Of Course Sessions Manipulated Data to Support Trump Travel Ban
On Tuesday, the United States Department of Justice released a report titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States – Initial Section 11 Report.” A full copy of the report can be found here. As the title implies, the report was not intended to assess a threat, nor to determine the best way to keep Americans safe from terrorist attacks. The report was intended, almost mandated, to provide data and conclusions to bolster the claims made in President Trump’s Executive Order of the same name issued in March 2017.
And in the news cycle we’re all living through, that didn’t get the attention that it should have. So here’s a deeper look.
In a press release accompanying the report, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote:
“This report reveals an indisputable sobering reality — our immigration system has undermined our national security and public safety.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen added:
“This report is a clear reminder of why we cannot continue to rely on immigration policy based on pre-9/11 thinking that leaves us woefully vulnerable to foreign-born terrorists, and why we must examine our visa laws and continue to intensify screening and vetting of individuals traveling to the United States to prevent terrorists, criminals, and other dangerous individuals from reaching our country.”
Their statements read like postmortems on a previous terrorist attack instead of blueprints for preventing the next one. Effectively, they could have issued a joint statement which read, “We are sorry the departments we now lead let America down by letting the terrorists in, but it will not happen again.”
Looking backwards is not the answer. The goal of America’s immigration policy, of our Justice Department, and of the Department of Homeland Security, should not be attempting to predetermine the races and national origins of future terrorists based on prior attacks. Both FEMA and the State of Oklahoma produced reports on the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. They were a combined 254 pages, yet neither prevented the attacks on September 11th just six years later. The 9/11 Commission Report was nearly 600 pages long. All that data was readily available, yet terrorists still successfully attacked the 2013 Boston Marathon with a backpack and pressure cooker. That attack, like Oklahoma City, produced two reports. One was prepared by the FBI, CIA, DOJ, and DHS on behalf of the Inspectors General of the Intelligence Community. The other was prepared by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Will either keep us safer?
Timothy McVeigh was the mastermind of the Oklahoma City bombing, aided by co-conspirators Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier. All were American-born citizens. There were nineteen hijackers on September 11, 2001. Fifteen were citizens of Saudi Arabia, two hailed from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon. The Tsarnaev brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon attack were born in Kyrgyzstan and the Soviet Union respectively, and were of Chechen descent. Not a single one of these 24 terrorists from the last 24 years hailed from countries on President Trump’s proposed travel ban.
That the conclusions of the report seemed predetermined is significant, but it not the most damning aspect. Spin happens. It happens in our courts, where often the prosecution and defense take the same evidence but present different conclusions to a jury. If not for spin, corporations would not hold earnings calls. They would simply allow the raw data to speak for itself. It happens most often in politics. If you are not sure, just watch any of President Trump’s public events and then watch Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ next briefing describing the event, and compare the realities for yourself.
We can have different political opinions on the facts but the trust of a nation in its government erodes when the facts are modified to support an administration’s political opinions. It appears, unless the Justice Department steps forward with an explanation they were previously unable to provide, that is exactly what occurred in the creation of the just-released terrorism report.
The report from Jess Sessions’ Justice Department, in seeking to corroborate the opinion President Trump expressed in his Executive Order, list 549 defendants when determining national origin and citizenship status. There have been several reports on the matter, with a steadily increasing list of defendants. The original figure provided by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in March 2010 was 403 defendants. The Justice Department at the time released a statement explaining the data. By December 2014, the number of defendants had climbed to 580. At the end of 2015, the figure stood at 627. As we continue to wage the war on terror, the number of defendants should continue to climb, right? But now, there are only 549?
What happened to the 78 defendants who were on the list previously but are not now? The slippage is not some insignificant rounding error. The missing defendants represent exactly one of every eight names previously on the list. If the purpose of the report is to accurately determine (based on national origin and citizenship) where future terrorists might come from, and ignoring that such conclusions would be irrelevant based on past attacks, it is still critical that the pool include ALL the data.
Maybe this was all an innocent mistake? Could someone compiling the list have missed a checkbox, or perhaps omitted data from counties no longer in existence? For example, prior to their 1990 unification, Yemen and South Yemen existed independently. As Yemen is on President Trump’s banned-list, this is critical information worth clarifying.
The problem with the “innocent mistake” theory is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has used the list before. As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest in 2015, then-Senator Sessions sought to prove the exact same theory as the current report attempts to prove. Specifically, foreign-born individuals are more likely to commit terrorist acts than American-born individuals. In an effort to achieve that end, Sessions’ Committee used the December 2014 list with 580 names. Sessions made conclusions based on it, and argued defending those conclusions. He had to know how many names were on it.
Complicating matters further, the 2014 list only determined country of origin for 448 of the 580 defendants. Missing 23% of the relevant data points makes for a poor predictor in any examination. Compounding that weakness now by inexplicably losing 12% of the defendants off the most updated list makes any conclusion worthless, even if Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department had not already intended to play fast and loose with the data.
The 2014 report showed four terror defendants hailed from Canada. How many were from Iran, which is on President Trump’s travel ban list? Four, same as from Canada. Only one terrorist on the list was a Mexican national though. Maybe President Trump should consider building his wall on our northern border instead if homeland security is his prime concern?
Featured image by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images.