By DALE McFEATTERS
The Justice Department’s post-9/11 statistics on terrorism cases have been deeply flawed, sometimes inflated, sometimes underreported — in any case, just highly inaccurate. Only two out of 26 sets of statistics reported between 2001 and 2005 were found to be accurate by the department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine.
The most erroneous were figures on terrorism prosecutions collected by the department’s Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. In 2004, for example, the department reported 379 terrorism-related convictions, but Fine said the actual number was 240.
Given the penchant of the department’s political leadership for over hyping terrorism-related cases — Jose “Dirty Bomber” Padilla and the hapless Lackawanna, N.Y., “sleeper cell” (“deep asleep,” according to the local police chief) — the natural inclination is to think that the figures were intentionally padded.
Fine, reassuringly, says no. He blamed the errors on a “decentralized and haphazard” system of data collection and disagreements over the definition of an “anti-terrorism” case.
The result was that unrelated offenses like immigration violations, marriage fraud, drug trafficking and firearms violations were included in the terrorism figures. Arrests incidental to massively stepped-up security at airports also came to be counted.
Given the sensitivity of these numbers, it’s surprising that the department was so careless. The Bush administration has made a vocation of portraying itself as tough on terrorism — invoking these same statistics to prove it — and, by extension, the Democrats as weak. If it got this wrong, it makes you wonder what else it got wrong.
Fine’s audit concluded that, “it is essential that the department report accurate terrorism-related statistics.” After over five years of the domestic war on terror, that’s not asking a whole lot.