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TITLB: The Interpreter As An Agent
AUTHOR: Francis Agnor
A collection ol articles on the historical, operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects of intelligence.
All statements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence are those of
theey do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of ihe Central Intelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting ot implying US Government endorsement of an article's factual statements and interpretations.
lie assignment of an inter-rreter icith slightly ulterior nu>
THE INTERPRrTmi AS AN AGENT FrancU Agnor
The rather obvious time-honored practice ot usingassigned to international exchange delegations asagents (or. conversely, ot getting mtelligence per-tonnel assigned as interpreters) has both advantages andIf tbe interpreter makes the most of bismission, however, and observes some common-sense rules of behavior, there canet advantage both in the ilrect yield of information from such an assignment and in the improvement of an asset hi the person of the interpreter, rhe advantage in Immediate Information is likely to be limited; the improvement of personal assets can be considerable.
In discussing these advantages we shall assume that the Interpreter can be given adequate intelligence training and briefing (or that the intelligence officer is competent as an Interpreter, and note shall Ignore theaspects of the interpreter's art and the occupationalnervous indigestion and undernourishment, contracted In his attempts to gulp food while translating banquetWe shall examine his domestic and foreignseparately: the advantages and disadvantages of assignment at home and abroad often coincide, but there are also Important differences.
Gains cm Borne Ground
Let us look first at the domestic assignment, where theIs on his own native soil, attachedroup ofvisitors or delegates. As the communications linktbe visitors and their strange surroundings, hea strong psychological advantage in his available option to confine himself strictly to the business portions of the trip, leaving the visitors to fend for^ernselves^^U'elr spareven If they have their own Interpreter along, there are a
Inteipreter As Agent
cumber ofping, local customs, tbe availability! of acrriccs- in which it would be convenient for them to have] bis help?
Rccognlrlng their dependence on his cooperation for the] smooth progress of their visit, they will usually do their best! to establish. Ifordial friendship, atood workingreat deal depends on the interpreterelf, of course, but normal friendly overtures on his part wllli usually be met at least half way by the visitors. Just by being1 relaxed and perhaps willing tomall extra favor here and there, he can become accepted as an Indispensableof their family group. An excellent way to break downi reserve andree exchange of Ideas Is to Invite thej group to his home. (It does not pay for him to be so obllglngj that bealet, and It Is advisable to establish this principle early In the game.)
Continued friendly gestures are likely to result In time in the establishmentenuine rapport, with its attendant benefits If the interpreter is knowledgeable in tbe field of the official discussions which be is interpreting, he can clarify in private discussions with tbe visitors some of the ambiguous or contradictory statements made during the official talks Without appearing too curious or asking too many questions of intelligence purport (he should be particularly circumspect at the outsetrip, when bis bona Odes Is subjecte will sometimes be able to get definitivein private which are lacking in the confusion andof official discussions. It is here that bering to bear his training or natural bent for cllcltallan, whether for official purposes or for his own education.
At the same time the interpreter himself is the target of, numerous questions which reveal both intelligence andonal interests on tbe part of bis charges. Their intelligence questions may indicate gaps in their own service'sand their personal ones are more broadly useful Inthe preconceived picture of this country that theave brought with them. Although they often realise that, their questionsack of sophistication, they areag to sacrifice dignity to satisfy their burningun-j. est, natural answers, despite tbe apparent rudeness of some!
The Interpreter As Agent
theow touch do you make? How muchou Intrengthen the interpreter's position and may lead to even more revealing questions. If the visitors areontrolled society the very opportunity to put certain kinds of questionsuxury they cannot afford at borne And when one of them Is alone with tbe Interpreter he often shows eagerness to ask questionsind not brought up hi group discussions.
In all these discussions the Interpreter Is gaining knowledge which no academic training can give him. First, he islimpse of his own country through the warped glass ofmisconceptions and propaganda. The image will not be fully that which hostile propagandists have sought to fix, but It will show where they have succeeded and where they have failed. Second, he learns how to get ideas across to these representatives of another culture, learns where be mustat length and where he canelling point Inew words. Finally,ort of synthesis of his experience, he can arrive at some conclusions concerning the visitors' inner thought processes, often quite alien to his own.
In addition to gaining these insights, tbe Interpreter makes what may prove to be useful contacts in future assignments. How potentially useful depends on the spirit In which be parts company with the visitors, but anything short of outright hostility Is likely to make them of some value.
Drc.wt.Kick* and Limitations
The chief disadvantages of domestic assignment for the agent-Interpreter lie tn tbe shallowness of his cover. Visitors from Communist countries. In particular, starttrong presumption that any Interpreter Is at least working hand in glove with local mtelligence or security groups If be Is notember of one. The barrier thus Imposed In the initial stagesrip may break down as rapport Isbut there alwaysurking suspicion that the interpreter is not what he seems, and the visitors are always on guard against the slightest hint of prying or propaganda. Furthermore, theyuge file of biographic Information on nun In tbe course of their association, material whichertainly delivered to their own security forces, Matching
The Interpreter At Agent
toll up with socoe earlier trace they may hare ot him mas
Another limiting factor is that foreign delegations,from Bloc countries, are drawn from the elite and so not typical of tbe peoples they represent. The Impressions the Interpreter receives concerning their beliefs and feeling? may not be applicable to their countrymen at home. Though the delegation members may not be as orthodox abroad as on their home ground, where conformity is obligatory, theyore compelling stake In the regime than the average citizen
The hurt disadvantage to be noted depends In large part oo the capabilities and limitations of the interpreter himself. It lies In the difficulty of retaining facts and figures inead while performing the complicated task of translation. It Is possible to store in one's mindimited number ot figures before the whole delicate structure ofumble of confused statistics which are of no use to anyone. While it is permissible to take notes during long speeches where it is obviously impossible to remember everything said between pauses, this device is not appropriate for short conversations. If tbe Interpreter Is caughtscribbUng notes immediatelyisitor has casually let drop the annual production of some electronic gadget, his usefulness to intelligence has largely evaporated.he has pinpointed an area of intelligenceash to the toilet after some particularly significant slip on the partisitor can sometimes provide privacy for note! taking, but too frequent use of this dodge excites embarrassing commiseration or, more often, suspicion.
On the Opponent's Home Field
The foreign assignment differs in many respects from the dornestie. On the profit side, in addition to getting the same positive intelhgence take as tbe domestic interpreter, theabroad can be an observer, reporting on things which have nothing to do with his linguistic job. If he has had proper, training, such observations can be quite valuable..be caneeling for the countryense of what Intelligence activities can be undertaken and whaf cannot. He may, forrpfcotograpby to^lrea^on the borderline of legitimacy just to test reaction, or take
The Interpreter At Agent
stroll before going to bed In order to checkpatterns. If he is an area specialist, the trip provides anation which no amount of book learning could give. Hecertain of his preconceptions while discarding others, and he returnsar more solid grasp on his specialty than he had previously. The confidence thus gained fromexperienceery valuable asset if he Is to ben operations against the country In the future.
On the negative side we find all the disadvantages noted Inthe domestic assignment: the interpreterauon abroad is, If anything, under sharper scrutinyble agent, and should be preparedore or lessestine search of his baggage; his memory is still strained to bold on to useful data; his official foreign contacts are the most loyal stalwarts of the regime; his digestion deteriorates. In addition, he findsrisoner of bis cover profession. Whereas the foreign delegation's dependence on him during his domestic assignment led to enlightening discussions, his own party's need for his help, not only on official matters but on everything that requires communication during everyhour, now obliges him to spend all ol bis time with his own countrymen. Heommunications machine, unable to Introduce any of his own ideas or queries into the conversations. Contacts are pretty well limited to those which the hosts have thoughtfully provided for about eighteen out of every twenty-four hours,elegation of six-footaccompanied by watchful hosts is not the sort of groupissident memberlosed society Is likely toin order to unload bis true feelings about the regime.
Finally, even the diffident admissions of ignorance implicit bi questions put to the interpreter on his own home ground Me lacking when he goes abroad. Particularly in Communist countries the officials he contacts need to show that they have not been contaminated by bis Ideology; each tries to out-party-hhe the rest, less as an effort (usually counter-productive) to influence the visiting delegation thanemonstration of his own orthodoxy for the benefit of bis comrades. Thisprecludes any serious;discusskm_aboutr the visitors' country. 'During such exhibitionseating the interpreter is put on his mettle to hold his temper
The /nferprelar Ai Apen
and restrain himselfTrorS active partkipatkm In tbe con versa
Criteria and Other Cowrideraf tons
Prom the foregoing we may conclude that the principal in telligence value of the domestic assignment lies in the pry etiologicalof mental attitudes, blind spots thought processes, strength and weakness ofthe value of the foreign assignment derites from first-hanc experience in the country and from the collection of observ able operational and positive InteUigence. It is perhaps un necessary to warn that the interpreter can nof fulfill th classic agent roles of recruiting spy nets, agitating for rcvolu Hon, or personally stealing the master war plans. He wll pay his way by less dramatic acts.
Here are some of the factors that should be taken into con sidcration in recruiting an toterpreter for an inteUigenc mission or utilizing an existing intelligence asset In inter preter capacity. First, it must be borne in mind that almos any Interpreter will be the target of intense scrutiny by tb opposition, particularly In Bloc countries. The prevailing po litical climate today, however, is such that the interpreter' official position as partelegation protects him Iron arbitrary arrest, except perhaps in Communist China. Th rest of the Bloc is so committed to East-West exchanges tha it would not jeopardise the program for one rather insigniftcan mtelligence fish.
Second, the Interpreter should not be the only briefed mem ber of the delegation going abroad. As we have shown, th Interpreter has his hands full with his official duties and ha little opportunity for taking notes. The official delegate, bow ever, has good opportunities and excellent cover for taklnj notes. In addition, being presumably an expert In the fieli of the discussions, he can recognize significant material be tie than the Interpreter.
Third, the size of the delegation is an extremely lmportan factor affecting the usefulness of both domestic and forelgi interpreterA. delegation .of more thaneven people Imposesurden'on the interpreter tha he has no time for an mtelligence mission. He Is kept con
The Interpreter A* Agent
tinualry busy rounding up strays, making travel reservations,people settled In hotels, and generally playing nurse-The best possible delegation would consist of one veryman who neither demanded nor rejected the presence
Finally, the Itinerary itself must be considered. On do-meslic assignments the most important thingelaxed schedule which will give the visitors enough spare time toerve their surroundings and ask questions about non-official matters. On the foreign assignment perhaps the mostconsideration Is tbe previous accessibility of the areas to be visited. If tbe area is completely oil the beaten track or had previously been closed to foreigners, there Iseason torained observer as interpreter. he standard tourist trips, however, may provide useful in-formation if the interpreter is alert.
This paper has been oriented primarily towards thereter-agent question as it obtains in visits to or fromoviet Bloc, but many of the same factors are valid foror uncommitted areas. With the steady increase in cultural and professional exchanges among most countries of tbe world, opportunities for placing interpreters have alsoThe expansion is not only making more experience and training available but is affording better cover forwith intelligence objectives. Perhaps more of them should be given such objectives, despite tbe drawbacksave noted.Original document.