- On the eve of the publication of its annual "Patterns
of Global Terrorism", the State Department Office of Counterterrorism
indicated the report would not be published for 2004. Instead, the legal
requirement to report to the Congress would be met by sending the information
to the Hill, but it would not be released to the public. That announcement
stirred a flurry of accusatives, e.g., the numbers have gone up as high
as they were in the 1980s; the US is losing the War on Terrorism; and the
White House does not want the public to know. As much as anything, those
accusations were a demonstration of the widespread mistrust of Bush team
reporting and wariness of its devious information management habits. However,
on April 27 the newly established National Counterterrorism Center published
its first statistical report: "A chronology of Significant International
Terrorism for 2004".
- The Counterterrorism Center report, more than 80 pages
long and already available on the Center's website, deals with the most
important categories of terrorism that were covered in the State annual,
but it applies a somewhat broader set of reporting criteria, and it reports
only on significant incidents--meaning, as State explained, that they result
in hostage takings or in "loss of life or serious injury to persons,
major property damage, and/or an act or attempted act" that could
result in those outcomes. What the new reporting series eventually will
cover remains to be seen, but the responsibility to publish terrorism data
for now has been promptly met.
- Initial sharp intakes of breath concerned the steep increase
in the reported number of international terrorism incidents. First judgment
was the War on Terrorism is a failure. Second was the Bush team is again
playing mind games with the public by trying to suppress the information.
Third was a Counterterrorism Center argument that the new numbers were
sufficiently different in their scope so that no time series comparisons
- That was a squeamish but unnecessary caveat. The data,
such as they are, speak for themselves, and their implications are indeed
a problem for the Bush administration.
- The report's main finding is that there were 651 significant
terrorist incidents in 2004. The last time there were that many incidents
of any kind reported was in the late 1980s, but the numbers really are
not comparable because the database for the 80s included a sizeable number
of incidents that were not defined as significant: Of the 208 incidents
reported in 2003, 161, or 77% of all reported incidents--the highest proportion
in some time--were classed as significant. They occurred in 40 countries,
roughly 60% of them in five countries: India, Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq,
and Israel, in that order, with India alone accounting for 48, or about
- While the Counterterrorism Center says that it uses somewhat
different criteria, the 2004 numbers show radically increased global results
for two countries, India and Iraq. Of the 651 incidents reported in 2004,
the total count for the five countries cited above was 528. Almost 500
of them occurred in India (295) and Iraq (201). That leaves about 123 significant
incidents in other countries, meaning that the number of incidents doubled
in the rest of the world. (Both the 2003 and 2004 reports cover incidents
in 40 countries.)
- The principal difference between the State and the Counterterrorism
Center reports is the latter's exclusive focus on significant incidents.
Roughly the same definitions were applied by both in defining an incident
as "significant", and in fact the Center's report says that it
originally compiled the data for inclusion in the State report. Thus,
such comparability as now exists is between State's reported 161 significant
incidents in 2003 and the Center's reported 651 significant incidents in
2004. The crude implication is that significant incidents worldwide increased
by roughly 300 percent.
- What conclusions should be drawn from such a whopping
change? Any way you cut it, there was a sizeable rise in incidents in
India, from 48 in 2003 to 295 in 2004; that is a 500% increase as well
as a rise from 30% to 45% of globally significant incidents in India alone.
A tenfold escalation occurred in Iraq, rising from about 21 significant
incidents in 2003 to 201 or roughly 30% of incidents in 2004.
- As the Center report indicates, it is difficult in the
Iraqi case to distinguish between terrorist attacks and acts of insurgency.
Moreover, the status of victims (foreign, private, civilian, official,
military) is an insecure cut line between the two. Even a cautious judgment
indicates that the root cause of the incidents in Iraq is the occupation,
along with the uncertainties of governance and the instability associated
with it. Therefore, from the point of view of how to deal with such incidents,
it is probably smart not to class them as terrorism in the usual sense,
and the same probably applies to incidents in Afghanistan. An occupation/war
related violence pattern applies better.
- The situation in India requires a different reading.
Significant incidents occurred across the year, but they were most frequent
in the last six months. The incidents occurred in and around Kashmir.
Pro-Indian and pro-Pakistani militants may have been involved, but the
apparent driver of the increase was the prospect that India and Pakistan
might get together on a solution that would decide the future of the territory
without any consideration of the desires of the free Kashmir groups. Those
groups were responsible for disruption of the briefly re-launched bus service
earlier in 2005 between Pakistani and Indian territory, a service that
had not run in more than 50 years. The real significance of those incidents
is the demonstrated determination and resourcefulness of the free Kashmir
groups after half a century of Pakistani and Indian efforts to quell them.
- The only other significant groups of attacks in the Center
report were the West Bank and Gaza Strip (37 attacks) and Saudi Arabia
(12 attacks). The attacks in Palestine, as well as those in Israel, are
part of the continuing evidence of the Israeli repression of the Palestinian
people. The attacks in Saudi Arabia, said variously to be associated/promoted
by al Qaida, are more likely evidence of growing local discontent with
the Saudi royals monopoly over power.
- Twenty-eight of the 40 countries included in the Center
report experienced only one or two attacks during the year. Those attacks
largely can be attributed to long standing quarrels between out groups
- Where does this leave the War on Terrorism? Outside
of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States leads an occupying force
battling people who object to it, and possibly Colombia and the Philippines,
where the United States has been helping local authorities deal with long-standing
insurgencies, there appears to be little or no connection. Terrorism in
the majority of countries covered by the Center report is indigenous, centered
on long-standing disputes between governments and out groups, and these
cases are affected marginally, if at all, by the War on Terrorism. Nor
is it likely that, if the War on Terrorism ended tomorrow, its passing
would alter either the status or the prospects of those long-standing disputes.
- This poses a draconian set of choices. The United States
itself is the primary culprit in lighting the fuses of present volatile
situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States relationship to
Israel is a significant driver of Middle East attacks that may harm Americans
and others. Thus the United States is the visible proximate cause or closely
associated with it respecting a quarter of the significant terrorist incidents
in 2004. The President himself has declared Iraq to be the "central
front" in the War on Terrorism, but if that is true, it clearly is
more provocative than productive. However, the War on Terrorism is basically
irrelevant to terrorist activities in India and in the majority of countries
covered by the Center report. This makes the War look more like the problem
than the solution.
- The author is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State, a former Deputy Director of the State Department
Office of Counterterrorism and former Chairman of the Department of International
Studies of the National War College. He is a regular columnist on rense.com.
He will welcome comments at