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Saturday, April 16, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

U.S. eliminates annual terrorism report

Knight Ridder Newspapers

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 decision, saying the methodology used by the National Counterterrorism Center to generate statistics had flaws, such as the inclusion of incidents that may not have been terrorism.

But other current and former officials charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's office ordered the report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," eliminated 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 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.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that the publication was eliminated, but said the allegation that it was done for political reasons was "categorically untrue."

According to Johnson and U.S. intelligence officials, statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center provided to the State Department reported 625 "significant" terrorist attacks in 2004. That compared with 175 such incidents in 2003, the highest number in two decades.

The statistics didn't include attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, which President Bush as recently as Tuesday called "a central front in the war on terror."

The intelligence officials requested anonymity because the information is classified and because, they said, they feared White House retribution. Johnson declined to say how he obtained the figures.

The numbers of incidents and fatalities in the report for 2003 were undercounted last year, forcing a revision and embarrassing the White House, which had used the original version to bolster Bush's election-campaign claim that the Iraq war had advanced the fight against terrorism. U.S. officials blamed bureaucratic mistakes involving the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the forerunner of the National Counterterrorism Center, created under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which Bush signed Dec. 17.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., among the leading critics of last year's mix-up, reacted angrily.

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"This is the definitive report on the incidence of terrorism around the world," Waxman said. "It should be unthinkable that there would be an effort to withhold it — or any of the key data — from the public. The Bush administration should stop playing politics with this critical report."

The State Department published "Patterns of Global Terrorism" under a law that requires it to submit to the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a country-by-country terrorism assessment by April 30 each year.

A declassified version of the report has been made public since 1986 in the form of a glossy booklet, even though there was no legal requirement to do so.

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.

The official 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."

One U.S. official who requested anonymity said analysts from the counterterrorism center were especially careful in amassing and reviewing data for 2004 because of the political turmoil created by last year's errors.

Another U.S. official said Rice's office was leery of the center's methodology, believing that analysts eager to avoid a repetition of last year's undercount included incidents that may not have been terrorist attacks. The U.S. intelligence officials said Rice's office eliminated "Patterns of Global Terrorism" when the counterterrorism center declined to use alternative methodology that would have reported fewer significant attacks.

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