Intelligence lost in translation

A lack of language experts in intelligence agencies is affecting India’s espionage and counter-terrorism operations, especially at border posts.

Published: 14th October 2012 09:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th October 2012 10:51 AM   |  A+A-


A lack of language experts in intelligence agencies is affecting India’s espionage and counter-terrorism operations, especially at border posts. Our intelligence outfits lack operatives who can understand Chinese dialects and other languages like Sinhalese, Pashto, Dari, Myanmarese and Arabic to decode intelligence gathered at its listening posts on the borders, especially with Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Concerned over the shortage, the government is considering long-term strategy for hiring language experts under a special procedure. “RAW is facing an acute shortage of language experts. In the last 2-3 years, attempts were made to create a dedicated team of language experts in all our intelligence organisations. This has hit a brick wall because the remuneration paid to experts is pathetic. Translation is considered a support service; so no career growth or promotions are possible. The Centre is now planning to grant language experts gazette level positions to enable revised pay scales in important areas,” sources said. It is learnt that the immediate drive would focus on India’s strategically important neighbours. Former Director of Intelligence Bureau Ajit Doval said it is very good move as existing security challenges have multiplied and so have the need for language professionals. After 9/11, the CIA was faced with a similar challenge of an absence of experts who can decode Pashtun dialects and Arabic—which was corrected speedily.

“Security related demands have increased and every other day some new areas are added in our tactical requirement list and to gather actionable intelligence you need experts,” Doval said.

A senior intelligence official said on several occasions various agencies had to share the same language experts. Since there is a shortage of manpower, even existing staff avoids border postings and most of the traffic is diverted to headquarters. “Nobody wants to learn Sinhalese or Mynamarese as a career option. Most language students focus on German, French and Spanish which offer lucrative salaries,” he said.


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