After an attempted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009, President Obama revealed that U.S. intelligence agencies had collected but then failed to piece together different threads of information about the suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Sound familiar? Just like the many warnings that were captured but went untranslated prior to 9/11, this latest incident highlights one of the U.S. government’s biggest counter-terrorism challenges – multilingual information management.While the attempted December attack differs from the pre-9/11 warnings in that, to our knowledge, it did not involve translation, the lesson is the same: managing flows of information across multiple countries, languages, and cultures is a complex undertaking. It requires both money and planning.
However, money isn’t really the problem. As a new report from Common Sense Advisory shows, the U.S. federal government spent US$4.5 billion on translation and interpreting services over the last 20 years (from 1990 through 2009). Most of these funds were disbursed in the past few years alone.
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