For American citizens wishing to serve their government as linguists, career advancement can present a vexing Catch-22. To acquire the language and cultural skills needed to succeed in the job, a linguist typically must spend years within a foreign country, developing ties with residents. But this experience abroad is a career obstacle too. According to a report in the New York Times, several FBI employees with ties in foreign countries have seen their careers stalled as a result due to being placed in a post-9/11 "risk-management" program devised by the agency.
The program, Post-Adjudication Risk Management, or PARM, subjects its targets to additional security screenings, polygraph tests, scrutiny of foreign travel, and reviews of electronic communications. The FBI notifies those agents placed under PARM review, but the process for getting off the list requires severing ties with family members and contacts living overseas. Even worse, some of the agents allege that the PARM program stalled their careers. Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, an Egyptian-born linguist who has worked for the FBI since 1994 and helped the bureau on high-profile terror investigations, believes he was placed in PARM in retaliation for supporting another colleague's grievances. The FBI, meanwhile, told him his placement resulted from frequent contact with and travels to Egypt.