False face of security

Didn’t William Shakespeare always say it best?

“False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” – Macbeth

The Bush administration has always claimed its long suit is protecting Americans from domestic terrorist attacks.

What would you think if you knew the data these claims have been based on has been grossly inflated, according to the administration’s own Department of Justice?

I post here, verbatim, an excerpt from the transcript of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” MSNBC, Wednesday, 21 February 2007:

KEITH OLBERMANN, host: A new report shows that the Bush administration has been using inflated statistics about its antiterror activity to pat itself on the back, to justify the erosion of civil liberties, and to argue for additional spending of your tax dollars.

In our fourth story tonight, said report comes not from the left nor even from the Democrats, but from the Inspector General‘s office of the Bush Justice Department, which tells us the administration‘s terror statistics includes such crimes as drug trafficking, immigration violations, and that scourge of free societies everywhere, marriage fraud.

On the FBI, specifically, the report concludes, quote:

“The FBI significantly overstated the number of terrorism-related convictions during fiscal year 2004, because the FBI initially coded the investigative cases as ‘terrorism-related’ when the cases were opened, but did not recode cases when no link to terrorism was established.”-

In other words, the report says, any crime that was originally suspected as terrorism, or was just investigated by an antiterrorism unit, ended up as a terrorism statistic, which, in turn, was used by lawmakers to help shape our national policies.

Let‘s turn to a veteran of the Justice Department, attorney David Boies, perhaps best known for prosecuting the Microsoft antitrust case and for representing the 2000 Gore campaign in the Supreme Court.

Mr. Boies, a great pleasure to have you with us tonight.


OLBERMANN: The first question seems obvious, but, specifically, how does the president benefit by getting these numbers wrong?

BOIES: Well, I think in two ways. First, it escalates the fear of terrorism. And, certainly, the concern about terrorism. And, domestic terrorism, in particular, has been an important aspect of this administration‘s policy. So that, I think, by increasing the apparent terrorist threat, that, sir, is a political advantage.

Second, I think by overstating the number of terrorism convictions, it helps the administration make the case that it‘s being tough on terrorism; that it‘s being successful in prosecuting terrorism. And, I think that we know from these statistics that both of those claims are somewhat overexaggerated.

OLBERMANN: Which should terrify us more, that this is intentional, or that this is incompetent, in terms of the botching of these numbers?

BOIES: Well, obviously, both are disturbing. I think if you believe that it was intentional, that is probably more disturbing than believing that they simply got it wrong.

I think one of the things we ought to point out is that this was uncovered, this was brought to people‘s attention, by the Justice Department itself. Now, it did so after there were already some news stories that suggested that these statistics were overstated. But, I think the Inspector General‘s office of the Justice Department deserves credit for what they did.

OLBERMANN: On the other hand, even giving them that credit, the inspector general also says when he—his auditors went back to the Department of Justice to get more accurate numbers, they were still getting bad data. And, this is not even the first report that identified these problems. You worked there. How is it that this vital agency, five years after 9/11, can‘t give Congress or the public accurate numbers about its biggest priority on even the second try?

BOIES: It‘s hard to understand. One of the things that‘s gotten a lot of press attention is the inspector general saying that 24 out of 26 of the statistics that they examined were inaccurate. What hasn‘t gotten so much attention is that there were really 196 statistics that were looked at, and the vast majority of those, the Inspector General‘s office concluded, they really couldn‘t evaluate, in part because they had already tried and failed to correct those in the past.

OLBERMANN: So, this is the raw data that the nation is supposed to be using to formulate strategy for fighting terror at home? And, I‘m asking this as if Iraq never happened. But, what are the risks of going forward using bad data?

BOIES: Well, the risks are, we‘re going to make mistakes. We‘re going to put resources where they don‘t belong. We‘re not going to put enough resources where they do belong. We‘re going to scare the public. We‘re going to make the public believe that terrorism, domestic terrorism, is more of an immediate threat than it is.

We‘re going to overstate the extent to which we are being successful in the drive against terrorism. Maybe that will lead people to relax too much, maybe it will lead people not to put enough resources on terrorism.

When you have bad data, you can‘t make good decisions. And, the thing that‘s most disturbing about this, whether it‘s just an honest mistake or an intentional inflation, is that we now know that we‘ve had bad data, bad data for the public, bad data for public decision-makers.

OLBERMANN: Of course, no government would ever deliberately scare the public.

Attorney David Boies, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.


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