Terrorism up, not down in 2003: State Department Report States
BY BARRY SCHWEID
WASHINGTON — The State Department acknowledged today it was wrong in reporting terrorism declined worldwide last year, a finding that was used to boost one of President George W. Bush's top foreign policy claims — success in countering terror.
Instead, both the number of incidents and the toll in victims increased sharply, the department said. Statements by senior administration officials claiming success were based "on the facts as we had them at the time; the facts that we had were wrong," department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The report, issued in April, reported attacks had declined last year to the lowest level in 34 years and dropped 45 per cent since 2001, Bush's first year as president.
Among the mistakes, Boucher said, was that only part of 2003 was taken into account.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said today the errors were partly the result of new data collection procedures. "I can assure you it had nothing to do with putting out anything but the most honest, accurate information we can," he said.
"Errors crept in that frankly we did not catch here," Powell said of the report, which showed a falloff in the number of attacks worldwide in 2003 and the virtual disappearance of incidents in which no one died.
Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said this week the administration had refused to address his contention that the findings were manipulated for political purposes. Waxman had written Powell asking for an explanation.
Boucher said a reply to Waxman was in preparation. "We wanted to make sure that we give the congressman the best and most accurate picture of what we know and what's going on as we can," he said.
He said the errors began to become apparent in early May. "We got phone calls from people who were going through our report and who said to themselves, as we should have said to ourselves: `This doesn't feel right. This doesn't look right.' And who started asking us questions," he said.
One of Bush's major foreign policy claims is that his post-Sept. 11 strategy to counter terror was showing success.
Ken Mehlman, the president's campaign manager, said in April, "Ultimately the most important thing that people want to see on the war on terror is, what is your vision for dealing with it and what is your record."
"Obviously one of the most important issues in this election is the question of how do we continue to fight and win the war on terror so we keep our homeland safe," Mehlman said.
At the same time, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Mehlman have questioned whether Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was qualified to conduct a war against terrorism.
When the annual report was issued April 29, senior administration officials used it as evidence the war was being won under Bush.
J. Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, cited the existence of only 190 acts of terrorism in 2003 as "good news" and predicted the trend would continue this year.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said at the time, "Indeed, you will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight."
His office did not respond today to a request for a statement in light of disclosures some of the findings in Patterns of Global Terrorism were inaccurate and understated.
"When we are sure we have the new facts, the right facts, we will prepare an appropriate analysis and give you our assessment at that moment," Boucher said.
They were quick enough to cite it as good news. Maybe a Dem intern could fact check next time. Amazing.