An article in Monday's editions of The Washington Post incorrectly said that the peak number of international terrorist incidents in a single year -- as calculated by the CIA prior to 1981 -- was 188. The correct figure is 413. The smaller total was the highest reported number of terrorist attacks in a single year on U.S. citizens or property in various parts of the world.
Ever since it started issuing annual reports on the touchy topic of terrorism, the Central Intelligence Agency had never counted more than 188 terrorist attacks in a year throughout the world.
This year it has hit upon a startling new math. The CIA has suddenly discovered there were 760 international terrorist incidents in 1980 alone -- and thousands of others in years gone by that it never bothered listing. Until now.
The escalation of the terrorist threat is just one facet of a new policies of paranoia sweeping Washington. Congressional investigations are being cranked up. Protests in the name of civil liberties are planned. Conservatives warn of dangers to national security. Liberals envision a new wave of "witch hunts."
At the CIA, the statistical revisionism coincides with the advent of the Reagan administration and its determination -- proclaimed by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. -- to international terrorism the chief concern on foreign policy.
On Capitol Hill, the first forum will be the newly created Senate subcommittee on security and terrorism. The chairman of the five-member panel is Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.), who plans to begin hearings soon on "Soviet and surrogate support for international terrorism," an issue that foreign policy hardliners feel has been shamefully neglected in recent years.
The CIA report should add fresh dimensions to the problem. Officials say the text has somehow become "stuck" somewhere at agency headquarters, but it should be made public shortly.
When it does come out, officials say, it will contain charts and graphs showing 5,954 terrorist attacks throughout the world between 1968 and 1979. Last year's report showed 3,336 attacks -- for the same 12-year period. The new report also will show hundreds more deaths and injuries at the hands of terrorists than the CIA has ever before suggested.
"They've thrown in things they didn't use to throw in," a State Department expert said approvingly. "Instead of using a standard of 'significant' terrorist activity, they're using more universal criteria. We encouraged them to do it."
Some critics see the new Senate subcommittee as a reincarnation of the old internal security subcommittee that used to hold extensive hearings on "subversive activities" and subversion in government."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who served on the old subcommittee before it was eliminated in 1977, seems to share that view, and not with dismay.
"I have felt for some time that it should be reinstituted and when I became chairman, I did reinstitute it," he says. "It's not going to be a witch hunt. It's not going to assassinate people's characters. It's just going to get the facts."
Denton voices similar assurances, although terrorism is far from his only field of interest. A retired admiral who spent seven years and seven months as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, Denton also intends to look at the performance of the American press on some sensitive subjects.
He says he can still remember how galling it was to be told by his captors that the U.S. press or politicians were taking up the same themes he'd heard days earlier from Radio Moscow or Radio Hanoi.
"I don't believe it's a matter of conspiracy," Denton says. "It's a matter of manipulation. But it's a problem. . . . It shows [the communists'] power to transmit ideas. I believe it needs exploring, that whole biology."
President Reagan gave vent to similar suspicions not long ago in downplaying public opposition to U.S. involvement in El Salvador. He suggested that it was due primarily to a "concerted campaign, employing the same placards and the same slogans around the world.
Back in the 1950s, Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his allies used to denounce such phenomena as evidence of a so-called "transmission belt" between Soviet Russia and sympathizers in the United States. Now it has an even more ominous set of labels. It is "disinformation," planted and nurtured by "agents of influence."
Among his first witnesses, Denton said in an interview, will be such people as Claire Sterling, author of The Terror Network, and Arnaud de Borchgrave, co-author of The Spike.
Both books are rave items as conservative circles, fueling the new alarms about the threat of terrorism and other insidious influences. Sterling's book lays out a pattern perhaps best summed up by the announced subject of Denton's first set of hearings: "Soviet and surrogate support for international terrorism." De Borchgrave's novel is about a Kremlin "blueprint" for taking over the West with the help of KGB dupes and agents of influence in academia, the press and even the White House.
"If we used the classic witnesses from the intelligence agencies, I think they'd be looked on as representing vested interests, as not as objective as they should be," says the Senate subcommittee's chief counsel, Joel S. Lisker, a veteran of the FBI and the Justice Department's internal security section. He said journalists such as Sterling and de Borchgrave "will be taken more seriously" and "bring a fresh perspective" to the problems.
Denton says he plans to balance the opening sessions by calling other witnesses "who will say exactly the opposite, who will say we should unilaterally disarm on the grounds that nuclear warfare is just too terrible and that this will prompt the Russians to do the same."
At least some of the subcommittee's plans might appear to go a bit beyond the legislative and domestic scope of the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which it is a part. Lisker, for instance, allows with a smile that any inquiry into press performance would probably best be described as an exercise in "consciousness-raising." But Denton says he does not expect any jurisdictional problems, even when the subcommittee fixes its sights on CIA work overseas.
The mandate of "terriorism and security" is very broad, Denton observed. Beyond that, he said, CIA Director William J. Casey and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.) have been inviting him to various briefings on terrorism -- hardly a manifestation of jurisdictional jealousies.
"It seems to me to make sense to take a look at the whole circuit," Denton said. "To see how the FBI's effort in this country integrates with the CIA's."
The subcommittee also has what Lisker describes as a secret "agenda" of organizations it intends to investigate "from the internal security and national security point of view." The list of potential targets, it seems, is constantly being revised and refined.
"We're adding and deleting subjects from it all the time," Lisker said.
One glimpse of what may be in store can be seen in the conservative Heritage Foundation's report on the intelligence community. It called for a crackdown on domestic radicals, revival of the internal security apparatus in Congress and the executive branch, and revocation of the guidelines telling U.S. intelligence agencies how to operate within the Constitution.
It also suggested some of the suspects who might warrant investigation, from "the several communist parties" and principal Ku Klux Klans to organizations such as Tom Hayden's Campaign for Economic Development and the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based think tank that has come under increasing right-wing attack in recent months.
In addition to these and other potential "internal security problems," the Heritage Foundation report warns that "terrorist cadres" grow out of "the splinters of dissident or extremist movements" which, in turn, must be kept "under at least moderate surveilance" and tracked "through the cumulative compilation of comprehensive files."
Another danger, the report asserts, is that "clergymen, students, businessmen, entertainers, labor officials, journalists and government workers may engage in subversive activities without being fully aware of the extent, purpose or control of their activities."
Much the same rationale was used in the 1940s and '50s for the free-wheeling investigations of domestic communism and so-called "comsymps" (communist sympathizers) who found themselves tarred in the process.
The Heritage Foundation report was written by Samuel T. Francis, who has since joined the staff of Sen. John East (R.N.C.), another member of the subcommittee on terrorism. Aides to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the third Republican on the panel, have reportedly suggested the San Francisco magazine, Mother Jones, as a candidate for investigation.
A pamphlet by the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York charges that the subcommittee on security and terrorism "has the capability and support to move this country back to the dark ages of McCarthyism." Denton, who says he believes in "consensus," has been striving to allay such fears. He noted at the subcommittee's first hearing Feb. 20, on an FBI authorization bill, that its very creation had "given rise to unfortunate speculation."
He went even farther at a Jan. 16 executive session of the Judiciary Committee, telling colleagues that he would strive "to avoid the image of violating and the impression we are violating anyone's rights." Denton added in an interview that he planned to tackle the issues in such a way that "a liberal is going to get enthusiastic about this." After all, he reasoned:
"Doesn't a liberal believe in freedom?"
Sen. East voiced a similar theme at the subcommittee's first session, asserting that "the greatest threat to civil liberties in the world today is terrorism."
In the United States itself, however, the threat has yet to measure up to all the denunciations of it. The FBI says it has much bigger problems -- with organized crime, white-collar crime and foreign counterintelligence work heading the list. Countering terrorism in this country on a day-to-day basis is one of the bureau's lowest priorities -- reportedly No. 17 on at least one rundown of FBI needs.
At the Feb. 20 hearing, perhaps to the Senate subcommittee's chagrin, the FBI even recommended a reduction of 21 permanent positions in its terrorism unit, one of the biggest personnel cuts in the bureau's proposed $743.5 million budget. The request, FBI executive assistant director Lee Colwell emphasized, "is based on experience."
"There has been a decline in terrorist acts in the United States in the past three years -- not worldwide, but in the United States," Colwell testified. "Our resource request is based on what we are experiencing."
That experience, according to FBI officials, shows a total of 30 terrorist incidents in 1980, compared to 47 in 1979 and 69 in 1978. There were 111 such incidents in 1977. Casualties fluctuated. There were 11 dead and injured from terrorist incidents in this country in 1977, eight in 1978, a high of 47 in 1979, and 20 last year.
Terrorist groups listed by the FBI as "active," primarily anti-Castro Cubans and Puerto Rican nationalists, dropped sharply throughout the four-year period, from a total of 111 in 1977 to 28 last year.
FBI officials say they have about 10 organizations, ranging from the Communist Workers Party to the Ku Klux Klan, and 47 individuals under domestic security investigation at this time, a stark contrast to the thousands of probes that were under way less than a decade ago. At the same time, the bureau has stepped up its foreign counterintelligence, which operates under a more permissive set of guidelines and has its own antiterrorist agents. They keep watch on a separate and classified number of international groups operating within the United States, such as the anti-Castro Omega 7.
Some of the senators at the hearing still seemed disappointed by the FBI's proposed personnel cutback in the terrorism (as distinct from foreign counterintelligence) program.
In light of "a growing pattern of international terrorism," East suggested, "might we not be prudent to anticipate it and to budget accordingly so we do not have first to bear the brunt of terrorism before we begin to react to it, begin to build some sort of response to it?"
"I am looking for preventive medicine here," the North Carolina Republican emphasized. "I am wondering about that narrow statistical point, whether that is a good way of measuring."