WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is turning to local Iraqis once loyal to Saddam Hussein to meet a critical need for Arabic translators in areas of resistance.
And some of the hired interpreters are betraying soldiers hunting for guerrilla fighters and the caches of arms they’re using to attack American soldiers, military intelligence officials told WorldNetDaily.
“We heard about dozens of cases where the infantry would find out where stuff was, brief the interpreter, but the interpreter would get out of sight,” said one Army intelligence official who recently returned from Iraq. “And when the infantry went on the raid, the stuff wouldn’t be there.”
Additionally, two recent internal reports by Army investigators have expressed doubts about interpreters’ loyalty.
In one undated report prepared by the Center for Army Lessons Learned in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., investigators in Iraq observed that local interpreters seemed to be holding back information from soldiers during interrogations of detainees.
“The foreign national would give a 10-minute answer, and the interpreter would translate ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” said the trip report, authored by Lt. Col. Robert L. Chamberlain, a top Army intelligence trainer. “Who knows what agenda the interpreter has?”
In another report, dated Sept. 17, Chamberlain complained that some interpreters have led soldiers to the wrong targets.
“If an interpreter is running a source and receives a single source, unconfirmed report of some activity, he immediately brings this up the chain of command without conducting any analysis,” he said. “Then this information is nominated at the next targeting meeting, and bam, the wrong target is engaged and the media is there saying what bad things soldiers are doing. Yes, this scenario has occurred.”
Chamberlain said a shortage of competent and reliable interpreters is hurting occupation efforts.
“The U.S. Army does not have a fraction of the linguists required to operate” in either Iraq or Afghanistan, he said in one evaluation.
Indeed, a top Army personnel official projected before Operation Iraqi Freedom that several hundred Arabic translators, interpreters and cryptologic linguists would be needed to collect human intelligence and run tactical intelligence operations in that war alone.
Yet the Army had only 209 authorized positions for human intelligence collectors – and 39 of them were unfilled, according to a General Accounting Office audit before the war.
“The greatest number of unfilled human intelligence collector positions was in Arabic,” the GAO report said.
The shortfall was worse among Army translators and interpreters. The Army had just 84 authorized positions and only half – 42 – were filled, GAO found.
Due to the translator shortage, American commanders have had to hire former Baathist and Fedayeen members to help with interrogations, officials say. And weeding out the disloyal interpreters is difficult.
“We know we’ve got Baathist and Fedayeen working for us as interpreters,” the Army intelligence official said. “Except nobody knows how to get rid of the bad ones. There aren’t enough counterintelligence agents to run counterintelligence ops against the interpreters.”
The official, who asked not to be identified, added that defense contractors, including Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, are hiring local Iraqis without security clearance. The Class 1 interpreters, as they’re called (meaning they haven’t undergone any vetting), are paid about $10 a day – “a king’s ransom over there,” the official said, and a fraction of the going rate for language contractors in the U.S.
A military spokesman in Baghdad had no comment.
Defense analysts say Iraqi interpreters and informants could be an asset or a liability, depending on how closely soldiers monitor them. If soldiers lose contact with them for any period of time, they are more likely to be misled.
“You have to be in regular contact. That means you have to keep up human contact, even though you’re bringing Iraqi police security forces into the area,” said Anthony Cordesman, senior defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies here. “You still have the problem that all of these [locals] are both an asset and something you have to watch and maintain contact with, or they could easily become a source of misinformation.”