Fred Burks has acted as an interpreter for George W. Bush. (Note: "translation" is written, "interpretation" is oral.) Burks wrote the following letter to Bob Fertik of Democrats.com, who avers that he has verified that Burks did indeed hold down that job:
As a deep insider myself, I have independent confirmation of President Bush using an earpiece to assist him in communicating intelligently with others. I've worked as a contract Indonesian language interpreter with the US State Department for over 18 years. I first started interpreting at the presidential level in 1995 at a White House meeting for President Clinton and President Suharto of Indonesia with their top advisors. You can read a short story of the many small miracles that led me to interpret for presidents at www.gcforall.org/inspirations (scroll down to Issue #1, where it is the second story).
On September 19, 2001, just eight days after 9/11, I was in the White House interpreting for an important 90-minute meeting between President Bush and President Megawati Soekarnoputri of Indonesia. This meeting made national news on all the TV networks, as at the time, the administration wanted to show they were supportive of our Muslim friends. Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims in the world. Over 80% of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslim.
This was my first time interpreting for Bush. The previous day, I had been given the 22 points Bush would be covering in this meeting in order to familiarize myself with the topics to be discussed. About half of these "talking points" had to do with terrorism, which was to be fully expected given what had just happened. The other points, however, involved many details of Indonesian politics which even I would have had a tough time addressing, let alone Bush, who I assumed had limited knowledge of Indonesia.
During those 90 minutes, President Bush not only covered all the points, he covered them quite well and without any notes! Not once during the entire meeting did he look at any notes or receive cues from anyone present in discussing the Indonesian political situation with depth and intelligence. I was astonished! "How could this be?" I asked myself. It was a huge surprise. I concluded either that Bush was much more intelligent than we had been led to believe, or that somehow someone was feeding answers to him through a hidden earpiece. At the time, I really didn't know which of these was true.
Having worked directly with President Bush twice since then, and having additionally talked with many of my fellow interpreters who have worked directly with him, I am now certain that he could not have had that much knowledge of Indonesia. He doesn't even read the daily newspaper to keep up with what's being reported in the press. I am convinced that he must have been using some sort of earpiece through which someone was telling him what to say.
Having interpreted for media guests touring large TV studios, I've seen how the news anchors all have hidden earphones, and how the news producers are feeding them all sorts of information even as they talk live on TV. "20 seconds to a commercial," "15 seconds of filler here," "wrap it up quick " etc... This is standard practice for live TV shows. The "let me finish" comment made by Bush in the debate was only confirmation of something I already knew.
I will also mention that a number of months ago a colleague of mine was in the room with President Bush and his advisors when Bush threw a full blown temper tantrum filled with foul language and all. He ranted and raved at his advisors for a number of minutes to the shock and dismay of my colleague who was standing unseen in the refreshment corner. When he finally finished blowing off steam, Bush turned towards the refreshment table only to see my colleague standing there. He instantly switched into his "good ol' boy" friendly demeanor and said, "Hey, how ya doin' buddy?"
Politics is not a pretty business. I have many stories from my experiences interpreting at international conferences and secret meetings attended only our leaders and their interpreters. I have seen a number of our world's leaders (not just Americans) acting like high school boys playing power games. But for now, I just wanted to confirm my own strong belief that President Bush is often fed what he is supposed to say at important events. Though he can truly be a friendly guy, I have not found him to be particularly bright or competent. To be fair, I must admit that I tend to be of a more liberal persuasion, but I thought you all would appreciate knowing some of what goes on behind the scenes. You take care and have a great day!
With best wishes, Fred
PS Though I am still on contract with the State Department, I greatly reduced my work with them two years ago. I saw how important it was for me to devote my time to getting the word out through the websites I manage, and through email lists like this. I have done only three weeks' worth of paid work this year. Thankfully, I am able to draw on money I had set aside for retirement to support me in focusing full time on this important work. I want to invite you to look carefully at what you can do in your life to help build a better world in these important times. You might start by sharing this email with your friends and colleagues.