Spy agencies have fewer than 2,000 people proficient in Middle Eastern languages

August 29, 2013

Our Post colleagues have another scoop based on documents released by NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden. The latest revelations concern the intelligence community's $52 billion budget.

One interesting statistic included in the document concerns how many foreign-language speakers work for the NSA, CIA, and other intelligence agencies:


(Timothy B. Lee / Washington Post)

Given the high level of US engagement in the Middle East, you might expect Middle Eastern languages to be a top priority. But the statistics suggest that intelligence agencies have more than twice as many employees with Spanish proficiency than Arabic. Even combining Arabic speakers with other regional languages like Persian, Pashto, and Urdu (which are in the "other" category in this chart) still brings the total to around 1,900, less than one-fifth of the payments for foreign language proficiency.

Also surprising, given China's size and geopolitical importance: only 903 people in the intelligence community are proficient in Chinese languages.

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Brian Fung | August 29, 2013