FY 2019 Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions Twice Number for International Terrorism
Prosecutions for domestic terrorism outnumber those for acts of international terrorism by 2-to-1. The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first ten months of FY 2019 the government reported 204 terrorism-related prosecutions had been filed. Of these 71 or one in three were for acts of domestic terrorism. In contrast, just 34 or one in six (16.7%) were classified by federal prosecutors as international terrorism.
The U.S. Justice Department also includes other offenses under its broad category of terrorism- related prosecutions. These additional cases concern offenses that compromise critical infrastructure protection, terrorism-related financing, terrorism- related export enforcement, as well as terrorism hoaxes. Table 1 provides a breakdown of federal terrorism prosecutions that includes national internal security cases by type during the last three years of the Obama Administration (FY 2014 - FY 2016) compared with the first three years of the Trump Administration (FY 2017 - FY 2019).
Table 1. Terrorism-Related Prosecutions by Type, FY 2014 - FY 2019*
While terrorism prosecutions during the first two years of the Trump Administration fell below the levels during the preceding years of the Obama Administration, if terrorism-related prosecutions continue at the same pace during the remaining two months of FY 2019, the annual total of prosecutions will be 245 for this fiscal year. This is just under the 259 terrorism-related prosecutions in the last year of the Obama Administration.
The long-term trend in terrorism-related prosecutions for these matters going back two decades is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of terrorism-related prosecutions of this type recorded each fiscal year. Projected figures for the current fiscal year are shown. Each presidential administration is distinguished by the color of the bars. These comparisons are based on case-by-case information obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University following federal litigation against the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act.
Figure 1. Terrorism-related Prosecutions Over the Last 20 Years
(Click for larger image)
In most cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead investigative agency. So far during FY 2019 in over six out of ten prosecutions (128 cases or 62.7%) the FBI played the lead role. The remainder of cases were the result of investigations led by a range of other agencies. During the current year these included the Secret Service in the Department of Homeland Security with eighteen; Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the Justice Department with eight; the Commerce Department with six; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Homeland Security with five.
Many Statutes Used in Terrorism-Related Prosecutions
A surprisingly diverse array of federal statutes have been used in charging defendants for what the Justice Department has classified as terrorism-related crimes. The most common lead charge was providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations. But this accounted for only 11.3 percent of prosecutions. The next most commonly used lead charge during FY 2019 was conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the U.S. under 18 U.S.C. 371 and interstate communications violations under 18 U.SC 875. In the case of 18 U.S.C. 371, this statute is more commonly used to prosecute white-collar offenders rather than terrorists. In fourth place, were claims of providing false information and hoaxes under 18 U.S.C. 1038, followed by offenses related to the importation and storage of explosives under 18 U.S.C. 844.
Farther down the list were harboring or concealing terrorists and posing an unusual and extraordinary threat under the War and National Defense provisions. Other lead charges in the top ten involve mailing threatening communications, entering restricted buildings or grounds, and smuggling good from the United States. See Table 2.
Other lead charges that were used at least once during the last two years included inciting or promoting riots, violence or attacks against mass transit, use or possession of chemical weapons, possession of a radiological weapon, registration under the foreign agents and propaganda provisions, registration of foreign propagandists, photographing or sketching defense installations, gathering or delivering defense info to aid foreign government, violating regulatory provisions involving destructive devices, aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, entering aircraft/airport area in violation of security, and false statements or willful omissions in foreign relations.
Table 2. Top Ten Lead Charges in Terrorism-Related Prosecutions
Districts Where Prosecutions Have Occurred
Over half of federal judicial districts had at least one terrorism-related prosecution reported during the first ten months of FY 2019. Four districts had ten or more. These were the District of Columbia with 18, the Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati) with 12, the Southern District of Florida (Miami) with 11, and the Central District of California (Los Angeles) with 10.
Table 3 provides a district-by-district listing of the overall number of terrorism- related prosecutions thus far during FY 2019, and a breakdown of how many of these were international versus domestic terrorism matters.
Table 3. Terrorism-Related Prosecutions by District and Type, FY 2019 (through July)
TRAC offers free monthly reports on program categories such as white collar crime, immigration, drugs, weapons and terrorism and on selected government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, ATF and DHS. For the latest information on prosecutions and convictions, go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports for a specific agency, judicial district, program category, lead charge or judge via the TRAC Data Interpreter.