U.S Terrorism Arrests/Convictions Significantly Overstated

Interesting report (long, but at least read the Executive Summary) from the U.S. Department of Justice's Inspector General that says, basically, that all the U.S. terrorism statistics since 9/11 -- arrests, convictions, and so on -- have been grossly inflated.

As summarized in the following table, we determined that the FBI, EOUSA, and the Criminal Division did not accurately report 24 of the 26 statistics we reviewed.

"EOUSA" is the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The report gives a series of reasons why the statistics were so bad. Here's one:

The number of terrorism-related convictions was overstated because the FBI initially coded the investigative cases as terrorism-related when the cases were opened, but did not recode cases when no link to terrorism was established.

And here's an example of a problem:

For example, Operation Tarmac was a worksite enforcement operation launched in November 2001 at the nation’s airports. During this operation, Department and other federal agents went into regional airports and checked the immigration papers of airport workers. The agents then arrested any individuals who used falsified documents, such as social security numbers, drivers’ licenses, and other identification documents, to gain employment. EOUSA officials told us they believe these defendants are properly coded under the anti-terrorism program activity. We do not agree that law enforcement efforts such as these should be counted as "anti-terrorism" unless the subject or target is reasonably linked to terrorist activity.

There's an enormous amount of detail in the report, if you want to wade through the 80ish pages of report and another 80ish of appendices.

Posted on February 23, 2007 at 7:13 AM • 26 Comments

Comments

BunnyFebruary 23, 2007 8:47 AM

@Parsi: that's rubbish. Al Capone may not have been convicted for being a mob boss, but I don't think you can say that he has not been "reasonably linked to organised crime".

If you want to count an arrest or a conviction as related to terrorism, then you should be required to be able to demonstrate a reasonable link; otherwise, *anything* could be linked to terrorism, simply because noone would be able to conclusively prove that there is no connection.

In other words... accept the fact that not all criminals are terrorists, too.

Carlo GrazianiFebruary 23, 2007 9:17 AM

The Al Capone analogy is defective. Capone was, in fact, a mobster, and using the tax laws to get him didn't make him a white-collar criminal.

This is more analogous to classifying all drug busts made near federal buildings, airports, and bridges as terrorist-related. It's accounting fraud.

DavidFebruary 23, 2007 9:24 AM

@Andy
How about no al-Qaeda attacks on US soil for nearly eight years, accomplished by the Clinton administration with pre-9/11 security? Compare that to the record of the current administration and current security setup.

gfujimoriFebruary 23, 2007 9:47 AM

@David

You mean that sarcastically right?

In 1998 two US embassies were attacked. Embassies are essentially on US soil and Clinton was POTUS at the time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

Additionally, all strategic and much tactical work for the 9/11 attacks were all executed during Clinton's presidency. It's not like they hatched and committed these acts only during Bush's presidency.

I don't want to get into the question of which president or agency to blame. It's just that the statement made isn't quite right.

bobechsFebruary 23, 2007 9:55 AM

Seems now like the Boston Mooninite case is squarely in the mainstream of anti-terrorist law enforcement, not some outlier.

If there be witches about, let us hunt them!

DavidFebruary 23, 2007 10:24 AM

@gfujimori
I missed the technicality about the embassies being legally US soil. How about no al-Qaeda attacks within the actual states and territories?

I probably shouldn't have mentioned the administration either, as that isn't important to my point.

My point is that al-Qaeda went for about eight years between attacks on what we usually consider US soil, with pre-9/11 security. This means that the current record of about five and a half years is no evidence at all that post-9/11 security is better.

derfFebruary 23, 2007 10:32 AM

US Government statistics are always overstated. This happens when bureaucrats trying to justify their department's existence give an added 20-150% "margin of error" boost to make the number more urgent than it really is.

OgrenFebruary 23, 2007 10:41 AM

Shouldn't the proper measure of successful terrorism attacks be in how much our lives have changed instead of the actual number of attacks?

Kevin WayFebruary 23, 2007 10:47 AM

The thing to remember is that significant terrorist attacks are rare events, so the timing between them is unlikely to hold any mathematical meaning at all, unless the frequency shifts dramatically.

After all, if there's a 10% chance of an attack, every year, then that means there's a 20% chance of going 15 years without an attack and a 10% chance of going 22 years without an attack, without those odds having changed at all.

I'm not going to venture into political topics of defining what is and is not "terrorist" activity in a security blog. But I'd remind you all that our sample sizes are far too small for that information to be useful.

markmFebruary 23, 2007 11:04 AM

"During this operation, Department and other federal agents went into regional airports and checked the immigration papers of airport workers. The agents then arrested any individuals who used falsified documents, such as social security numbers, drivers’ licenses, and other identification documents, to gain employment. EOUSA officials told us they believe these defendants are properly coded under the anti-terrorism program activity." So a Mexican illegal immigrant using a fake social security card would have been counted as a "terrorist." (The actual chances of this being true, based on the number of Mexicans believed to be here illegally and the number who've committed terrorist acts is somewhere in the neighborhood of several million to zero.)

It's nice someone's catching a few of these illegals, but it's not an effective counter-terrorism measure.

dragonfrogFebruary 23, 2007 1:50 PM

Apple unveiled the iPod in October 2001. Whereupon, successful terrorist attacks on US soil promptly ceased. This is clear evidence of the iPod's efficacy.

Compared to this, the RIAA's piddling concerns about music piracy are a clear case of pre-9/11 thinking. I mean, are they with us or are they with the terrorists?

MikeAFebruary 23, 2007 2:13 PM

@derf:
US Government statistics are always overstated.

Unlike, say, the internal progress reports and budget estimates in large commercial organizations? :-)

DavidFebruary 23, 2007 2:30 PM

"There are lies, dam lies, and statistics."

This falls under the statistics category :)

FutilityFebruary 23, 2007 6:25 PM

@Scarybug (and Andy,gfujimori,David, Kevin Way, etc)

Right on! I've heard that singing a children's song loud and off-key in public also scares tigers away!

Your remark should have actually settled the ensuing discussion. One cannot positively conclude from an absence of something to a cause (as Kevin best pointed out, well your tiger remark was better, but maybe too cryptic (and this on a crypto blog!) to be appreciated)

RyanFebruary 23, 2007 11:48 PM

@gfujimori

Just a little copy and paste from the FBI website pertaining to O(U)sama Bin Scary...No mention of 911 at all...All mentions of federal facilities are regarded as "outside the United States." Hmm.

MURDER OF U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; CONSPIRACY TO MURDER U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; ATTACK ON A FEDERAL FACILITY RESULTING IN DEATH

USAMA BIN LADEN

Photograph of USAMA BIN LADEN

Aliases: Usama Bin Muhammad Bin Ladin, Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, The Prince, The Emir, Abu Abdallah, Mujahid Shaykh, Hajj, The Director

DESCRIPTION

Date of Birth Used: 1957 Hair: Brown
Place of Birth: Saudi Arabia Eyes: Brown
Height: 6'4" to 6'6" Sex: Male
Weight: Approximately 160 pounds Complexion: Olive
Build: Thin Citizenship: Saudi Arabian
Language: Arabic (probably Pashtu)
Scars and Marks: None known
Remarks: Bin Laden is left-handed and walks with a cane.

CAUTION

Usama Bin Laden is wanted in connection with the August 7, 1998, bombings of the United States Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. These attacks killed over 200 people. In addition, Bin Laden is a suspect in other terrorist attacks throughout the world.

REWARD

The Rewards For Justice Program, United States Department of State, is offering a reward of up to $25 million for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of Usama Bin Laden. An additional $2 million is being offered through a program developed and funded by the Airline Pilots Association and the Air Transport Association.

SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS

IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION CONCERNING THIS PERSON, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL FBI OFFICE OR THE NEAREST AMERICAN EMBASSY OR CONSULATE.

| New York Field Office | Most Wanted Terrorists |
| FBI Home Page | FBI Field Offices |

Peace...Security Theater for the masses! "Usama/Osama wins!

VFebruary 24, 2007 4:40 PM

@David
@Andy

Regarding attacks "On US Soil", I do believe there have been many terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq, including while the US occupied Iraq before it had it's own post-overthrow government. To me that makes it US soil, although perhaps technically it all of them were not. I believe attacks on military bases (like the Mosul Mess Hall bombing on Dec 25 2004 that killed 22) or attacks on embassies do count.

As to wether these were "al-Qaeda" attacks or not (many of them reportedly are) I think in this case it's a meaningless distinction that is hurting us all by causing people to put on blinders to any kind of security threat that is not "al-Qaeda", and to believe that terrorism is a product of "islomofacism" only.

JakeSFebruary 25, 2007 9:53 AM

@Andy (first comment): "no attacks in 5.5 yrs. Compare that to Britain"

Remind me how many attacks the Brits have had. They had one on July 7, 2005 (52 people killed), and there was a failed attempt at a copycat attack two weeks later. [The trial of the suspects in that attempt makes them look amazingly amateur - their explosive was made from flour and hydrogen peroxide - it's surely unlikely that al-Qaeda directed it.] Then there have been a few high-profile scares and police raids. What else?

averrosFebruary 26, 2007 3:31 AM

V -

> I do believe there have been many terrorist
> attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq,

There's a very simple way tostop these attacks completely - get the hell out of Iraq. Now.

derfFebruary 26, 2007 1:24 PM

@MikeA
"Unlike, say, the internal progress reports and budget estimates in large commercial organizations? :-)"

You have a point. However, public policy that affects what you and I are allowed to do in the privacy of our own homes/cars isn't affected by corporate shenanigans.

LurkerFebruary 27, 2007 1:31 PM

@derf
"However, public policy that affects what you and I are allowed to do in the privacy of our own homes/cars isn't affected by corporate shenanigans."

Actually a lot of public policy IS shaped to support corporate shenanigans. Where governments spend their money is shaped by lobbyists. Some property law and most corporate law is shaped by corporate lobbying. What is available to buy, whether food, clothing, drugs, real or intellectual property, are all legislative subjects for corporate interests.

On the observation of my limited lifetime I'd say that usurpation of individual liberties is proportional to Corporate America's ease of access to government.

And why not? Most industries would prefer a passive, fearful population -- they buy stuff.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..