A Special TRAC Report:
A Word About the Data
This report is based on timely data just received by TRAC as a result
of a continuing series of requests and court actions under the Freedom
of Information Act. The original source of the data are the offices
of individual United States attorneys who are required under long-established
rules to keep track of their daily work product -- referrals for prosecution
received from the investigative agencies, the decisions made by each
office about how the referrals were handled and the ultimate disposition
of each matter. This very detailed information is used by the Justice
Department to prepare special studies for the attorney general and Congress
and to publish an annual report summarizing the department's criminal
and civil enforcement actions.
Presented here are findings concerning those referrals for prosecution
that the U.S. Attorneys categorized as involving terrorism or internal
security. In recent years, the formal definition of terrorism has included
two major components. One is international terrorism which is defined
as covering criminal activities of an international nature which impact
on the United States, including threats or conspiracies, and which are
violent or otherwise dangerous to human life. An additional part of
the definition is that the activities appear to be motivated by an intent
to coerce, intimidate or retaliate against a government or a civilian
population. The second component -- domestic terrorism -- is similarly
defined but involve alleged activities that occur primarily within the
borders of the United States and do not involve a foreign terrorist
In the middle of 2002, however, the Justice Department added a number
of new components to its overall terrorism category including
financial activities found to support terrorist organizations,
and those cases where the underlying purpose of bringing the apparently
unrelated criminal charge was to prevent or disrupt possible terrorist
Because the formal expansion in the elements the government considered
terrorism appear to cover numerous charges that previously had been
counted as terrorist incidents, the changes do not appear to have been
a major factor in the overall number of such cases.
An internal security violation covers such crimes as treason, espionage,
sedition, sabotage, and violations of the Neutrality Act.
It is worth noting that defining what will be treated as a terrorism
act, and then consistently categorizing such cases according to the
rules, is a complex challenge for a large organization. Last year, for
example, a case-by-case analysis published by the Philadelphia Inquirer
concluding that numerous prosecutions that had been classified as terrorism
-- such as the ranting of a demented person -- had been improperly classified.
The report suggested that one result was that the government's activities
in the area had been exaggerated. As a result of the Inquirer's article,
the General Accounting Office launched an investigation of the classification
[Note (2/21/03): The GAO report on this investigation was issued February 19, 2003. It
confirmed that there were substantial classification problems, and called for better management oversight and internal controls to ensure accuracy of terrorism-related statistics.]
One further note. The Justice Department data presented here focus
on those individuals an investigative agency has recommended be prosecuted
for a specific crime. This means that those individuals who the government
has detained without a referral are not covered.
 This litigation is continuing. TRAC filed a new lawsuit December 22, 2002 challenging the government's very recent decision to begin withholding information on program area for new prosecution referrals.
As a result, it is possible that the counts of terrorism referrals in the latter months of FY 2002 may be slightly under-counted. Data on terrorism prosecutions, however, are not being withheld and should therefore be complete.