Home News Stories 2006 December Up Close and Personal with an FBI Language Analyst
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Up Close and Personal with an FBI Language Analyst

Up Close & Personal
Life as an FBI Language Analyst


Globe with FBI borderFor Samir, the decision to jump in 2004 from a successful career as a senior analyst at a financial services company to a new line of work at the FBI was easy. The Bureau was looking for Arabic linguists and Samir, who grew up in the Sudan and is fluent in both Arabic and Tigrinya, a language spoken in the East African country of Eritrea, was looking for more career fulfillment. “Being an immigrant I felt like joining the FBI would be such an exciting opportunity, but I never dreamed I would get the job,” Samir says. Samir, which is a pseudonym, talked to us about life as an FBI language analyst.

Q. What is a typical day like for language analysts?
Samir: There’s no such thing. The assignments in my unit change daily. One day I may be reviewing the quality of translated documents for court proceedings; other days I may be interpreting for a witness in front of a grand jury or translating technical manuals. I’ve translated highly technical documents on how terrorists make explosive vests and watched live demonstrations of the damage these bombs can inflict. Seeing the devices and witnessing in person the destruction they cause puts what we do in context.

Q. Does your cultural background aid your work?
Samir: It does very much. A linguist’s job goes beyond just translating and interpreting. In any assignment, you need to bring a strong knowledge of the culture and the people. I once worked a case involving an older Eritrean woman who was being sexually abused and exploited by her employer. Knowing the country’s mores and taboos, I was able to develop a rapport with the victim by treating her with the respect that is customary. Through our conversations I was able to gather enough information to help the agent I was working with and the U.S. Attorney build a case.

Q. How do you keep your linguist skills sharp?
Samir: The linguists in my unit have a wide variety of backgrounds and come from different cultures. We talk informally about religion and world events—often in Arabic—and discuss ideologies and the cultural meaning of words. I also regularly read and watch Arabic news. Understanding other perspectives helps me be more objective. I see how the media interprets events and situations and I can bring that background with me when I work on an assignment.

Q. Can you describe a challenging case?
Samir: My most memorable challenge so far was my first grand jury interpretation assignment. Generally I find it more challenging than translation; being in a room full of strangers with the pressures of the case resting on your interpretation can be quite tough. You have to concentrate on your job and not be intimidated by the environment around you.

Q. Your career change was quite dramatic. Any regrets?
Samir: It was quite a change, but I wasn’t happy at my previous job because it wasn’t very fulfilling or satisfying. Now I feel I’m doing something I truly enjoy while making a positive contribution. I love my job and I love what I do.”

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