Trump Administration Concedes Fault in Distorted Terrorism Report But Refuses to Retract It
Justice Department Admits Controversial Joint Terrorism Report “Could be Criticized” for Lack of Objectivity, Failure to Disaggregate Terrorist Threat Posed by Immigrants
Admission of Fault Follows Lawsuits by Democracy Forward, Muslim Advocates, Protect Democracy, and Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Pressure from National Security Experts
Administration Still Refuses to Retract Report, Allowing Misleading Information to Remain Public Record
Washington, DC — In a response to separate administrative appeals filed by watchdog groups Democracy Forward, Muslim Advocates, Protect Democracy, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and others, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) admitted that its joint terrorism report with the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) contained a number of misleading assertions that “could be criticized” for failing to “promote the perception of objectivity.” Despite this admission of error, the Trump Administration still refuses to correct the report, which remains available to the public and continues to support the Administration’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim narrative.
In the lawsuits, the groups alleged the Trump Administration violated the Information Quality Act (“IQA”)— a data accuracy law—by manipulating data to frame foreign-born people as terrorism threats, in part by asserting that 73 percent of individuals convicted of international terrorism-related offenses were foreign-born, a statistic based on an unreliable methodology and a misleading interpretation and presentation of the data.
In response, the Trump Administration:
Agreed that the report’s selection of 8 convicted Muslim men as “illustrative examples” of terrorism convictions was not “representative of all cases” and could make the report appear biased.
Admitted, in responses to Democracy Forward and Muslim Advocates, that the inclusion of a discredited study regarding “honor killings” went beyond the scope of the report’s purpose and did not meet IQA standards;
Admitted errors in the report’s analysis of gender-based violence, but incorrectly described those errors as “mere[ly] editorial”;
Recognized the need to disaggregate information about foreign nationals brought to the United States solely for prosecution of terrorism-related offenses in order to avoid inflating the terrorist threat caused by foreign nationals generally; and
Recognized the need to provide the data underlying the report to provide appropriate context.
“What we’ve asked the government to do — correcting statements that make the report misleading — is very straightforward, and the government admits that changes would reduce the report’s apparent bias” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel, Robin Thurston. “But, instead of taking the opportunity to correct the record, as the law requires, the Trump administration has chosen to continue a pattern of manipulating facts to fit an ideological narrative.”
“The government has an obligation to be truthful with the American people, particularly on matters as critical as terrorism and national security,” said Ben Berwick, a Counsel with Protect Democracy. “When the government deliberately spreads disinformation, it undermines our democracy.”
“By the government’s own admission, the report is misleading, inaccurate, and does not meet IQA standards,” said Sirine Shebaya, Senior Staff Attorney with Muslim Advocates. “The government’s failure to publicly correct and retract the report continues to harm Muslim communities by stigmatizing them and maintaining false narratives about them in public discourse. It is not enough to acknowledge that the report is misleading – the government has an obligation to affirmatively retract and disavow its misleading contents.”
“Not only is the government’s report on terrorism flawed, so are the policies it seeks to justify,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “This administration has repeatedly vilified Muslims and immigrants in an attempt to bolster its draconian immigration policies and this report is just another example of the lack of genuine national security concerns supporting its approach.”
Under the little-known IQA law, federal agencies are required to provide accurate, reliable, and unbiased information to the public. Information must meet an even stricter quality standard if it is expected to have a “clear and substantial impact on important public policies.”
The original IQA requests for correction were sent in January 2018. The groups filed their lawsuits in April of 2018 requesting responses to their requests for correction. After initial inadequate responses by DOJ and DHS, the groups filed administrative appeals seeking reconsideration in September 2018. The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center also sent a letter signed by nearly a dozen counterterrorism experts, including Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to emphasize the damage to our national security caused by this kind of misleading report. President Trump has repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims regarding the purported terrorist threat posed by immigrants.
Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.
Protect Democracy is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to preventing American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize and defend our country’s systems of democracy and justice.