Terrorism Enforcement:
International, Domestic and Financial

Figure 1. International Terrorism Prosecutions
An analysis of timely Justice Department records shows that while there has been a sharp decline in the prosecution of individuals the government has identified as international terrorists (see earlier TRAC Terrorism report and Figure 1), criminal cases aimed at domestic terrorists and individuals involved in terrorism-related financial schemes show different trends.

Here are the trends:

  • For international terrorism, the prosecutions of what must be among the most serious matters brought by the government jumped to an all time high in FY 2002 but since that year have sharply declined.

  • Figure 2. Domestic Terrorism Prosecutions

  • For domestic terrorism matters, criminal prosecutions also experienced a sharp but little-noticed jump after 9/11/2001. But unlike the international terrorism criminal cases, domestic terrorism prosecutions — while now down from their post-9/11 peak — have remained relatively high (see Figure 2).

  • Figure 3. Terrorism Financing Prosecutions

  • For terrorism financing, a new tracking category added by the Justice Department since 9/11/2001, prosecutions have also declined in the last year or so. But the decrease has not been nearly as significant as it has been for international terrorism cases (see Figure 3).

A series of short reports detailing the month-to-month trends for both the prosecutions and convictions that have occurred within these three focused categories during the past five years are now available on the Bulletins section of TRAC's public website (http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins). These monthly reports will be regularly updated as new government data become available.

In addition to the new and extremely timely data about the three most serious kinds of terrorism matters, TRAC's Bulletins section provides monthly information covering the wider range of cases where the government includes "terrorism-related" counts. These include the prosecutions of individuals who the government says have no connection to terrorism but have been charged as a result of what it calls "terrorism enforcement initiatives."

The Numbers

The surprising new findings about the government's current enforcement priorities in this important area have emerged from an examination of case-by-case data obtained from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys under the Freedom of Information Act by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

As suggested above, since 9/11/2001 the terrorism enforcement trends for these focused categories present quite different patterns:

  • Not surprisingly, prosecutions of individuals targeted as international terrorists hit an all time high of 355 in FY 2002. The annual counts then began to decline, only totaling 41 in FY 2006.
  • Domestic terrorism prosecutions also peaked in FY 2002, 162 such matters. But since that unique year in American history the decline has been far less precipitous, with a total of 104 in FY 2006.
  • For terrorism financing — a more recently established Justice Department program category — the trends after 9/11 have not undergone the headlong drop recorded for international terrorists. The first full year of tracking, FY 2003, showed 104 prosecutions. This compared with 49 the government recorded in 2006.

1996 13 28 -
1997 8 47 -
1998 7 37 -
1999 29 41 -
2000 14 48 -
2001 57 38 -
2002 355 162 13
2003 66 115 106
2004 93 92 48
2005 46 106 41
2006 41 104 49
2007* 4 11 5
Table 1. Terrorism Prosecutions
(click for larger view)
1996 1 5 -
1997 1 12 -
1998 0 46 -
1999 15 44 -
2000 3 27 -
2001 5 25 -
2002 174 92 0
2003 38 67 50
2004 49 67 45
2005 34 68 38
2006 30 70 33
2007* 9 14 10
Table 2. Terrorism Convictions
(click for larger view)
The prosecutions for domestic terrorism thus total about two and a half times those for international terrorism, based on the most recent complete year of data (FY 2006). Terrorism financing prosecutions, while fewer than for domestic terrorism, still remain higher than those for international terrorism.

Expressed in a different way, the government in that year recorded prosecuting 194 individuals for international, domestic, or terrorism financing. Domestic terrorism cases made up over half, or 104 of the total (see Table 1). In the same year, 133 defendants were convicted for the most serious terrorism crimes — international, domestic, or financing. Again, the majority (70) were for domestic terrorism (see Table 2).

The finding that there currently are many more prosecutions and convictions involving domestic and financial terrorism than those aimed at international terrorists presents a picture of the government's overall terrorism enforcement campaign that appears somewhat in variance with that emerging from the government's official statements, Congressional testimony and the resulting newspaper reports where the battle against international terrorism appears to dominate the effort.

How Are They Classified?

For more than 30 years the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), a branch in the Justice Department, has operated a complex system to keep track of the government's criminal enforcement efforts. This system is the basis for numerous official reports, regular statistical studies, Congressional testimony and speeches to the public. Under this system U.S. Attorneys around the country submit monthly data to Washington — all the referrals from the investigative agencies, the subjects they concern, the laws that appear to have been violated, etc. For those matters that result in a prosecution, the U.S. Attorneys submit additional information.

Table 3. Terrorism Program Categories

(click for table)
One of the broad subjects tracked by the EOUSA is terrorism and its components, all of which are defined in a departmental manual. (Other subjects include civil rights violators, white collar crime, official corruption, etc.) Under a rule adopted in 1995 for example, to fall into the domestic terrorism category the event must (1) be violent or otherwise dangerous, (2) appear to have been motivated by an intent to coerce, intimidate or retaliate against a government or civilian population, (3) occur primarily in the United States and (4) not involve a foreign terrorist organization.

The data show that individuals categorized as domestic terrorists have been charged under more than 100 different laws. The charges include the importation and storage of explosives, threatening the president, firearm violations, mailing threatening communications and, occasionally, civil rights conspiracies and other specific violations.

The definition of international terrorism is similar to domestic except that (1) the acts occur primarily outside the United States, (2) transcend national borders or (3) involve a foreign terrorist organization. In recent years, specific charges have included kidnapping or hostage taking, fraud and misuse of visas, and conspiracy to commit an offense or fraud against the United States.

The third grouping, terrorist financing, was established more recently in FY 2002. According to the manual, individuals included in this category are believed to have knowingly provided material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization or to have funneled support to the carrying out of a terrorist act. The specific charges brought against those classified this way have included the transportation of stolen goods, bank fraud, money laundering, and credit card fraud.

(In February 2007, the Justice Department Inspector General issued this report which questioned one aspect of how the EOUSA has been classifying terrorism. The report, however, focused its criticism on a broader grouping labeled "anti-terrorism" which extends the official government total counts beyond individuals prosecuted for international, domestic, and terrorism financing offenses.)

Detailed listings

As noted above, by breaking down the EOUSA data into the three most serious kinds of terrorist activities, TRAC is able to provide new and authoritative information about the federal government's actual enforcement policies. First, international terrorism enforcement is dramatically lower than at any time since 9/11. Second, while domestic and financial terrorism enforcement efforts have declined since their peaks, they together dominate the government's terrorism enforcement activities and in the last few years have either increased or only modestly declined.

Figure 4. Sample Detail Report
TRAC's analysis of federal terrorism data offers another special feature: an easy way to obtain detailed plain-English reports (in PDF format) on all cases filed and all convictions obtained. With these reports — which include such information as the date of filing, the names of the assistant U.S. attorneys handling each case, the name of the presiding judge and much more — detailed case-by-case analysis of the actual quality of the enforcement effort is now possible. A sample report contains the details of one of four convictions obtained in November 2006 by the federal government under the category of domestic terrorism. Reports in all categories are available from TRAC's Bulletins page.

TRAC's new terrorism report series was developed in part with a grant of the Rockefeller Family Fund. Other support was provided by Syracuse University and the Knight Foundation.

Earlier TRAC Terrorism Reports:
| September 2006 | December 2003 | December 2001 |