By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. count of major world terrorist attacks more than tripled in 2004, a rise that may revive debate on whether the Bush administration is winning the war on terrorism, congressional aides said on Tuesday.
The number of «significant» international terrorist attacks rose to about 650 last year from about 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides briefed on the numbers by State Department and intelligence officials on Monday.
The aides were told the surge partly reflected an increased tally of violence in Kashmir, which is claimed by India and Pakistan, and the devotion of more manpower to U.S. monitoring efforts, which resulted in more attacks being counted overall.
The State Department last year initially released erroneous figures that understated the attacks, fatalities and casualties in 2003 and used the figures to claim the Bush administration was prevailing in the war on terrorism.
It later said the number killed and injured in 2003 was more than double its original count and said «significant» terrorist attacks — those that kill or seriously injure someone, cause more than $10,000 in damage or attempt to do either of those things — rose to a 20-year high of 175.
The State Department last week unleashed a new debate about the numbers by saying it would no longer release them in its annual terrorism report but that the newly created National Counterterrorism Center that compiles the data would do so.
A spokesman for the CIA, which is handling media inquiries for the NCTC, last week said no decisions had been made although other officials expected the data to be made public.
Rep. Henry Waxman (news, bio, voting record), a California Democrat, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday asking her to release the data.
«The large increases in terrorist attacks reported in 2004 may undermine administration claims of success in the war on terror, but political inconvenience has never been a legitimate basis for withholding facts from the American people,» Waxman said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.
Former intelligence official Larry Johnson last week first disclosed the 2004 increase in his Web log, saying the 2004 numbers would rise at least 655 from about 172 in 2003.
Waxman’s letter said that of the about 650 significant attacks last year, about 300 reflected violence in India and Pakistan, leaving some 350 attacks elsewhere in the world — double the total 2003 count.
He suggested this reflected enhanced U.S. efforts to monitor media reports of violence, thereby leading to the identification of «many more attacks in India and Pakistan related to Kashmir.»
Congressional aides said about 10 full-time employees worked on the 2004 count, up from about three in past years, and that this produced a more complete count.
«What it effectively means is that the Bush administration and the CIA haven’t been putting the staff resources necessary and have missed 80 percent of the world’s terrorist incidents» in past years, said a Democratic congressional aide. «How can you have an effective counterterrorism policy from that?»
A Republican congressional aide said it would be unfair of Democrats to claim terrorism was getting worse under the Bush administration, stressing that the 2004 and 2003 numbers were not counted in the same way and hence were not comparable.
«That is a conclusion that cannot be drawn because we have no baseline and certainly last year’s revised numbers offer no accurate baseline of the universe of terrorist incidents,» he said. «Without that you cannot reach an accurate conclusion.»
By Arshad Mohammed