DoD Has More Than a Thousand Chinese Linguists

07.11.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

There are more than a thousand members of the U.S. military who are qualified Chinese linguists, a Defense Department official told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

“I have been told that information regarding the number of DOD intelligence analysts who speak Mandarin and/or Cantonese is classified,” said James J. Shinn, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, who was confirmed in December 2007.

“At the unclassified level, I can tell you that there are over 5,800 military personnel (officers and enlisted) with at least a basic capability in Mandarin and/or Cantonese. Of those, over 1,000 are considered proficient in Mandarin.”

“I would like to see these numbers grow by increasing our investment in Chinese language skills for both civilians and military personnel,” Dr. Shinn said.

“The U.S. Department of Defense has a fairly sophisticated understanding of China’s growing military capabilities, but we lack insight into China’s intent because China’s military buildup is occurring in the absence of transparency,” he said. “Without greater transparency, the United States and other Asian nations cannot fully determine the degree and type of risk that China’s buildup poses.”

According to his official biography, Dr. Shinn himself “once spoke good Japanese, passable French, and functional German, but no more.”

His remarks appeared in an exceptionally rich new volume of “Nominations Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, First Session, 110th Congress” (pdf), Senate Armed Services Committee (at p. 1247).

Rep. Rush Holt, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Panel on Intelligence Oversight, said in a statement released today that his Panel “is once again recommending a robust investment in foreign language training.”

“We must do more to ensure that our education systems — civilian and military — place a greater emphasis on language and culture skills and on producing the teachers who can transmit those language and cultural skills to others,” he wrote.

More generally, “The funding recommendations that the Panel will forward to the Defense Subcommittee are classified, but I can tell you that these recommendations include an increase to the National Intelligence Program and the Military Intelligence Program from the fiscal year 2008 levels and a significant reduction from the President’s request,” Rep. Holt stated.