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Annual Terror Report Won't Include Numbers

By Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page A17

The State Department announced yesterday that it will no longer publish annual statistics for international terrorism, a year after it was forced to withdraw its study and correct its assertion that terrorist acts had declined in 2003 when in fact they were at their highest level in years.

Critics said the decision would leave the public without an official assessment of progress in fighting terrorism, as the State Department tries to avoid a repeat of what then-Secretary Colin L. Powell called "a big mistake" in how the statistics on terrorist acts were compiled last year.

The State Department said it will still send Congress the required annual report on terrorism -- minus the numbers -- but said a new government agency will separately publish the statistics.

"The people of the United States will get all the facts. The world will get all the facts," State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher told reporters. He added that the new National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) has agreed to produce and publish the terrorism statistics but said he did not know when or in what form.

A spokeswoman for the center, Michele Neff, said it has not yet decided whether to make the information public.

"No decision has been made yet, but the NCTC is looking closely at the data provided to see what figures can be released," she said.

The National Counterterrorism Center was created by last year's intelligence reorganization and is still gearing up operations as it awaits the arrival of President Bush's choice for director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte. The NCTC superseded the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which produced the data used in last year's flawed report.

For years, the State Department document "Patterns of Global Terrorism" had served as the definitive government accounting of international terrorist acts. It compiled numbers on attacks against civilians by groups including Islamic jihadists in the disputed Indian territory of Kashmir and militant Irish nationalists in Britain and Northern Ireland.

But last year it had to withdraw the report in which it cited "great progress" in combating terrorism and asserted that the number of terrorist acts had dropped to its lowest level in three decades.

After outside reviews showed the data were flawed, Powell ordered the report redone. A second version said that more than twice as many civilians had been killed or injured in terrorist attacks as the initial report showed.

Details about the State Department's plan to change its annual report were first disclosed on the Counterterrorism Blog, a Web log by former counterterrorism official Larry C. Johnson.

For this year, the State Department had already circulated secret early versions of the annual report, due to Congress on April 30, with the statistics included. They reportedly showed another increase in terrorist acts over last year.

"It was the one seminal annual report, it was the gold standard," said a terrorism analyst who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

But the report had become politically sensitive since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, serving as the only government-issued benchmark of year-to-year progress against terrorism.

New disputes over methodology arose with the heightened scrutiny, as experts debated what sorts of attacks should be included, such as the regular attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report evolved to focus as well on what governments were doing to combat terrorism.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who helped expose the errors in last year's report, said the State Department is now trying to "hide the data" on which the report will be based. "The administration owes it to the American people to say along with the report what's it based on," he said. "Is the State Department going to rely on actual terrorism data in the report? And if so, why is it going to hide this data?"

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