New figures released yesterday by the Bush administration show dramatically higher terrorism casualties last year than the State Department documented in an April report that U.S. officials heralded as evidence of great progress in the battle against terrorism.
The statistics show that 625 people died in terrorist attacks last year, not 307 as first reported. The corrections also reveal a larger number of incidents deemed "significant" by government analysts than at any time since U.S. authorities began issuing figures, in 1982.
John O. Brennan, a 23-year CIA veteran who oversaw the effort, took "personal responsibility." He blamed antiquated computers and personnel shortages for the errors and dismissed suggestions that the administration purposely fabricated the figures.
"Anyone who might assert the numbers were intentionally skewed is mistaken," said Brennan, director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), created by President Bush to produce efficient and comprehensive assessments of domestic and international terrorism.
When the April report was released, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said it provided "clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight." Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Armitage's words were based on incorrect information.
The revised figures show that more people were killed by terrorists last year than at any time since 1998, apart from 2001, when the Sept. 11 hijackings caused 2,973 deaths. Terrorist bombings and shootings left 3,646 people injured around the world -- more than in any year in the past six.
Incidents climbed dramatically in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. Attacks claimed dozens of victims in Israel, the Philippines and India. Thirty-five Americans died, all overseas.
Powell, reported by colleagues to be furious about the errors in this year's Patterns of Global Terrorism review, noted three times in a short statement to reporters yesterday that Brennan's office reports to the director of the CIA.
Powell remains angry about CIA data he included in a 2003 speech to the United Nations in favor of invading Iraq, aides say. When he questioned his top terrorism aide at a meeting after the errors in the terrorism report were discovered, one aide said, it was "about as upset as I've seen Powell."
Speaking with reporters yesterday, Powell pointed to "computational and accounting errors." He added: "The American people can have confidence in what we are doing and what we have done."
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), credited by Powell with alerting him to the problems in a May 17 letter, had accused the administration of skewing the data. "This manipulation," Waxman said at the time, "may serve the administration's political interests, but it calls into serious doubt the integrity of the report."
Reached yesterday, Waxman said of Powell, "I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that they're simply incompetent, but even that's distressing." He called it shocking that the administration produced a "basically useless" report on such a critical topic.
Phil Singer, a spokesman for Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic presidential candidate, denounced the correction as "just the latest example of an administration playing fast and loose with the truth when it comes to the war on terror."
"The White House has clearly tried to blur the lines between 9/11 and Iraq, exaggerated the threat of [weapons of mass destruction], and has now been caught trying to inflate its success on terrorism," Singer said.
The annual Patterns report is intended to be the definitive U.S. survey of terrorist attacks and the people behind them. Although compiled by State, the statistics were produced by the CIA until last year, when Bush created the TTIC.
Bush intended the TTIC to bridge intelligence gaps by blending the CIA's overseas intelligence with the FBI's information about domestic threats. It is a stand-alone agency but based at the CIA; the office had a staff of 124 in April.
Brennan, for years a senior aide to CIA Director George J. Tenet, cited confusion as the task was shifted to the TTIC. He pointed to an "exceptionally antiquated database." A key supervisor departed in December and was not replaced, he said. Private contractors rotated in and out.
Brennan also cited "inattention." Information was wrongly entered into computers. No attacks that occurred after Nov. 11, 2003, were included, and neither the CIA nor the State Department noticed. That meant omitting four bombings in Turkey that killed 61 people and an assault in Saudi Arabia that left 17 dead and 122 wounded.
Figures produced by the TTIC were sent to the CIA, which forwarded them to State, Brennan said. A CIA representative said that the agency "played no role in vetting the numbers from this database" and that "TTIC took over the database in 2003."
J. Cofer Black, the State Department's top terrorism official, said the faults "were honest mistakes and certainly not deliberate deceptions as some have speculated." He said staffers who erred are "very hard-working, well-intentioned people who do make mistakes." State Department staff members also failed to catch the mistakes.
The revised numbers show there were 3,646 people injured, not 1,593 as first reported. There were 175 "significant" incidents, five more than first reported, and 208 incidents of all types, not 190.
Powell said the figures "were off, but they were not off by wild amounts." He noted that 100 fewer people died in terrorist attacks in 2003 than in 2002. As for Armitage's widely reported comment, Powell said his deputy "reflected the report as he received it."
Bush and top aides have blamed terrorists for deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, but few of those assaults were included in the total. The administration does not count attacks aimed at on-duty troops because they are combatants.
Staff writers John Mintz and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.