Department of Homeland Security Not Focused on Terrorism

I thought terrorism is why we have a DHS, but they've been preoccupied with other things:

Of the 814,073 people charged by DHS in immigration courts during the past three years, 12 faced charges of terrorism, TRAC said.

Those 12 cases represent 0.0015 percent of the total number of cases filed.

"The DHS claims it is focused on terrorism. Well that's just not true," said David Burnham, a TRAC spokesman. "Either there's no terrorism, or they're terrible at catching them. Either way it's bad for all of us."

The TRAC analysis also found that DHS filed a minuscule number of what are called "national security" charges against people in the immigration courts. The report stated that 114, or 0.014 percent of the total of roughly 800,000 individuals charged were charged with national security violations.

TRAC reported more than 85 percent of the charges involved more common immigration violations such as not having a valid immigrant visa, overstaying a student visa or entering the United States without an inspection.

TRAC is a great group, and I recommend wandering around their site if you're interested in what the U.S. government is actually doing.

Posted on May 29, 2007 at 1:59 PM • 42 Comments

Comments

ChrisMay 29, 2007 2:36 PM

"Either there's no terrorism, or they're terrible at catching them. Either way it's bad for all of us."

This statement just doesn't make sense. How would "no terrorism" be in any way bad for us? Now I agree that it's much more likely that DHS isn't particularly good a catching terrorists than that there aren't any, but what the TRAC spokesman said is just stupid.

Andrew ShebanowMay 29, 2007 2:44 PM

@Chris: the logic is: its a very bad thing if we spend billions and billions every year trying to catch terrorists who don't exist, and sacrifice our personal liberties in the process. Doesn't seem at all stupid to me.

hgfallingMay 29, 2007 2:45 PM

quote: How would "no terrorism" be in any way bad for us?

answer:
Well, if there were no terrorism, then spending tons of resources and surrendering civil liberties to a giant arbitrary govt bureaucracy is pretty bad for us. It might be bad for us anyway, but at least if there is terrorism, there's some reason to debate it.

JohnMay 29, 2007 2:47 PM

@Chris,

If there's no terrorism, then most (all?) of the things that are being done to 'protect' us from it are bad for us, whether it's the wasted money, the eroded freedoms, or the general decline of public trust in the government.

No terrorism + no time/money/trust wasted on it would be good for us, but the second condition doesn't hold.

M. ChertoffMay 29, 2007 2:54 PM

Chris doesn't understand what we are really about here, does he?

JimMay 29, 2007 2:54 PM

DHS encompasses FEMA, Coast Guard, Secret Service, CBP, ICE and TSA. TRAC analyzed immigration records and makes a leaping conclusion about DHS’ terrorism focus. Hmmm... maybe TRAC should simply stick to it’s focus on data analysis.

legionMay 29, 2007 3:13 PM

Uh, am I the only one who's disturbed and astonished that DHS charged over _814,000_ people with crimes _at all_? I mean yeah, it's across 3 years, but that's still almost 750 people _per day_ getting jacked up for non-terror-related issues. Does anybody know how that stacks up against the FBI or other similar fed cop outfits?

Andrew WMay 29, 2007 3:16 PM

@ Jim, exactly right. DHS brought together all the various agencies having to do with--what to call it--"border integrity" I guess. Averting terrorist acts is time/money intensive but is considered (generally) worth it, because one terrorist can inflict the economic damage of 10,000 undocumented workers.

Besides, when TRAC says that 85 percent of those charged were charged with entering the U.S. without an inspection, etc., that's part of the anti-terrorist mission at DHS even as it overlaps with immigration enforcement.

Welcome to the New World OrderMay 29, 2007 3:20 PM

If one looks at this holisticly, DGS projects are intended to collect information on everyone and start to use this information to control movement, etc. Keep in mind that the folks at the very top of the chain (starting at the White House) are supporters of or involved in the Project for a NEw American Century. DHS projects are just one means of carrying out these objectives...

AlanMay 29, 2007 3:26 PM

When you are looking for a few needles in an enormous haystack, you don't estimate the size of the job by the number of needles found.

ChrisMay 29, 2007 3:32 PM

"the logic is: its a very bad thing if we spend billions and billions every year trying to catch terrorists who don't exist, and sacrifice our personal liberties in the process."

But the TRAC spokesman didn't say that. He just said that it's bad if there isn't any terrorism.

ChrisMay 29, 2007 3:33 PM

"the logic is: its a very bad thing if we spend billions and billions every year trying to catch terrorists who don't exist, and sacrifice our personal liberties in the process."

But the TRAC spokesman didn't say that. He just said that it's bad if there isn't any terrorism, as if it would be much better if we spent billions, sacrificed our liberties and had a couple of terrorist attacks to convince us it's all justified.

ForRealMay 29, 2007 3:54 PM

@Chis
Having "no terrorism" is a bad thing, because we now have a whole police state apparatus to "stop terrorism", and if that's not why they are there, why are they there? And we have a large percentage of the population so beshat with fear that they will approve anything to "stop terrorism".
To quote FDR (in a somewhat changed context), "All we have to fear is fear itself!" and those who've lost all judgement and morality to feed that fear.

KevinMay 29, 2007 4:01 PM

This discussion seems a bit silly to me. DHS is a "super-organization" consisting of a number sub-organizations. ICE, for example, is supposed to be tracking down immigration violations. If they ignored the "normal" immigration violations and only focused on terrorists they would not be doing their jobs.

The focus of DHS is terrorism but that is not the sole focus of it's sub-organizations. The Coast Guard spends a lot of time rescuing people. That is not terrorism related work. Should they stop doing it? FEMA spends its resources helping people who were affected by hurricanes, floods, etc. That is not terrorism related. Should they stop doing that?

The focus on statistics and percentages is also a bit silly. According to the report 12 people were charged with terrorism. If they are guilty that is as many as 12 terror plots that were stopped. How much harm could 12 people do? The report stated that 114 people faced "national security" charges. Again, how much damage could have been done.

It is important to remember that many of the 9/11 terrorists were violating immigration law - overstaying visas, etc.

arlMay 29, 2007 4:06 PM

If I recall the bulk (if not all) of terroristic acts carried out by non-citizens in the last few decades would have been stopped just by deporting those who had overstayed their visa.

You don't need complex charges if you can solve it with the simple ones. But I guess if you can't complain about "movie plot" plans you have to complain about simple solutions.

AnonymousMay 29, 2007 4:15 PM

Jim is correct, most of the 815,000-odd cases (no I will not scroll up and check) came to DHS because DHS rolled up the agencies that would have opened them anyhow. It would be instructive to discount all the "didn't need a DHS to catch it" cases, if there were a way to do that.

What I'm interested in knowing is of the 0.0155% of cases that are actually terrorist or national security cases, which are well-founded and which are hysterical overreaction to common circumstances (i.e. false alarms).

If they actually caught 12 terrorists and 114 spies, maybe the laws that were used were effective (but were they the new laws?). If they caught 12 smartasses and 114 cryptoquote fans, it's another story.

Jon SowdenMay 29, 2007 4:24 PM

@ Andrew W:
"one terrorist can inflict the economic damage of 10,000 undocumented workers."

Uh, exactly what economic damage do 10,000 workers contributing to your economy do, pray tell?

AnonymousMay 29, 2007 4:49 PM

@Art,

"If I recall the bulk (if not all) of terroristic acts carried out by non-citizens in the last few decades would have been stopped just by deporting those who had overstayed their visa."

You are looking at that the wrong way.

I suspect that terorists overstayed their visas because there was no danger in doing so.

If that had been tightend up then I suspect they would have had valid visas when they made their attacks.

bzelbobMay 29, 2007 5:02 PM

I think I see a huge problem in that "combining" agencies would intrinsically seem to lead to exactly the confusion reflected by the posts here.

This reminds me of the way we pass legislation in this country: A bill that starts off with a single purpose and then gets crap parasitically added onto it until it resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption.

One of the things we should demand from our government (as a general principle) is separation of the issues.

Geoff LaneMay 29, 2007 5:05 PM

I've long wondered, given the huge number of soft targets in the western world, why terrorist events were so rare.

The pathetic attempts at security can't be the reason as most soft targets are totally unprotected and can't be protected even if the resources were available without huge and unacceptable disruption to normal life.

When the IRA was active in the UK they maintained a steady rate of bombings. The objective was to keep their political aims in the headlines.

But what is the point of Al-Qaeda terrorism? Why bomb the US when most of their desired objectives involve Saudi Arabia? Why have there been so few attacks since 9/11? The IRA had 20 or so bombs per year in the UK for many years; Al-Qaeda have maybe 1 a year on average. If the object of terrorist attacks is terrorism, why prefer the spectacular (and the chance of pathetic failure) over the frequent?

I have no answers; but neither do I understand the panic responses of our governments. Ten times as many people die in road accidents every year than died in the years of the worst terrorist attacks. In the US, five times as many die from gun related incidents every year than died in 9/11.

There is a threat. But is it worth worrying about beyond the normal concern for any violent criminal acts? Beyond strengthened cockpit doors and revised in flight protocols there has been no increase in real security because next to nobody is being arrested, charged, prosecuted, convicted and jailed. I for one feel no safer because some terrorist has been put off by security theatre; they will only wait till a lapse in security allows the next attack.

Thankfully not a New Orleans residentMay 29, 2007 5:08 PM

@Kevin:
"FEMA spends its resources helping people who were affected by hurricanes, floods, etc. That is not terrorism related. Should they stop doing that?"

Umm, when did FEMA START doing that?

Dom De VittoMay 29, 2007 5:53 PM

Wow, maybe the UK should get a DHS? - We have a awful immigration problem.

Maybe our immigration service could be retrained for anti-terrorist duties?

Either way, it's clear that anti-terrorism departments are better at immigration that immigration departments.

JessMay 29, 2007 6:27 PM

@Thankfully:

By many accounts, FEMA actually STOPPED performing that important function when it got merged into the DHS. Most of the organization that is now the DHS existed before it did, and many of those entities were fairly effective. Anyone who thought a giant bureaucratic upheaval would fix a few minor investigative oversights within a few long-functioning departments hasn't worked in many large organizations, or hasn't been conscious while doing so. Any further expectation that such upheaval wouldn't cause the sorts of problems we see in the FEMA, the TSA, etc. must have been disingenuous.

ElliottMay 29, 2007 8:17 PM

It's not valid to conclude that DHS isn't succeeding at capturing terrorists simply because their prosecutions are for other crimes. This kind of logic would assert that Al Capone actually was a "legitimate businessman" because he was convicted of income tax evasion and not convicted of the other crimes he committed. I don't care if potential terrorists are prosecuted under RICO, as long as they are kept from succeeding in their plots.

DV Henkel-WallaceMay 29, 2007 9:32 PM

Actually, if their scope is domestic safety (sorry, I have trouble with the "H" and "S" words) then they are correct in not spending a lot of effort on "terrorism" and instead working on things that actually are dangerous. Of course we can eliminate from their remit stuff that others worry about like EPA, FAA, DOT...

Now as for their performance on the remaining issues.....

Bruce SchneierMay 30, 2007 1:03 AM

"This statement just doesn't make sense. How would 'no terrorism' be in any way bad for us?"

We would be throwing away hundreds of billions of dollars, our fundamental freedoms and civil liberties, our standing on the world stage, and so on for nothing.

Ed T.May 30, 2007 4:26 AM

As others have noted, DHS is a super agency, and includes ICE, whose mission is to handle immigration matters. Note that it also contains the Secret Service - is the fact that they go after counterfeiters also a bad thing, as TRAC seems to imply is the case with ICE?

~EdT.

MasterofGuitarsMay 30, 2007 4:58 AM

I think the very first poster may understand the statement but was picking on the poor symantics of the sentence.

At least I hope that's what was going on.

And I think he is quite right in his observation that semantics is of the highest importnace, especially in making public statements.

Eats shoots and leaves.

AnonymousMay 30, 2007 5:25 AM

"neither do I understand the panic responses of our governments."

They didn't panic; they saw a golden opportunity to increase their power geometrically by "panicking" enough of the sheep (electorate).

nzrussMay 30, 2007 8:26 AM

@Geoff Lane

Simply because a "war on road deaths" doesn't evoke the same level of emotion therefore political points.

I know your question was rhetorical, and agree wholeheartedly. Until large corporations can make massive amounts of money by making driving safer, we will just continue to see (other peoples) car deaths as a potential delay to get to work.

The MailmanMay 30, 2007 9:38 AM

"Knocke said that, by clamping down on all forms of immigration, DHS has made it difficult for terrorists to come to the United States."

... Because it is a well known fact that terrorists are all foreigners.

"Clamping down" on immigration as a response to terrorism not only ignores the insider threat (Oklahoma city bombing for instance), but is also possibly bad for the US economy, since this country's success was built largely on immigration.

redlamiMay 30, 2007 9:40 AM

About DHS and terrorism: also noted in the study is that of 620 terrorism prosecutions in 2004-2006, only 31 were in any way related to DHS investigations. So not only is most DHS work unrelated to fighting terrorism (despite the rhetoric) but most terrorism fighting is being spearheaded by non-DHS agencies.

And of the 14 charges in the 12 terrorism cases, only 4 were actually sustained (two are pending, six were withdrawn by DHS, one was labeled "not sustained" in their data, and one was otherwise dealt with).

Finally, if you look at performance over time, the pre-DHS immigration enforcers were apparently a lot more active in fighting terrorism (in 1994-1996) than the DHS is doing recently (in 2004-2006) when terrorism is supposedly the biggest priority.

AlanMay 30, 2007 11:33 AM

Ok Bruce. It's easy to be a critic.

Suppose you knew with certainty that a terrorist would attempt to smuggle a nuclear bomb into a major US city and detonate it sometime in 2008. Suppose you were responsible for stopping it, and that you were given a blank check to do so. What would you do?

How does it change the equation, if we were only 90% sure that it would be in 2008?

How does it change the equation if we were uncertain whether the weapon would be nuclear or conventional, or some other weapon capable of producing large numbers of casualties?

Would you just stand by and do nothing, excusing yourself of your responsibility by saying that there is nothing you could do?

AnonymousMay 30, 2007 3:17 PM

@Kevin: "The report stated that 114 people faced "national security" charges."

It is also important to realize that my posting a comment saying "Death to President Shrub" (or a synonym thereof) could also result in National Security Charges. Doesn't mean it has anything real to do with terrorism.

Bruce SchneierMay 30, 2007 3:50 PM

"Ok Bruce. It's easy to be a critic."

It's even easier to invent movie-plot hypoehtical scenarios. But honestly, real security doesn't work that way. It's not like the movies.

AnonymousMay 30, 2007 4:24 PM

@Anonymous : "If they actually caught 12 terrorists and 114 spies, maybe the laws that were used were effective (but were they the new laws?). If they caught 12 smartasses and 114 cryptoquote fans, it's another story."

From the linked-to TRAC site:
============
A separate, but somewhat broader, grouping of immigration court cases concern what are called "national security" charges. Here, an examination of the data in the FY 2004 to 2006 period revealed that such charges were made against only 114, or 0.014% of the 800,000-plus individuals. When it comes to actual removals, the record is even smaller, with DHS being credited for only 37 such cases in the three year period.
...
Focusing solely on the terrorism charges brought in the period, for example — 14 charges against 12 individuals — six were withdrawn by the DHS, one was not sustained, two are still pending, one was otherwise dealt with and only four were sustained.
...
As is true of the terrorism convictions resulting from investigations by all federal agencies, the sentences credited to the DHS were not impressive. Of the 18 who so far have been found guilty, 8 of the convicted received no prison time, and only two were sentenced to as long as five years.
================
See also the recent TRAC report on criminal terrorism prosecutions since 9/11/2001:

http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/terrorism/169/

X the UnknownMay 30, 2007 4:24 PM

@Anonymous : "If they actually caught 12 terrorists and 114 spies, maybe the laws that were used were effective (but were they the new laws?). If they caught 12 smartasses and 114 cryptoquote fans, it's another story."

From the linked-to TRAC site:
============
A separate, but somewhat broader, grouping of immigration court cases concern what are called "national security" charges. Here, an examination of the data in the FY 2004 to 2006 period revealed that such charges were made against only 114, or 0.014% of the 800,000-plus individuals. When it comes to actual removals, the record is even smaller, with DHS being credited for only 37 such cases in the three year period.
...
Focusing solely on the terrorism charges brought in the period, for example — 14 charges against 12 individuals — six were withdrawn by the DHS, one was not sustained, two are still pending, one was otherwise dealt with and only four were sustained.
...
As is true of the terrorism convictions resulting from investigations by all federal agencies, the sentences credited to the DHS were not impressive. Of the 18 who so far have been found guilty, 8 of the convicted received no prison time, and only two were sentenced to as long as five years.
================
See also the recent TRAC report on criminal terrorism prosecutions since 9/11/2001:

http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/terrorism/169/

RandomOlderPersonJune 3, 2007 1:03 AM

"This reminds me of the way we pass legislation in this country: A bill that starts off with a single purpose and then gets crap parasitically added onto it until it resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption.

One of the things we should demand from our government (as a general principle) is separation of the issues."

Article IV, Section 17 of the Minnesota Constitution states: "No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title."

This provision has actually been invoked a few times to invalidate overstuffed legislation.

AnonymousOctober 29, 2007 8:25 AM

Can anybody help me find research on the department of homeland security???????

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