Warum die CIA vor dem 11.9. keine Arabisch-Übersetzer eingestellt hat
Der amerikanische Journalist Richard Miniter ist bei den Recherchen für sein Buch Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror unter anderem der Frage nachgegangen, warum die CIA in den Jahren vor den Anschlägen vom 11.9.2001 keine Arabisch-Übersetzer eingestellt hat. Diese wurden zur Auswertung von Hinweisen auf terroristische Aktivitäten dringend benötigt.
    Miniter sieht die Ursache in einer Privatfehde zwischen dem damaligen CIA-Chef James Woolsey und dem demokratischen Senator Dennis DeConcini sowie der Gleichgültigkeit des Weißen Hauses unter Bill Clinton. Der Präsident wurde von Woolsey auf den Übersetzernotstand und die daraus resultierenden Gefahren aufmerksam gemacht, sah aber keinen Handlungsbedarf.
    Hier ein Auszug aus dem Buch:
Bill Clinton's indifference

    CIA Director James Woolsey was fighting other bureaucratic battles — instead of [Osama] bin Laden. The CIA was critically short of translators who spoke or read Arabic, Farsi, Pashto and the other languages of the great "terrorist belt." That belt begins on the dirty beaches of Somalia, arcs up the river valleys of Sudan and Egypt, across the desert flats of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, over the dry plateaus of Syria and Iraq, past the wastes of Iran, through the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and ends in the cold steppes of Central Asia.  In the world's most terror-prone region, the CIA was essentially blind, deaf, and dumb.
    Partly as a result, the intelligence community was able to decipher and translate less than ten percent of the volume of telephone and other intercepts gained from its extensive networks of spy satellites and listening stations. Indeed, throughout the Islamic world, even many radio and television news reports went untranslated. While state-run broadcasts from the Communist bloc were a prime source of intelligence during the Cold War, in the Clinton years the CIA did not have the same capability against militant Islamists. And that deficiency was largely Clinton's fault.
    Mr. Woolsey hoped to fix these dangerous deficiencies, but he ran into congressional roadblocks. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, Arizona Democrat, repeatedly blocked any attempts to boost the CIA's budget for Arabic translators.
    Mr. Woolsey and Mr. DeConcini came to viscerally dislike each other. The senator told the author that he lost faith in Woolsey when he defended the secret construction of a $300 million National Reconnaissance Office headquarters in Northern Virginia. When Woolsey privately warned the senator against speaking publicly about sensitive intelligence information, Mr. DeConcini was outraged. He said he phoned both Clinton and [National Security Advisor Tony] Lake, threatening to demand Woolsey's resignation on the floor of the U.S. Senate unless Woolsey apologized. Mr. Woolsey never apologized, and Mr. DeConcini never forgave him. As a result, Mr. Woolsey estimates that two-thirds of all his meetings on Capitol Hill were about undoing spending cuts proposed by DeConcini, then a key Senate Appropriations Subcommittee chairman. Woolsey had made a powerful enemy and America's security would pay the price.
    When Mr. Woolsey suggested spending a few million dollars to hire Arabic-language translators in 1994, the feud with Mr. DeConcini intensified. Mr. DeConcini said he would only approve the request if it was a presidential priority. "I wanted to be sure," Mr. DeConcini told the author, "that Woolsey was not out on his own, like a cowboy." If Mr. Woolsey did have Clinton's ear, it is unlikely DeConcini would have blocked the CIA's efforts to hire more translators.
    Would the senator have given the CIA the money if Mr. Clinton wanted it? Mr. DeConcini did not hesitate. "Absolutely."
    Some might be tempted to blame Mr. DeConcini alone. To be sure, without congressional approval, it would be illegal for the CIA to shift even one dollar from one part of its estimated $30 billion budget to hire translators. But DeConcini called the president at least once and National Security Advisor Tony Lake many times, and never received a definitive response on whether hiring Arabic translators for the CIA was a presidential priority. With no such assurance, DeConcini felt confident in rejecting it. A Democratic senator does not lightly defy a Democratic president over a relatively small spending measure needed for national security, DeConcini insisted. But if Clinton wasn't interested, DeConcini would not be defying the president. The senator would have a free hand to thwart Woolsey.Without absolving DeConcini, Woolsey seems to acknowledge this point: "This was DeConcini's way of using the fact that I had no particular access to the president to turn down my request."
    So, Mr. Clinton's ostracism of Mr. Woolsey had weakened his hand in Congress and weakened the CIA at a critical time. Then the fecklessness of Mr. Clinton and his White House would only make matters worse. Over the next few months, the senator said that he called the president at least once and could not get a clear answer on the translator appropriation. He also phoned Lake many times, but never received a definitive response. Apparently the White House did not think hiring CIA translators to monitor terrorist states was very important.
    On the day that the appropriations subcommittee was voting on the CIA budget, Lake finally called DeConcini back about the translators. "It wasn't the eleventh hour," Mr. DeConcini said, "it was the twelfth hour." Did the White House want the funds? As Mr. DeConcini recalls, Lake responded tentatively, "Well, we want some of that."
    "Well, it's too late," DeConcini said. Lake, he recalls, did not object or argue. There would be no funding for the translators. "I don't bear him [Woolsey] any ill feeling," DeConcini said. "He just wasn't in a position to get what he wanted. I guess the term would be 'screwed by the White House.' "
    So, a bureaucratic feud and President Clinton's indifference kept America blind and deaf as bin Laden plotted.

Richard Miniter schreibt für zahlreiche Zeitungen in den USA und Großbritannien, früher vor allem für das Wall Street Journal. Er lebt zurzeit in Brüssel.

Links zum Thema
2002-10-23 „Wenn die CIA Übersetzer gehabt hätte, wäre vielleicht alles anders verlaufen“ – Robert Littell zum 11. September
2002-07-20a Washington Cites Shortage of Linguists for Key Security Jobs
2002-03-12 Afghanistan: den Schlapphüten fehlen Übersetzer

[Text: Richard Schneider. Quelle: Washington Times, 2003-09-03. Bild: Archiv.]

Bill Clinton

James Woolsey

Dennis DeConcini

Tony Lake

Richard Miniter