GIVE US THE FACTS

GIVE US THE FACTS….Jonathan Landay says that the State Department has decided to stop publishing its “Patterns of Global Terrorism” reports:

WASHINGTON – The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government’s top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.

Several U.S. officials defended the abrupt decision, saying the methodology the National Counterterrorism Center used to generate statistics for the report may have been faulty, such as the inclusion of incidents that may not have been terrorism.

Last year, the number of incidents in 2003 was undercounted, forcing a revision of the report, “Patterns of Global Terrorism.”

But other current and former officials charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s office ordered “Patterns of Global Terrorism” eliminated several weeks ago because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush’s administration’s frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism.

“Instead of dealing with the facts and dealing with them in an intelligent fashion, they try to hide their facts from the American public,” charged Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert who first disclosed the decision to eliminate the report in The Counterterrorism Blog, an online journal. […]

The senior State Department official said a report on global terrorism would be sent this year to lawmakers and made available to the public in place of “Patterns of Global Terrorism,” but that it wouldn’t contain statistical data.

He said that decision was taken because the State Department believed that the National Counterterrorism Center “is now the authoritative government agency for the analysis of global terrorism. We believe that the NCTC should compile and publish the relevant data on that subject.”

He didn’t answer questions about whether the data would be made available to the public, saying, “We will be consulting (with Congress) … on who should publish and in what form.”

I wish Landay hadn’t cut Johnson short, because what he said was more nuanced than that:

This move has been prompted by the Department’s discovery that the new methodology used by the recently formed National Counter Terrorism Center has produced statistics that shows an enormous jump in the number of international terrorist attacks. For example, in 2003 there were about 172 significant attacks. The numbers for 2004 have jumped to at least 655. At least 300 of those incidents occurred in India in the Kashmir region. NCTC, I’m told, is still tweaking the numbers. For Secretary of State Rice these numbers are a disaster. It is tough to argue we are winning the war on terrorism when the numbers in the official Government report will show the largest number of incidents ever recorded since the State Department started reporting on terrorist incidents. In the Secretary’s defense, however, the sharp jump in numbers has more to do with a change in methodololgy of counting rather that an actual surge in Islamic extremist activity. In fact, if you take time to parse the numbers, the actual scope of terrorism by Islamic extremists in 2004 appeared to decline relative to the attacks during 2003 (except for Iraq). Rather than run from the numbers the State Department and the Intelligence Community should seize the opportunity to really get their hands around the issue and provide Congress and the American people with a clear, apolitical assessment about the reality of the terrorist threat we face.

He also has the text of the U.S. statutory requirements. Johnson has always struck me as a serious straight-shooter, so I think we should listen to him. If you want to see what one of these reports are like, they’re online here. I think the Bush administration is making a huge mistake. It’s important to maintain the public’s confidence in what the government is doing; I can’t think of any valid reason not to publish the numbers other than fear of the political headwinds. If it’s complicated to explain the methodological change, too bad. Have some courage, I say. Aren’t we supposed to trust in the judgment of the American people?

UPDATE: I think that many of the commenters are missing something here, so I want to point it out. Johnson says that “at least 300 of those incidents occurred in India in the Kashmir region.” Even as Musharraf has made strides in some areas and espouses a policy of “emlightened moderation,” his position on Kashmir has been inconsistent. He hasn’t shut down many of the Kashmiri militant groups–some of whom are directly or indirectly linked to Al Qaeda–but merely pretended not notice as they changed their names. The latest initiative is starting up some kind of registry of terrorists and extremists and reaching out to India, but it’s hard to deny that he hasn’t done all he can to shut these folks down. I believe that the U.S. has to support Pakistan because the alternative is worse, but that doesn’t mean we have to cover up when Pakistan plays footsie with terrorists.

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