Volume 65, No. 1 (March 2021)

Commentary: Going Beyond English to Better See the World

By Stephen C. Mercado

Many US analysts of foreign affairs-whether writing in the Intelligence Community, at a newspaper, in a university or at a think tank-see things beyond our shores in a dim light, their view obscured by an opaque bubble arising from dependence on English-language information sources and a paucity of translated material: According to one authoritative estimate, only 3 percent of all books published in the United States are translated works.

Access to foreign sources in foreign languages would break that bubble and yield many insights not discoverable in English-language works. These will often include what might be considered foreign intelligence (FI) as well as counterintelligence (CI) insights. Some media reports published abroad in vernacular languages even reveal US intelligence details that might be secret in the United States but not overseas. US CI analysts need to know of them.