About the Data

This report is based on timely month-by-month data obtained by TRAC from the Justice Department's Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA) under the Freedom of Information Act. The information comes from the offices of the United States attorneys, who are required under long-standing rules to keep track of their daily work product.

This very detailed data for many years has been used by the Justice Department to evaluate the performance of the prosecutors, to develop policy and as the factual foundation of numerous reports to the Attorney General, Congress and other purposes.

The EOUSA, created more than 50 years ago, has operated its increasingly sophisticated data system since the mid-1970s. In 2003 the General Accountability Office, following up on news accounts about the department's questionable terrorism data, issued a report that recommended a variety of improvements in this aspect of its bookkeeping system. The GAO said the Attorney General and the director of the FBI "agreed with the report findings and DOJ agreed to implement our recommendations." With these changes, the EOUSA data has subsequently provided the framework for several Justice Department evaluations of the government's efforts to deal with the threat of terrorism.

The completeness and the quality of the EOUSA data allows TRAC to undertake several different kinds of analysis. One approach is to develop annual trends through the examination of what the U.S. Attorneys say they accomplished in one year as compared with what they had done in the past. This trend information provides a good way to track possible changes in government policy. A second valuable method for examining a government enforcement effort is to identify all the matters that were started in a specific time period and then follow these cases in the subsequent years. In this instance, TRAC's "cohort" covers all of the matters the U.S. attorneys categorized as terrorism or anti-terrorism in the two years after 9/11 and then traced how they were dealt with through the end of May 2006 (the latest available data).

Within this broader cohort, a separate cohort tracking cases the prosecutors said involved international terrorism was also created. [For comparison purposes, similar cohorts designed to cover both the two years before 9/11 as well as an "international terrorism" cohort covering the most recent periods were also developed.] This "cohort" type of analysis is particularly useful in examining the impact of a major event such as 9/11 on government enforcement efforts and effectiveness. (See TRAC's earlier report covering criminal enforcement of international terrorism in the two-year period after 9/11.)

On June 22, the Justice Department issued a 67-page "Counterterrorism White Paper." The paper outlined what it called "the impressive success of the Department of Justice in the war on terrorism." This claim was largely supported by a selective list of 55 convicted individuals who, according to the Criminal Division, "represent enforcement efforts impacting not only al-Qaeda, but 18 designated foreign terrorist organizations and other terrorist groups and entities."

The White Paper did not include a great deal of important information that emerges from the EOUSA data that is required to judge the performance of the government in this very important area. For example, not available are year-by-year enforcement trends, the actions of the various investigative agencies, the distribution of enforcement activities among the different districts and the resulting sentences for all those who were convicted as terrorists, anti-terrorists or such officially defined categories as "international terrorists."

In a background interview with TRAC about the Criminal Division report, two Justice Department officials declined to define what was meant by "terrorism and terrorism-related cases with an international nexus" that the division was tracking. They said that the written instructions used by the staff to compile the counts could not be made public because it might undermine the government's use of criminal sanctions against terrorists.

The report itself makes clear, however, that the report includes "terrorism-related" initiatives as well as international terrorism. It said, for example, that cases included in the White Paper statistics covered some matters that were "terrorism-related" such as identity and immigration fraud, marriage fraud, visa and passport fraud, the use of false and fraudulent information on application forms to obtain access badges to airports, suspicious money movements, etc.

The officials also agreed that they had made no effort to compare their figures with EOUSA data and that it was possible that the White Paper counts omitted international terrorism and terrorist financing cases that had been picked up by the EOUSA's data system. Indeed, this in fact appears to be the case. According to the United States Attorneys reporting to the EOUSA from FY 2002 through the first eight months of 2006, the government said it had prosecuted 815 individuals who it had categorized as either "international terrorists" (579) or as being involved in "terrorist financing" (236). This total is almost twice the 441 filings claimed on page 13 of the White Paper.

Unfortunately, independent analysis of the accomplishments outlined in the White Paper is not possible. This is because the specific cases cited in it represent only a fraction of the total prosecutions included in the department's summary statistical table and because the Justice Department declined to release a complete list of each defendant. Although, as noted above, the White Paper itself included a partial name-by-name list of 55 defendants, the DOJ officials said that releasing the names of all of those convicted would violate their privacy rights and undermine law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism.