The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have both started an urgent hunt for translators.

A centre is also being set up under a joint programme reporting to the National Security Agency. The National Virtual Translation Centre would operate from 1 December.

The desperation to recruit Arabic speaking experts is rooted in the experience of the September 11 attacks.

Many messages that the attackers exchanged were decoded too late in the absence of Arabic experts.

Lessons learnt

"Two of the essential lessons learned from previous conflicts are that the United States never has enough foreign language capability, and the lack of it has cost lives," Clifford Porter, a military historian at the Combat Studies Institute said.

"Truly knowing our enemy requires understanding the culture, politics, and religion of the terrorists, which in turn requires experts in the language," wrote Porter in a recent publication.

When September 11 happened, the FBI had in its employment 72 Arab speakers. Today, the figure has gone up to 204.

"As far as Arabic, we obviously could use more  people, but we are in much better shape than we were prior to 9/11," an FBI agent said.

Hunt on

"But of course, we are still looking for more people," he said.

A salary of between $27-$38 an hour is on offer.

The translator, however, must be a naturalized US citizen who has pleaded allegiance to the country and has top secret clearance.

Before appointment, he would go through interrogation by several agents and also submit himself to a lie detector test.