Listen to the American government and you’ll hear that not only is terrorism a clear and present danger, but that the country is succeeding at thwarting these terrorist plots. However, a new audit of the Department of Justice finds that terrorist figures have been amplified well beyond the truth, reports The Washington Post.
In an audit conducted on the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), a branch of the DOJ responsible for reporting terrorist convictions, inspectors found that the EOUSA’s figures were significantly overstated. In 2009, convictions were inflated by 13%. The following year, that rate of exaggeration doubled to 26%.
The branch chalks up the inconsistencies to human error and “shoddy recordkeeping.” Evidently, some terrorists were counted twice or merely counted again a year after the conviction was actually made. In other cases, suspects who had their charges dismissed altogether somehow were being counted as terrorist convictions.
Additionally, further reviews demonstrated that convictions for non-terrorist crimes were incorrectly assigned terrorism codes and subsequently classified as such. Convictions for bank robbery, drug dealing and animal fighting were among the cases being counted as terrorism.
“These inaccuracies are important in part because DOJ management and Congress need accurate terrorism-related statistics to make informed operational and budgetary decisions,” said Michael E. Horowitz, the inspector general of the EOUSA.
Indeed, these numbers are important, which is all the more reason it shouldn’t take an audit to learn the right statistics. Mistakes happen, but inflating the rate of terrorist convictions by more than a quarter seems pretty fishy. Math isn’t that hard.
It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to wonder whether the exaggeration is intentional to help fuel the fear of terrorism. The government has used this fear to push some unpopular agendas; making terrorism real might require convincing people that there are more potential terrorists around than is actually the case.
That, or perhaps the focus is on embellishing America’s success in the “war on terror.” While spending countless billions in taxpayer dollars, establishing an elaborate international spy program and foregoing a slew of other civil liberties in the name of national security, American citizens want to know that these sacrifices are necessary and worthwhile. What better way to justify these costs than to exaggerate the number of terrorist convictions the United States is securing?
Certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time government agencies were caught playing fast and loose with terrorist data. When information on the NSA’s surveillance program first leaked, authorities insisted that the information collected disrupted over 50 terrorist plots. Subsequently, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged that that “justification” was patently untrue.
For what it’s worth, this year’s review isn’t the first time terrorist conviction statistics have been audited. In 2007, auditors discovered that reported figures were also egregiously incorrect. In the previous audit, not only was the EOUSA discovered to be misrepresenting 100% of the terrorist-related statistics it released, the FBI similarly overstated the severity of terrorist threats in 80% of the figures it delivered to the media.