Originally Published 2005-05-02 11:19:45 Published on May 02, 2005
Under Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f, the State Department is required to submit to the Congress when it re-assembles after the Easter recess every year a report on the state of international terrorism during the previous year, with recommendations regarding the role of the State-sponsors of international terrorism.
International Jihadi Terrorism: A US Perspective - Part I
Under Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f, the State Department is required to submit to the Congress when it re-assembles after the Easter recess every year a report on the state of international terrorism during the previous year, with recommendations regarding the role of the State-sponsors of international terrorism.

The report, as laid down by the Congress, has to include, inter alia, information on terrorist groups and umbrella groups under which any terrorist group falls, known to be responsible for the kidnapping or death of any US citizen during the preceding five years; groups known to be financed by state sponsors of terrorism about which Congress was notified during the past year in accordance with Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act; and any other known international terrorist group that the Secretary of State determined should be the subject of the report.

These annual reports submitted since 1980 had come to be known as the report on the Patterns of Global Terrorism during the preceding year and had come to enjoy a certain credibility in the eyes of international counter-terrorism analysts, who looked forward to the publication of the annual statistics. However, some analysts, such as this writer, had been skeptic about the accuracy of the statistics provided in the reports, which were prepared not by the intelligence community, but by the Counter-Terrorism Division of the State Department.

This writer and others, who shared this skepticism, felt that the State Department was not beyond fudging the statistics and manipulating the analysis in order to serve the policy interests of the Administration. Thus, while often the analyses in the reports on the alleged role of Iraq and Iran were based on fudged statistics and false data, the analyses relating to Pakistan went out of their way to give the benefit of doubt to Islamabad.

The report for 2003 submitted to Congress in April last year was considerably discredited because of its attempts to portray through fudged statistics that the number of international terrorism incidents had registered a decline, whereas, the truth was that it had increased considerably. One suspected a conscious attempt, in the months preceding the Presidential elections, to disseminate blatantly fudged statistics in order to project the counter-terrorism policy of the Bush Administration as producing positive results. Subsequently, when these fudged statistics were found out, a shame-faced counter-terrorism division of the State Department admitted the error and disseminated corrected figures. At the same time, it maintained that there was no mala fide intention in the release of a report, which turned out to be inaccurate.

In the light of this controversy, one is struck by the major changes in the format of the report introduced by Ms. Condoleezza Rice, the new Secretary of State, after taking over from Gen.Colin Powell. It is no longer called the annual report on the Patterns of Global Terrorism. Instead, it is now called the Country Reports on Terrorism, with an overview of the state of terrorism in the world during 2004, followed by another overview of the state of international jihadi terrorism and a country-wise narrative of the state of terrorism in different countries, the action taken by each country against terrorism and its co-operation with the US and the rest of the international community in dealing with terrorism. The report also highlights the role of the US in assisting other countries in the field of counter-terrorism.

All these aspects used to be there in the reports of previous years too, but what was missing in the latest report prepared for submission to the Congress was a statistical analysis of international terrorism during 2004. This gave rise to suspicions and allegations that Ms.Rice has dispensed with this since she apparently feared that a statistical analysis could show the public that despite the claims to the contrary made by the Bush Administration, the international terrorism situation has worsened since the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The world has seen more suicide attacks since the US occupied Iraq than it had during the previous two decades since suicide terrorism made its appearance. If the invasion and occupation of Iraq was part of the so-called war against terrorism designed to make the world safe from jihadi terrorism, as often claimed by the Bush Administration, victory is not yet in sight. The many tactical successes scored by the US in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region cannot conceal the fact that strategically the over-all effect of the war as fought under the US leadership has been to drive many more Muslims into the arms of international jihadi terrorist groups than before 2003.

Ms. Rice seemed to have concluded that the best way of avoiding admitting this was to dispense with any statiscal analysis. In an interview, she tried to defend herself against allegations of intellectual dishonesty by claiming that she merely wanted to leave the statistical analysis to be done by the new National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) set up under the re-organisation of the intelligence community as recommended by the National 9/11 Commission. According to her, it would have greater professional competence to undertake such an analysis than the Counter-Terrorism Division of the State Department.

Following concerns reportedly expressed by members of the Congress and others regarding the decision not to include a statistical analysis in the State Department#146;s report, the Department simultaneously released to the media at a joint press conference held at Washington DC on April 27,2005, its own report in the new format as well as a separate statistical analysis prepared by the NCTC. The press conference was jointly addressed by Philip Zelikow, Counselor of the Department, and John Brennan, acting Director of the NCTC. President Bush has not yet nominated a permanent incumbent to the post.

Explaining the new format being followed from this year, Zelikow said as follows: ""For years statistical data on global terrorism has been published as part of an annual State Department report called Patterns of Global Terrorism, that was last provided to Congress in April 2004. The law itself requires basically two things: It requires detailed assessments of specified countries, and information about specified terrorist groups. The compilation of data about terrorist attacks is not a required part of the report, but traditionally had been provided by the State Department, going back to the years in which the State Department was basically the public voice of the U.S. Government on international terrorism, generally. That situation has been changing in recent years. In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission recommended creation of a National Counter terrorism Center to provide an authoritative agency for all-source analysis of global terrorism. The President implemented the recommendation by Executive Order in August. And the agency was created by statute in December 2004, in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which is Public Law 108-458."

He added: "But what#146;s important for our purposes is what the law said the NCTC should do. It said the NCTC was the primary organization for analysis and integration of "all intelligence possessed or acquired by the United States Government pertaining to terrorism or counter terrorism." The law further stated that the NCTC would be the United States Government#146;s "shared knowledge bank on known and suspected terrorists and international terror groups, as well as their goals, strategies, capabilities, and networks of contact and support."

"Therefore, given that statutory mandate, the State Department has focused its own report to Congress on the issues in its mandate, renamed Country Reports on Terrorism: Assessing Countries and Providing Information on Terrorist Groups, which we are still statutorily required to do. And it has deferred to the National Counter terrorism Center to assume its prescribed role as the "shared knowledge bank" for data on global terrorism.

"We are publicly presenting our required report to Congress and the public today. In conjunction with that presentation, the NCTC will present current 2004 terrorist incident data that is compiled using the old statutory criteria, the old counting rules and past practices. We#146;re presenting this data today in a period of transition. The NCTC will present its own approach to compiling statistics that need to be and will be significantly revised and improved, including its plans for providing a more comprehensive accounting of global terrorism incidents by June of this year".

Thus, Zelikow indirectly allowed for the possibility of errors in this year#146;s analysis also though it had been prepared by the NCTC. According to him, this was because the same parameters for compilation and analysis as were followed by the State Department last year had been followed by the NCTC in its analysis of this year since it is still in the process of being set up and, hence, would be in a position to formulate its own parameters only by June.

According to the analysis, during 2004, there were 651 attacks that met the criteria for significant international terrorist incidents, resulting in 1907 fatalities. Of these 284 attacks (a little more than 40 per cent) took place in the State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in India. However, only 434 fatalities ( less than 25 per cent) were reported from J&K. The large level of incidents but with a low level of fatalities in J&K was due to the fact that there were no mass casualty incident in India. In other countries such as Spain and Russia, there was a low level of incidents, but a high level of fatalities due to the mass casualty attacks such as those in Madrid and Beslan (Russia).

There were 64 significant international terrorist attacks directed against US nationals and interests, that is, about 10 per cent of the total, resulting in 68 fatalities. The vast majority of these anti-U.S. attacks took place in West Asia, where 83 per cent of these attacks occurred.

Brennan himself admitted during the media briefing that continuing ambiguities in definitions as given in US laws relating to terrorism resulted in inaccurate analysis. Thus, terrorism, for the purpose of the analysis, is defined as a pre-meditated and politically-motivated violent act against non-combatants (civilians) in any area and against even combatants in a non-conflict area. International terrorism is defined as terrorism "involving the citizens or territory of more than one country." For being included in the compilation and analysis, a "significant international terrorist attack" has been defined as an act involving killings or severe injuries or property damage of more than $10,000.

Amongst the anomalies admitted by Brennan which have crept into the analysis as a result of the ambiguities in definitions are the following: 

  • On February 27,2004, a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines sank Superferry 14, killing over 100 people. This was an act of terrorism directed against innocent civilians. But because the perpetrator and the victims were all Filipinos , this is not reflected in the analysis. 
  • In Iraq, only attacks on Americans and other foreign nationals have been covered in the analysis and not attacks on Iraqi nationals, which were in a vast majority. 
  • In Uzbekistan, there were three significant terrorist attacks on July 30,2004, against the US and Israeli Embassies and a building of the local Government. The attack against the local Government has been excluded. 
  • In August 2004, two Chechen suicide bombers blew up two Aeroflot flights. One flight had only Russian citizens and hence was excluded. In the other flight, there was one Israeli citizen and hence has been included in the analysis. The attack against the school in Beslan has been included because the Chechen terrorists involved were assisted by an Uzbek and a Kazakh. 
  • In Turkey, there were attacks against four HSBC banks on the same day by suspected Al Qaeda elements, but all of them have been excluded because there were no human casualties and the property damage in each instance did not exceed US $ 10,000. 

Brennan indicated that the NCTC would be releasing another analysis of the significant international terrorist incidents of 2004 in June next, which would be more comprehensive and seek to address some of these distortions. In response to a question, he admitted that the total number of all terrorist attacks in Iraq registered an almost ten-fold increase from 22 in 2003 to 201 in 2004. The number of fatalities increased from 117 in 2003 to 554 in 2004.

Zelikow said that the State Department would have preferred waiting till a more comprehensive and a more accurate analysis by the NCTC was ready in June, but decided to release the present incomplete and often inaccurate analysis because of the media allegations of a cover-up of the statistics by the State Department, which were baseless. He faced considerable grilling over the state of the so-called US-led war against international terrorism. A journalist pointed out that the number of significant international terrorist incidents has gone up from 175 in 2003 to 651 in 2004, thereby negating the claims of the Bush Administration that it was winning the war. Zelikow refused to admit this and said: "The short answer is it (the statistics) doesn#146;t tell us anything about the war on terror. The statistics are simply not valid for any inference about the progress, either good or bad, of American policy. I think that#146;s the honest answer. If you just look at what the statistics are and what kind of inferences can legitimately be drawn from them, I can#146;t come up with a defendable inference. "

If the statistics as compiled and analysed by the State Department in the past and by the NCTC now do not enlighten the public, but only confuse them, of what use such statistics? On what basis does the Bush Administration periodically make claims of winning the war against terrorism? One is as confused as ever.

Zelikow and Brennan tied themselves in knots in their attempts to defend Ms.Rice from allegations of a cover-up of statistics in order to conceal from the public the fact that the so-called war against international jihadi terrorism is going from bad to worse despite the fact that there has been no terrorist incident in US homeland after 9/11 and the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan has been destroyed..

What clearly came out from their often contradictory answers was that the annual Reports on the Patterns of Global Terrorism released by the State Department for more than 20 years now were highly politicised documents prepared to suit the political agenda of the incumbent administration and did not reflect the correct state of affairs.

The continuing confusion and misleading statements were apparent in their replies to questions relating to J&Kand the role of the State Sponsors of International Terrorism. Examples: 

  • "Well, okay, so we#146;ve discovered, you know, hundreds of additional incidents in Kashmir, because we actually -- people went out and looked at local newspapers from Kashmir and so on and said, "Okay, now what larger inference should I then draw from that for the conduct of the global war on terror?" Hard argument. " (Zelikow) 
  • "There were 52 incidents in Kashmir that were included in the chronology that was issued last year; 284 in 2004. The number of victims in Kashmir in 2003 was 776; in 2004, it was 1,872. The number of killed in Kashmir in 2003 was 111; and in 2004, it was 434. And in the chronology that we are issuing, you will see that is listed under -- for each of the individual incidents, listed under India, but it identifies Kashmir as the location for the attack." (Zelikow) 
  • "And just to clarify, of course, all attacks in Kashmir occurred in either India or Pakistan.#146; (Laughter) (Zelikow) He could not satisfactorily explain whether the figures relating to J&K included in the latest analysis included only incidents which had taken place inside J&K or also included incidents in Indian and Pakistani territory outside Kashmir which, in the NCTC#146;s view, were related to Kashmir. 
  • "Notably, 2004 was also marked by progress in decreasing the threat from states that sponsor terrorism - state-sponsored terrorism. Iraq#146;s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism was formally rescinded in October 2004. Though they are still on the list, Libya and Sudan took significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terrorism. Unfortunately, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and in particular, Iran continued to embrace terrorism as an instrument of national policy. Most worrisome is that these countries also have the capabilities to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and other destabilizing technologies that could fall into the hands of terrorists. Iran and Syria are of special concern for their direct, open, and prominent role in supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups, for their unhelpful actions in Iraq and in Iran#146;s case, the unwillingness to bring to justice senior al-Qaida members detained in 2003, including -- I will add personally -- senior al-Qaida members who were involved in the planning of the 9/11 attacks. " (Zelikow) 

Zelikow again tied himself in knots while trying to explain what he meant by referring to Cuba#146;s WMD capabilities. He said: "If you expect me to walk into the minefield of discussing the Cuban biological weapons program, I#146;m going to disappoint you. The Cuban Government has the capability to manufacture some weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. Government has discussed what those capabilities are in other settings and I don#146;t want to get into that here. The same is true for Syria and the other countries we named. What we#146;re focusing on here principally is less what is the WMD capability of the states, is simply what is the role of those states in state sponsorship of terrorism. And then please look at that against the background of what we have already said publicly about the capabilities of those states in the WMD world. And then you can draw some inferences about whether that#146;s disturbing or not."

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper No. 1356, May 1, 2005.

International Jihadi Terrorism: A US Perspective - Part III
  International Jihadi Terrorism: A US Perspective - Part II

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.

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