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Here's What It's Like: Up Close and Personal


Photograph of FBI Language SpecialistIn her 20 years as an FBI language specialist, Lucy has been privy to conversations in some pretty interesting cases: an exotic-animal importer suspected of killing his first wife and plotting against his second; Cuban spies arrested in 1998 for plotting against the U.S.; the laundering of $4 million in small bills; and hijackings from Cuba to Key West. “It's exciting to work for several years on a case and then read about its successful prosecution,” she says. We talked to Lucy about her job and how her role has changed over the years.

Q. What is a typical working day like?

Lucy: My workday typically consists of listening to recordings of conversations from phone taps and body recorders. When I started, some of these were still done on reel-to-reel tapes; now we get most of them on CD Rom. First we transcribe conversations word for word in the original language. Then we translate them. Some of the work we do is live. These cases usually involve court-authorized search warrants that allow us to intercept and listen to criminal conversations—and only criminal conversations as they're occurring. Anything not criminal in nature has to be turned off.

Q. What do you like best about the job?

Lucy: The variety of the work we do is always interesting. We handle drug matters, Medicare fraud, espionage, financial fraud; we translate all types of documents. We also handle international cases, including kidnappings and other police matters. The job changes every year depending on the national and world situation. I also enjoy the creative aspect of translating, writing, and researching regional variations of the language or the jargon of the underworld. The work the FBI does is so important, and it's very gratifying to be a part of that. I wouldn't be happy doing frivolous or meaningless work.

Q. Do you work closely with agents?

Lucy: Yes indeed. Many times an agent will depend on you to determine the truthfulness of the person they are interviewing. This can be critical in their assessment of the reliability of the source. You become, in essence, their eyes and ears. The agents depend on you to interpret all the nuances and cultural differences that they may not be aware of. The job requires an intimate knowledge not only of the language but of the culture.

Q. Do you have any advice for prospective FBI recruits?

Lucy: Yes. You should be comfortable working alone but also open to conferring with colleagues when you have doubts or questions. Nobody knows everything and you'll get a lot of valuable input. Study and be prepared to use lots of dictionaries. And make an effort to keep up your foreign language skills by reading or listening to the radio or TV. I'd like to add that there are so many outstanding people working for the Bureau who demonstrate integrity, a sense of honor, and fierce loyalty. I'm proud to be a part of it.

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