest threat, based upon the best intelligence available, and then to address that material first. The Deputy Director also said that it is the FBI Director’s expectation that the highest-priority material will be reviewed within 24 hours and that all other material will be reviewed as soon thereafter as possible.

We discussed this issue with the Executive Assistant Director in charge of the Directorate of Intelligence (EAD-I), who agreed that it was the FBI’s expectation that the highest priority material would be reviewed within 24 hours. She said that she intends to promulgate rules regarding the timeliness of review so there would be no confusion as to expectations. The EAD-I emphasized that “reviewing the material” means listening to or reading it, not producing a written summary or verbatim translation. The EAD-I also told us that these timeliness expectations apply to FISA material, although she emphasized that these materials are only a portion of the Foreign Language Program’s workload.25

In our follow-up review, we performed testing to determine if the FBI was reviewing material designated as “high priority” within 24 hours. Our testing of data for eight FBI field offices for three days in April 2005 found that three offices had not reviewed their high priority material within 24 hours on all three dates.26

FBI’s Statistical Reporting System

Our July 2004 audit report noted that the FBI’s ability to monitor translation workload was hampered because the FBI had no method to consistently deliver accurate workload statistics. We recommended that the FBI expedite the implementation of its interim automated statistical reporting system, called Work Flow Manager; ensure that the system accurately reflected accrued backlog, as well as the age of the backlog; implement controls to ensure digital collection systems are mapped properly; and ensure that records are placed in the correct field format.

Work Flow Manager. Our follow-up review found that the FBI has made improvements to Work Flow Manager. Work Flow Manager is currently uploading data from the collection systems, and testing by the FBI has shown that the data uploaded to Work Flow Manager matches the data in the collection systems. However, the system is still not fully used because the FBI has not completed verifying the reliability of the data in the system. The Foreign Language Program is currently assessing the reliability of Work Flow Manager by comparing its results to data being manually reported by the field offices. As a result of the validation process, however, the FBI also has determined that standardized reporting procedures are needed and has instructed the field offices to report backlog based on a specific query that would produce uniform results, as developed by the Information Technology Division.

Age of Accrued Backlog. Because Work Flow Manager is not fully used, the FBI still does not have a method to assess the age of the accrued backlog. As part of the process to validate Work Flow Manager data, all data uploaded prior to September 1, 2004, was deleted from the database and the system began uploading new data on September 1, 2004. As a result, any sessions created before September 1, 2004, but not reviewed after that date would not be uploaded to Work Flow Manager. Therefore, some unreviewed sessions may not be identified as backlog.

Statistical Reporting. FBI Foreign Language Program managers told us that the FBI’s long-term solution to statistical reporting on translation backlog will be realized in a phased deployment of the Electronic Surveillance Data Management System (EDMS).27 According to current projections, EDMS will not be fully deployed until FY 2009. However, the FBI official in charge of the EDMS project told us that the current projections for EDMS’s deployment and budget are outdated, and the FBI is currently in the process of updating them. He said the deployment schedule depends on varying factors, including funding for the project over the next several years.

Methods for Querying FISA Digital Collection Systems

We found in our July 2004 audit report that some FBI linguists were not sufficiently knowledgeable about the methods to query the current collection system so that they could identify all translation material needing review. We recommended that the FBI ensure that all linguists are adequately trained so that they can identify all of this material.

In response to this recommendation, the FBI developed a quick reference guide to assist linguists in operating the digital collection system. However, in our follow-up review we concluded that the guide does not provide adequate instruction to ensure that all linguists can effectively query the current system. For example, we asked a Foreign Language Program Manager if, by following the query instructions provided in the quick reference guide, a linguist could identify all unreviewed audio material. This manager described a specific situation where the query instructions provided in the guide would not identify all unreviewed material.

Storage Capacity of Digital Collection Systems

As we described in our July 2004 report, because the FBI field offices’ digital collection systems have limited storage capacity, audio sessions resident on a system are sometimes deleted through an automatic file deletion procedure to make room for incoming audio sessions. Although these sessions are archived, it is difficult for the FBI to determine, once these sessions have been deleted and archived, whether they have been reviewed. We found that sessions are automatically deleted in a set order, and unreviewed sessions are sometimes included in the material deleted, especially in offices with a high volume of audio to review.

We reported in July 2004 that the FBI had not established necessary controls to prevent critical audio material from being automatically deleted, such as protecting sessions of the highest priority on digital collection systems’ active on-line storage until linguists reviewed them. Also, in our July 2004 audit we reported that the results of our tests showed that three of eight offices tested had Al Qaeda sessions that potentially were deleted by the system before linguists had reviewed them. We recommended that the FBI establish necessary controls to prevent critical audio material from being deleted.

During our follow-up review this year, we tested data for eight offices to determine if unreviewed translation material was still being deleted. The results of our testing showed that no unreviewed counterterrorism or Al Qaeda sessions had been deleted at the eight offices. However, unreviewed counterintelligence material had been deleted and archived at six of the eight offices.

Adequate Information to Prioritize Workload

In our July 2004 report, we found that FBI operational divisions were not providing the Foreign Language Program with sufficient information to enable it to effectively prioritize its work. We recommended that the FBI ensure that adequate information is provided to the Foreign Language Program regarding the relative priority of individual counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases, both FISA and non-FISA.

In our follow-up review, we attempted to determine from the Program Manager who coordinates the prioritization of national workload for the Foreign Language Program if the LSS was receiving sufficient information from the operational divisions to effectively prioritize its workload. The Program Manager told us that the LSS receives regular weekly updates to FISA prioritization, and that the updates are more consistent than they were at the time of our original audit work. He said that all groups who should provide input to the process, including the Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, Cyber, and Criminal Divisions, attend weekly update meetings. The Program Manager also said that the operational divisions now have a much better understanding of the type of input and direction the Foreign Language Program needs to prioritize its work. The Program Manager added that there is better understanding in the field that FBI Headquarters is running the national investigations and setting the priorities. The Program Manager said the field offices may not be happy about this, but they understand that linguists must follow the national priorities set by FBI Headquarters.


  1. In addition to FISA material, the Foreign Language Program’s translation of audio recordings consists of Title III material that also can have stringent deadlines.

  2. Classified Appendix 5 contains additional detail on high priority audio unreviewed more than 24 hours after receipt.

  3. According to the FBI, EDMS ultimately will be the presentation/reviewing system for all FISA digital data collected. It will be able to monitor all information for potential backlog and duration of backlog and will produce statistical reports regarding backlog. The FBI plans for EDMS to support technology not currently available or fully functional on the present digital collection systems.

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