Eighteen former counterterrorism officials are urging the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to retract or correct a report that implies a link between terrorism and immigration, calling its findings "misleading" and counterproductive.
Released in January, the report says that 402 of the 549 people — almost three of every four — convicted of terrorism charges since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were foreign-born. That's a data point that President Donald Trump has highlighted as justification for his administration's hard-line immigration policies — namely his desire to shift from a "random chain migration and lottery system, to one that is merit-based," as he has tweeted. But critics dubious of the report's conclusions have said it relies on irrelevant and in some cases flawed data.
Failure to correct the document is likely to undermine counterterrorism efforts by fueling misperceptions about the nature of radicalization and stoking societal divisions around immigration, according to a letter released Thursday by the former government officials, including former National Counterterrorism Center directors Nicholas Rasmussen and Matthew Olsen, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and former acting assistant attorney general for national security Mary McCord.
"Overall," their letter says, "the report appears designed to give the misleading impression that immigrants — and even their citizen family members — are responsible for the vast majority of terrorist attacks that have occurred in the United States."
The report was written to comply with an executive order Trump issued in March 2017 banning citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Katie Waldman, a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said the agency is "focused on anticipating terrorist trends and movements and, more importantly, blocking all terrorist pathways into the United States."
The former counterterrorism officials' letter was written in support of an appeal to be filed Thursday by several advocacy groups that sued the two agencies in federal court in Oakland and Boston. The organizations are seeking a retraction or correction under a little-known law, the Information Quality Act. The courts stayed the lawsuits when the agencies answered the plaintiffs.
The key issue with the report, said Joshua Geltzer, a former National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism, is it emphasizes a person's place of birth as a "meaningful predictor" of terrorist activity rather than understanding the radicalization process.
"There are U.S. citizens born and bred here who unfortunately radicalize, too," said Geltzer, now at Georgetown University's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
The report says that 147 individuals convicted of international-terrorism charges were U.S. citizens by birth.