Federal prosecutors counted immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug trafficking among anti-terror cases in the four years after 9/11 even though no evidence linked them to terror activity, a Justice Department audit said Tuesday.
Overall, nearly all of the terrorism-related statistics on investigations, referrals and cases examined by department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine were either diminished or inflated. Only two of 26 sets of department data reported between 2001 and 2005 were accurate, the audit found.
Responding, a Justice spokesman pointed to figures showing that prosecutors in the department's headquarters for the most part either accurately or underreported their data — underscoring what he called efforts to avoid pumping up federal terror statistics.
The numbers, used to monitor the department's progress in battling terrorists, are reported to Congress and the public and help, in part, shape the department's budget.
"For these and other reasons, it is essential that the department report accurate terrorism-related statistics," the audit concluded.
Fine's office took care to say the flawed data appear to be the result of "decentralized and haphazard" methods of collection or disagreement over how the numbers are reported, and do not appear to be intentional.
Still, the errors led Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., to question whether the department had exaggerated the number of terror cases.
"If the Department of Justice can't even get their own books in order, how are we supposed to have any confidence they are doing the job they should be?" said Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the department. "Whether this is just an accounting error or an attempt to pad terror prosecution statistics for some other reason, the Department of Justice of all places should be classifying cases for what they are, not what they want us to think them to be."
Auditors looked at 26 categories of statistics -- including numbers of suspects charged and convicted in terror cases, and terror-related threats against cities and other U.S. targets -- compiled by the FBI, Justice's Criminal Division, and the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.
Executive Office had most errors
It found that data from the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys were the most severely flawed. Auditors said the office, which compiles statistics from the 94 federal prosecutors' districts nationwide, both under- and over-counted the number of terror-related cases during a four-year period.
The office has since agreed to change the way it counts and classifies anti-terrorism cases, said department spokesman Dean Boyd.
Boyd denied suggestions that the department pumped up its numbers. He said Criminal Division prosecutors at Justice headquarters and the FBI have overhauled their respective case reporting systems since 2004 for a more accurate picture of terror-related workloads. Both agencies, he said, were strained to accurately report terrorism data in the flood of cases immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The notion that the Justice Department intentionally inflated its statistics is false and flatly contradicted by the OIG report itself," Boyd said.
In all but one area, Criminal Division prosecutors either accurately stated or underreported their data — the ones the department usually uses in public statements about its counterterror efforts, Boyd noted. He said the Justice Department has already completed most of the fixes recommended in the audit.
Much of the problem stemmed from how that office defines anti-terrorism cases.
Immigration arrests lumped in
A November 2001 federal crackdown on security breaches at airports, for example, yielded arrests on immigration and false document charges, but no evidence of terrorist activity. Nonetheless, the attorneys' office lumped them in with other anti-terror cases since they were investigated by federal Joint Terrorism Task Forces or with other counterterror measures.
Other examples, according to the audit, included:
- Charges against a marriage-broker for being paid to arrange six fraudulent marriages between Tunisians and U.S. citizens.
- Prosecution of a Mexican citizen who falsely identified himself as another person in a passport application.
- Charges against a suspect for dealing firearms without a license. The prosecutor handling the case told auditors it should not have been labeled as anti-terrorism.
"We do not agree that law enforcement efforts such as these should be counted as anti-terrorism," the audit concluded.