This is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in how the U.S. is prosecuting terrorism. Put aside the rhetoric and the posturing; this is what is actually happening.Among the key findings about the year-by-year enforcement trends in the period were the following:
- In the twelve months immediately after 9/11, the prosecution of individuals the government classified as international terrorists surged sharply higher than in the previous year. But timely data show that five years later, in the latest available period, the total number of these prosecutions has returned to roughly what they were just before the attacks. Given the widely accepted belief that the threat of terrorism in all parts of the world is much larger today than it was six or seven years ago, the extent of the recent decline in prosecutions is unexpected. See Figure 1 and supporting table.
- Federal prosecutors by law and custom are authorized to decline cases that are brought to them for prosecution by the investigative agencies. And over the years the prosecutors have used this power to weed out matters that for one reason or another they felt should be dropped. For international terrorism the declination rate has been high, especially in recent years. In fact, timely data show that in the first eight months of FY 2006 the assistant U.S. Attorneys rejected slightly more than nine out of ten of the referrals. Given the assumption that the investigation of international terrorism must be the single most important target area for the FBI and other agencies, the turn-down rate is hard to understand. See Figure 2 and supporting table.
- The typical sentences recently imposed on individuals considered to be international terrorists are not impressive. For all those convicted as a result of cases initiated in the two years after 9//11, for example, the median sentence -- half got more and half got less-- was 28 days. For those referrals that came in more recently -- through May 31, 2006 -- the median sentence was 20 days. For cases started in the two year period before the 9/11 attack, the typical sentence was much longer, 41 months. See Figure 3.
Schneier concludes that most "terrorism" arrests are not for actual terrorism; they're for other things. Things like buying cellphones at Walmart. Don't worry, the FBI cleared that all up.
Which brings us to the odd timing of Bush bringing these alleged 14 terrorists to Guantanamo for a military tribunal. Why now? Could it be there's a midterm election that is not going according to Rove's plan? This has been your periodic reminder that Shays, Simmons & Johnson failed to provide any semblance of Congressional oversight to the Executive Branch. If the centerpiece to a Republican campaign is to be strong on terrorism, and they can't manage that ... what's left for them to run on, fiscal conservatism? Oh wait ... better just reduce taxes on people making over $500,000 a year.
Schneier on Security, Scorecard from the War on Terror, 09/05/06