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Government misstated statistics on the war on terror, audit shows

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department has routinely misrepresented the number of terrorism prosecutions, possibly undermining decision-making in the war on terrorism, an independent government audit has found.

The report, released Tuesday by the Justice Department's inspector general, concluded that the department in most cases "could not provide support for the numbers reported or could not identify the terrorism link used to classify statistics as terrorism-related."

All but two of the 26 statistics reviewed from October 2000 through September 2005 were wrong. "These inaccuracies are important because department management and Congress need accurate terrorism-related statistics to make informed . . . decisions," Inspector General Glenn Fine said in the report.

Part of the problem, according to Fine, was that the Justice Department routinely counted criminal cases as terrorism-related even when prosecutors had found no links to terrorism. Fine also blamed a "decentralized and haphazard" system.

The Justice Department defended its tracking system and the inclusion of cases that aren't directly linked to terrorism.

"While such cases often result in convictions for other crimes, their underlying purpose is to prevent and deter terrorist infiltration," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said.

The inspector general's audit is the latest report to raise questions about the Justice Department's tracking of terrorism cases. The Government Accountability Office, Congress' auditing arm, has found fault with the Justice Department's statistics in previous reports. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, an affiliate of Syracuse University in New York, found last year that the number of terrorism cases had dropped to nearly the same levels as before the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Democrats and some Republicans have accused the Justice Department of manipulating terrorism-related statistics to claim success in the war on terrorism and to argue for more resources.

Boyd said the inaccuracies found from 2002 to 2004 resulted partly from the reorganizations of the Justice Department and the FBI after Sept. 11. Since then, the Justice Department and the FBI have improved their terrorism-case reporting, he said.

Sen. Charles Grassley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he doubted that the Justice Department had done enough.

"The question I have now is whether the inaccuracies are an accident or if there was some other motive behind it," said Grassley, an Iowa Republican. "Two major reports in four years saying the same thing doesn't give me much confidence."

According to the inspector general, the Justice Department's office that oversees the 94 U.S. Attorney's Offices routinely overreported terrorism statistics and often included theft, drug and immigration investigations that had no terrorism links.

At the same time, the Justice Department's criminal division undercounted convictions and charges because a database used to track the statistics was incomplete and not kept up-to-date.

The department often uses the inflated statistics to support its requests to Congress for more resources. But officials also cite the undercounted statistics in public statements.


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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