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The National Virtual Translation Center.

What Is the National Virtual Translation Center?

The National Virtual Translation Center (NVTC) is a government interagency entity established by congressional mandate to provide timely and accurate translation of foreign intelligence for all elements of the Intelligence Community (IC). Our mission is not to replace, but rather to augment and supplement the foreign language capabilities present in all elements of the IC and the military.

The NVTC is developing and employing state-of-the-art technologies to broker translation services and provide the translated product in a format suitable for receipt from and dissemination to a broad IC and military customer base. Our vision is to be the trusted provider of choice for interagency translation services, while demonstrating a national virtual model.

Who are the NVTC Customers?

An NVTC customer is always a government client who has intelligence related translation needs. The NVTC strives to meet the needs of two types of customers: recurring and non-recurring. Recurring customers have large tasks for which Service level agreements are forged and ongoing work is performed over longer periods of time. Non-recurring customers are most often in need of one-time, or ad hoc, translations. As a result, the NVTC has positioned itself to respond rapidly to a wide range of request types. The NVTC business model stresses agility, flexibility, and dynamics. For those customers who have an ongoing task, the NVTC has established procedures and a concept of operations to ensure dataflow and dedicates task managers and linguists to serve the needs of those customers.

The NVTC has provided language services to 38 distinct customers from within the IC and National Security arenas in the past three years of existence. The IC has been increasingly challenged to keep pace with the growing need for translation of foreign language material. Operational experience gained over the past 3 years at the NVTC confirms the need for an interagency entity to supplement IC translation needs. The IC's 15-member agencies contain a myriad of elements and specialized centers. Each of these agencies, centers, and elements has unique language processing capabilities or needs. In FY2004 and FY2005, the customer set grew rapidly as a result of the NVTC becoming known as a translation hub for the IC. The NVTC's customer base expanded to include the many Central Intelligence Agency offices and various Department of Defense entities--the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG), and Combined Media Processing Center-Main (CMPC-M), and others. These tasks range from critical quick turn-around responses (in a few hours from the request time to the delivery of the finished product) to ongoing high-volume tasks. In addition to the variety of customers and quantity of words requiring translation, the NVTC receives a broad range of types of documents to be processed. These come from various sources (audio, video, handwritten, typed texts), genres (formal and colloquial language documents), and levels of protection and classification (Unclassified, For Official Use Only, Secret, and Top Secret).

Examples of customer's needs range from an immediate response to a crisis such as the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 to ongoing requests from Community analysts who need information support from such databases as Harmony or the Open Source Center. For the tsunami disaster relief effort, the U.S. Marine Corps sought assistance from the NVTC in translating common expressions into several languages of the tsunami-affected area. These phrases would be used while delivering humanitarian aid to the victims of the disaster. The NVTC technology team responded by creating a website to host Sinhalese and Tamil language survival kits that NVTC operations team had acquired and translated. The website was the most expedient mode of dissemination to the Marine Corps enabling an easier coordination of effort between the deployed forces and supporting government agencies. In addition, the materials were downloaded, printed, and provided on laminated cards to the Marines deployed to relief sites. Those organizations that had access to the Internet were also supplied with the audio files that accompanied the written phrases. Support from the U.S. Department of State and the Defense Language Institute made this quick turn around a possibility by providing the needed human language resources and existing language kits. These language survival kits were also made available to international relief organizations that responded to the disaster.

Another example of a response to customer's needs is the CENTCOM Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) unit that was tasked on a daily basis with requests for information from various open sources. While they relied on (now at the time, they also needed direct access to foreign news (broadcast and online newswire and Internet sites). These resources were exploited through state-of-the-art technologies in speech to text and machine translation to determine what needed human translation. A full workflow was established between the customer and NVTC for daily requests and return of finished translations in less than 4 hours on average, depending on the length and urgency of the request.

In addition to serving individual IC components and organizations, the NVTC has become the lead translation service for customers using the Harmony database both on Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) and the Secure Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET). The NVTC provides translation of intelligence-related foreign language documents at the request of individual analysts from across the IC regardless of their agency affiliation.

The NVTC has established numerous agreements and relationships with various IC agencies to enable them to submit their data for translation. Most customers will request an account with the NVTC and after determination of the specific needs, a project plan is put together and the data is loaded in the Translators Online Network Support (TONS) system for assignment, tracking, and dissemination of the product. Funding is required to pay for translation costs.

Who are the Translators?

The NVTC has begun to identify and develop a cadre of trained, cleared, and vetted linguists who are available to meet the foreign language needs of the IC. To meet this challenge without interfering with the language needs of our partner agencies throughout the Community, the NVTC maintains a marketing campaign both on line through our public website and through various conferences to attract and retain qualified linguists in many languages and subject domains. The NVTC's web presence on the open Internet ( increases our ability to recruit linguists from across the United States. The NVTC has employed over 400 linguists to meet its mission (and has vetted many more.)

The NVTC relies on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for security clearances and testing language skills. All contract linguists must be U.S. citizens and perform services for the NVTC while in the U.S. The contract linguist must be able to obtain a Top Secret security clearance and undergo a language proficiency screening. Although many contract linguists work with unclassified materials, it is the NVTC security policy to screen linguists to ensure security of sensitive material. Since inception, the NVTC has employed over 400 contract linguists across the more than 40 languages in which the NVTC has performed work. Qualified linguists who wish to work with the NVTC are invited to check the NVTC's internet website.

Government or military personnel may work with the NVTC in coordination with their present supervisor or military chain of command. Separating or retiring civilian and military personnel are invited to contact the NVTC through our website to begin the hiring process as they approach their retirement or separation date.

How does the NVTC Operate?

The NVTC program office is in Washington, DC. However, the translators and customers working with us are everywhere in the U.S. The NVTC is virtual entity, allowing translators to telecommute when performing unclassified tasks and/or in a government facility for other type of translations. All translators are vetted even for unclassified type work.

When translators working for the NVTC are assigned classified work, they are directed to a nearby facility which is certified to handle the material at the appropriate classification level. The NVTC has negotiated agreements to use facilities owned and operated by various agencies within the U.S. government to support translators distributed throughout the U.S. Such agreements allow translators who are not local to the NVTC program office in Washington, D.C., to access a secure facility (provided they have appropriate clearances), and perform work in support of the NVTC. Among the various types of facilities are FBI Field Offices, Joint Reserve Intelligence Centers, other military facilities, and academic Institutions.

The NVTC business model is designed to employ translators from any location within the U.S. With this in mind, many of the NVTC information systems, including the core translation workflow components, were designed to be used on the Open Internet in a Virtual Private Secure Network with an SSL access-controlled mechanism.

In addition to the public Internet site, the NVTC maintains informational websites on classified and unclassified Community networks (Open Source Information System (OSIS), SIPRNET, and JWICS) that are designed for customer relations, such as response to frequently asked questions and an NVTC contact page for government entities requesting accounts and more information.

The NVTC uses the IC network systems and connectivity at all levels of classification to conduct daily business. In addition, the NVTC has developed and implemented an enterprise level translation workflow management system, the TONS system, which is being examined by several other IC agencies as a model for conducting the translation business.

Dr. Kathleen Egan, PhD

To learn more about the NVTC and to get your translation needs Met, visit the NVTC on any of the websites (classified or unclassified) or email Steve Grimaud, the Director of Operations at to discuss your unique needs and how the NVTC can serve you best. If you are interested in the technology used at NVTC, email Dr. Kathleen Egan, the Director of Technology, at to gain further information.
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Author:Egan, Kathleen
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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