LOST IN TRANSLATION?
Not at the National Virtual Translation
The language skills of most 3-year-olds
are limited at best. But we know one that
speaks dozens of languages fluently...that
can translate technical documents and recordings...and
that helps prevent terrorist attacks and
solve crimes. It’s the National Virtual
Translation Center, based at FBI Headquarters.
The center, or NVTC, is an integral part
of the national intelligence community. The
FBI is its executive support agency, responsible
for conducting the background investigations
on new hires and testing language skills.
We also provide space for its program office
and other administrative support.
The center, which provides timely and accurate
translations of foreign intelligence for
U.S. agencies, isn’t organized like
a typical government office. Most employees
don’t report to the same building:
They work out of secure government offices
across the nation. Some work from home. They
all receive their work electronically, putting
the “virtual” in the center’s
“We need people with language skills
where they are,” center Director Everette
E. Jordan recently told reporters. “We
can’t bring everyone to Washington,
and we don’t want to.”
At a time when demand for language
skills is high, that flexibility
makes the center more attractive to recruits
who may not want to move to Washington,
D.C. NVTC translators can also work part-time
as their schedule—and the center’s
demand—allows. For some, that might
be as little as a few hours a week. It
also allows the center to respond more
effectively to the fluctuating demand of
the federal agencies it supports.
How does the NVTC operate? Federal
agencies decide when to use the translation
center. It’s almost like a federal
contractor. As with most members of the intelligence
community, the FBI relies on its own highly
trained linguists first. We use the NVTC
linguists when we face a critical overload
of intelligence or a tight deadline or when
we have documents in a language we don’t
The material requiring translation is sent
to the center, which scrubs of it any information
that could identify which U.S. agency collected
the information to avoid biasing the translator.
Then it’s delivered to an appropriate
linguist, translated, and returned to the
center and then to the agency.
Who are these highly skilled professionals? They
- Are American citizens;
- Have passed a vigorous national security
- Have passed a comprehensive language
- Come from all walks of life, including
stay-at-home parents and career professionals.
The center also is working to establish
an innovative program to help train future
linguists by working with several colleges
with translation programs. Schools will receive
unclassified documents that need translating
and have students do the work. Students will
receive grades, school credit, and valuable
experience. And the center will get more
For more information about the center,
visit its website.
for a linguist job with the FBI | The Office of the Director of National Intelligence