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DEA Seeking Ebonics Experts for Narcotics Investigations

Aug 23, 2010 – 7:31 PM
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Allan Lengel

Allan Lengel Contributor

(Aug. 23) -- If you speak Ebonics, the federal government may have a job for you.

The Drug Enforcement Administration wants to hire people fluent in Ebonics to help monitor, transcribe and translate secretly recorded conversations in narcotics investigations, according to the website The Smoking Gun and DEA documents.

The Smoking Gun reports that up to nine Ebonics experts will work with the DEA Atlanta Division after obtaining "DEA Sensitive" security clearance.

Ebonics, or "Black English," generally is defined as a nonstandard form of English spoken by African-Americans.

According to the job description, Ebonics experts will decipher the results of "telephonic monitoring of court ordered nonconsensual intercepts, consensual listening devices, and other media," the website reported.

One DEA agent, who spoke to AOL News on the condition of anonymity, said he was surprised to hear the agency was looking for Ebonics experts, and said agents up until now have done fine working cases without the Ebonics experts. But the agent said maybe there's a reason for the request that he was unaware of.

The website and documents show that Ebonics is among 114 languages the DEA has an interest in. The languages are classified as "common languages" and "exotic languages," and Ebonics is considered a common one spoken in the U.S. only. The information was contained in a contract bid for as many as 2,100 linguists for the various DEA field offices, The Smoking Gun reported.

The Justice Department referred phone calls Monday for comment to the DEA. The DEA did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

The DEA, according to The Smoking Gun, spends about $70 million annually on linguistic services.

William R. Coonce, a former head of the Detroit DEA, told AOL News he sees potential benefits, particularly since the DEA is relying more heavily these days on wiretaps in investigations.

"If the purpose is to improve their ability to conduct [wiretap] investigations in certain investigations where street language is different or important or highly interpretive, it would be beneficial," he said.

A controversy over the use of Ebonics and whether it should be recognized as an acceptable dialect, particularly whether it should be used in teaching schoolchildren, has raged for many years.
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