State Dept. Concedes Errors in Terror Data
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2004; Page A17
Two months ago, the Bush administration released its annual report card on counterterrorism and gave itself an A. The number of terrorist attacks around the globe, according to the State Department report called "Patterns of Global Terrorism," was at the lowest ebb in the past 34 years.
Ambassador at Large for Counterterrorism J. Cofer Black, citing the existence of only 190 acts of terrorism in 2003, called it "good news" attributable in part to unprecedented U.S. collaboration with foreign partners. He predicted the trend would continue in 2004. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage cited the data as "clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight."
Not long afterward, however, the report was pilloried by academics, a lawmaker and others. They said its math defied the reality of a steady growth in the number and significance of terrorist attacks in 2003, as well as the worst type of attacks spreading from just a few countries to at least 10.
The Congressional Research Service cited the complaints in a June 1 report urging a review of the report's "structure and content." Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, said in a May 17 letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that "it is deplorable that the . . . report would claim that terrorism attacks are decreasing when in fact significant terrorist activity is at a 20-year high."
Yesterday, after reviewing the matter more carefully, the department formally conceded it made a few mistakes.
"At our request, the Terrorist Threat and Integration Center is reviewing and revising the statistics for 2003," spokesman Adam Ereli said. "We anticipate that a correction to the 'Patterns of Global Terrorism' will be publicly issued as soon as possible."
Officials declined to detail the errors to be corrected by the center. It was created last year from elements of the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Defense Department, with the goal of becoming the authoritative administration voice on terrorism.
But one senior official, speaking on the condition that he not be cited by name, said the corrections could fill eight pages, including a revised chronology of events, "a list of some things that should have been put in or left out," and various explanatory notes. Word of the State Department's decision was first reported yesterday by the Los Angeles Times.
Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and former deputy director of State's counterterrorism office, is among those who have urged a wide-ranging correction. He said that even using the report's own data, as presented in its statistical tables, the total number of terrorist incidents in 2003 rose, not fell, compared with 2002.
The number of deaths in the tables was 390, not 307 as department officials asserted in public comments; the number of wounded was 1,895, not 1,593, Johnson said. He said the number of significant incidents -- involving victims who were killed, injured or kidnapped -- rose from 60 percent of incidents in 2002 to 89 percent in 2003.
He also noted, as did Waxman and scholars at Princeton and Stanford universities, that the report omitted acts of terrorism after Nov. 11, 2003. The department attributed this to a cutoff date for printing the report in time for its release on April 29. At a result, a Nov. 15 suicide bombing in Istanbul that killed 61 people and injured more than 300 was omitted.
Johnson said the report also omitted from the list of significant acts of terrorism, for unknown reasons, the 13 terrorist attacks in Russia attributed to Chechens in 2003, which he said caused the deaths of 244 people. Although most significant attacks occurred in just two countries in 2002 -- Israel and India -- they occurred in 10 in 2003, Johnson said: Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey.
"When you read the report, TTIC did not add [the data] properly. Even a third-grader could have found this," Johnson said. "The body counts in 2002 and 2003 were at the highest levels in history."
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