Intelligence: September 20, 2004

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The U.S. Army is hustling to rebuild its force of intelligence troops. In the 1990s, the number of enlisted intelligence troops was cut by about a third, to 6,000. These intelligence specialists are the soldiers who deal directly with captured enemy troops, or local civilians encountered by combat troops. The intelligence specialists can speak a foreign language, and also know the most effective procedures for getting information out of enemy troops or civilians, as well as how to best interpret it. Because of the time it takes to learn a new language, at least two years is required to create a rookie intelligence specialist. Then you have two years to use them, and hope most will enlist for another three or four years, and become really useful. 

Meanwhile, much effort is going into ways to better obtain and manage locally hired translators. There are many potential problems in this area. Background checks, to see if your candidates are loyal, are difficult to perform. This means that you have to be careful what information you let them get involved with. Even with local hires, you need someone to double check the accuracy of the translations. In Iraq, the shortage of intelligence specialists was so acute, at least early on, that many local translators where hired who, it was later discovered, were working for the other side (at least some of the time), or for themselves (at your expense, in the form of corrupt business deals.) 

The army is recruiting and training 4,000 more intelligence specialists, most of them specializing in Middle Eastern and South Asian languages. It will take five more years, at least, to complete this project. It will take another decade of effort just to maintain that large a force of troops skilled at Middle Eastern languages. 

 


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