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Sources cite inadequate preparation of Arabic-language interrogators
Sources close to the preparations for a U.S. invasion of Iraq are concerned about what they perceive to be the military's inadequate preparation of Arabic-language interrogators – a critical component not only of a battlefield victory but a nation-building operation afterwards.
Current training exercises emphasize battlefield interrogation techniques, overlooking the need for understanding tribal conflicts, terrorist infrastructures, Islamic politics and other concerns, say the sources. The important lessons learned in the low-intensity conflict in Afghanistan are not being properly assimilated into the training programs, they say.
In addition, the sources say, there is little emphasis on understanding the politics, personalities and unique history of the region. Experienced interrogators, who will, by necessity, play a critical role in finding the weapons of mass destruction and the terrorist leaders and bases inside Iraq, could miss opportunities and key information because they simply lack proper training and education about Iraq.
Defense Intelligence Agency officials, also speaking anonymously, say there will be plenty of Arabic interrogators available for an expected military campaign against Iraq. "We've been dealing with that country (Iraq) for 10-15 years now," said one DIA official. "I think the planners have a pretty good understanding of their needs."
Some of the interrogators being trained, other sources say, lack sufficient background in military and religious vocabulary and terminology. A basic understanding of the language is not sufficient for wartime translations and questioning of prisoners, they say.
Lack of technical understanding, coupled with the language barrier, often leads to mistaken conclusions, say the sources. In one case in Afghanistan, for instance, the discovery of simple bomb-making instructions led to a panic that they were actually designs for nuclear weapons.
Understanding the psychology of prisoners and their real fears is also critical to good interrogations, the sources say. In Afghanistan, for instance, one technique that worked effectively was telling prisoners they would be turned over to the Egyptians unless they talked. The Afghanis understood Americans would treat prisoners humanely. They were equally certain the Egyptians would treat them harshly.
"The Afghans fear the Egyptians because they have to talk or come out in a body bag," said one U.S. military interrogator.
But these important cultural distinctions often are not made clear to the interrogators in training for the Iraq mission, sources say.
Insufficient knowledge of the Koran's teachings is a real liability, the sources point out. Often prisoners cannot read or write and have very little real knowledge themselves of what the Koran says. If their beliefs in suicide missions and killing of innocents can be boldly challenged and undermined by the actual words of the Koran, prisoners can be turned, the sources say. But the problem remains lack of time and lack of effective training in this area.
"There is a severe lack of experienced interrogators taking part in current operations to start with," said one source. "Many of those designated as interrogators are reservists with little or no experience. Others are civilian law-enforcement personnel whose experience is in extracting confessions rather than strategic information."
In Afghanistan, military sources say, civilian interrogators from the FBI and Central Intelligence Agency sometimes let prisoners go because they do not get criminal information. In other cases, interrogators promise asylum, employment or even emigration to the U.S. in exchange for information without having the authority to do so.
The DIA official denied there were lapses of information-sharing between military and civilian intelligence agencies, and he downplayed reports that the military was losing interrogators to civilian agencies.
"We've always gotten good support from the other agencies," he said. "From our standpoint, we're only looking at a small piece of the picture – the military picture."
Regarding the loss of personnel, he said sometimes "military people vote with their feet," meaning some do gravitate toward similar civilian posts because the pay is better. "But that's just the way it goes," he explained.
Other sources, however, complain that there are no senior interrogation warrant officers involved in any aspect of operations planning.
Despite specific government edicts for the CIA, FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency to begin sharing vital information, the reality is it is not yet happening, one source says.
"All intelligence organizations on the ground in current operations are shooting information vertically through their own chains, and no information is distributed laterally," said one source familiar with the operations in Afghanistan and some of the planning for the Iraq mission.
The sources are concerned that civilian intelligence agencies like the FBI and CIA are draining the most qualified interrogators away from the military. The civilian agencies offer better pay and fast transfers, and the military has almost no say in vetoing such recruiting efforts.
"When these civilian agencies figure out how to advertise the need, there is going to be an exodus of qualified interrogators into higher paying civilian positions with better benefits – especially when you figure that interrogators have a hard time getting promoted," said one source.
The DIA official said he believes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "has made clear" the importance he places in intelligence, a priority allegedly shared by the civilian intelligence chiefs, according to published reports.
"All of the linguists across the intelligence community have a council that meets and discusses how to improve linguistic capabilities in the intelligence community," said the DIA official. "When a crisis comes up, they're going to find everybody and dedicate the linguists to the priority at hand."
One Arabic-language interrogator points out it takes 18 months to produce a minimally qualified Arabic linguist.
"British interrogators are hands-down better than we are," he said. "First, they are officers, and the only thing they do is study interrogation and study language. Most of the guys can speak the target language at a nearly native level. You cannot say that about U.S. military or DIA linguists."
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