The State Department has abruptly stopped publishing its annual report on international terrorism. The move follows news that the number of terrorist attacks in 2004 represented a 20-year high. U.S. officials say the report's methodology needs retooling. But others accuse the State Department of squelching information that contradicts the President's message about progress in the so-called War on Terror. Bob talks to Knight Ridder's Jonathan Landay, who broke the story.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. For 20 years, the State Department has issued two annual reports on terrorism - one, classified, to Congress, and one, bound and glossy, to the public. Apart from its pure information value, the Patterns of Global Terrorism report allowed successive administrations to justify their policies. But now, in the midst of the Bush administration's war on terror, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided not to release the statistics for public review. That report would have cited the National Counterterrorism Center's tally of 625 terrorist attacks worldwide last year, up from a previous high in 2003 of 175 attacks, raising questions about the success of the war. Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder newspapers wrote about the cancellation of the terrorism report.
JONATHAN LANDAY: The official State Department rationale for this is that last year, on the recommendation of the independent 9/11 Commission, the Congress passed legislation that created a new entity called The National Counterterrorism Center. In fact, the center is actually a successor to a number of other animals of the same characteristic, part of whose job was to put together the actual data that would then go to the State Department, that the State Department would then use to put into this publication. The State Department's explanation for its decision not to produce this kind of report any more is because now we've got this National Counterterrorism Center. It should be their job.
BOB GARFIELD: Which scans. Is there anything wrong with that argument?
JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, to some people, there's a great deal wrong with that explanation. According to several intelligence community sources, Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst, who was the first person to actually detect this and write about it in a blog, which was brought to my attention, they believe that the decision to cancel this report was political, because you might have an instance where Secretary Rice comes out to present this report to the public, and a journalist puts their hand up and says - Now, Secretary Rice, the Bush administration is claiming that you are winning the war on terrorism, and yet, according to your own statistics, there's been a major increase in terrorist attacks between 2003 and 2004. How do you explain this? And, according to these people, and others, the administration, Secretary Rice and her top people, decided that they just did not want to be faced with that kind of situation.
BOB GARFIELD: According to the statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center has provided, the 600-some number doesn't even count any of the insurgent attacks in Iraq, which the administration explicitly describes as terrorism.
JONATHAN LANDAY: That's absolutely true, and the other significant point of that is that almost 300 of those incidents are from the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir - terrorist attacks staged by Muslim extremist groups who are backed by Pakistan, which is supposedly a partner in the administration's war on terrorism. So it doesn't, to some people, look too kosher.
BOB GARFIELD: You've given explanations for why politics might have motivated Secretary Rice's decision. Is there anyone, though, in the administration who has been able to mount any other kind of explanation that really makes sense?
JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, I've been told that there was some consternation over the, the methodology that went into putting together this data, because it was felt by some people at the State Department that the National Counterterrorism Center people were including in that count of major terrorist incidents, incidents that weren't, in fact, terrorism. That is the only other explanation. But I, I have to say that I find that somewhat of a stretch, and I'll tell you why. Because the methodology that was being used to put together the figures for 2004, I've been told, is exactly the same methodology that's been used for all of the reports for as long as it's been produced, as well as the fact that the analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center had spent a great deal of time poring over the figures, and then sat down in an inter-agency process with their State Department opposite numbers and went though incident by incident, to make sure there was agreement on what was a significant terrorist incident and what wasn't. And so they had gone through the entire process when, abruptly, this decision was made to cancel the publication all together.
BOB GARFIELD: We can surmise about the secretary of state's motivation in making this decision. Do you have any sources that weighed in on this that told you - oh, yes, absolutely I know because of departmental deliberations in fact that this was a face-saving move as opposed to a way to keep muddy statistics out of the public record?
JONATHAN LANDAY: Several sources said what happened was that when the data was presented to the State Department, there was such consternation over what the findings were that the State Department at a very senior level got in touch with very senior people over at the National Counterterrorism Center and said, well, we think you should use a different methodology that will bring down the number, whereupon, so these sources say, the senior people at the National Counterterrorism Center said no, we're not going to do that. This is a good methodology. And, at that point, the decision was made to cancel the publication.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Jonathan, once again, thank you very much.
JONATHAN LANDAY: My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Jonathan Landay covers national security issues for Knight Ridder.