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Administration admits increase of terror

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Administration amends terror report

By Warren P. Strobel
Knight Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration acknowledged Tuesday that terrorism increased by most measures in 2003, issuing a corrected version of a mistaken State Department report that officials had used to claim progress in President Bush's war on terrorism.
The corrected report states that there were 175 "significant" terrorist attacks last year, the most in two decades, and that the number of individuals injured by international terrorism jumped to 3,646 from about 2,000. Government experts said the increase reflects attackers' increasing focus on "soft" civilian targets.
The State Department, in a report it now acknowledges was riddled with errors, had said that there were 170 "significant" attacks and that 307 people died in terrorist attacks in 2003. The real number of fatalities is more than double that -- 625 -- but still less than the 725 killed in 2002.
The faulty figures in the department's annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report, first released in April, have become a major political embarrassment to the Bush administration. The controversy comes at a time when Bush's claim that the Iraq war advanced the fight against terrorism is increasingly under fire.
Critics have charged the administration with being overeager to trumpet the president's record on a crucial election-year issue.
State Department and intelligence officials sharply disputed that Tuesday. They blamed the errors on a series of bureaucratic mistakes that involved a new agency, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which was formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to improve coordination of terrorist data.
The original report falsely claimed that the overall number of attacks last year was the lowest since 1969.
In unveiling the report on April 29, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said: "You will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight" against terrorism.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that Armitage was reflecting on what he thought to be accurate data.
"We recognize that terrorism is a danger that is not going away soon," Powell said.
Cofer Black, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, said, "Our earlier assessment was overly positive in some respects." But Black said the ability of the United States and its allies to fight terrorism is improving. He said that if he could display a chart of terrorist attacks prevented and lives saved "that number would certainly be going up." The U.S. government doesn't release such information, most of which is classified.
The report released in April showed no major terrorist attacks last year after Nov. 11, omitting such incidents as a series of four bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, that killed 61 people and wounded 855.
Black and John Brennan, the director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, said that error and others were due to faulty data that the center supplied to the CIA and the State Department, which didn't catch the mistakes.
Brennan cited an "exceptionally antiquated" database, which he said didn't properly compile data, as well as turnover in the unit's personnel and contractors. The database isn't used to monitor the current terrorist threat, he noted.
"There was insufficient review and quality control throughout this entire ... process," he said. "Anyone who might assert that the numbers were intentionally skewed is mistaken."
Aides to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who first brought the issue to Powell's attention, called the revisions a "good-faith effort" by the State Department to correct the record.
But Phil Singer, a spokesman for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, said: "This revised report is just the latest example of an administration playing fast and loose with the truth when it comes to the war on terror. The White House has clearly tried to blur the lines between 9-11 and Iraq, exaggerated the threat of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and has now been caught trying to inflate its success on terrorism."
Bush's claim that the Iraq invasion represented a major blow against terror has been undercut by the Sept. 11 commission's finding of no "credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein's regime collaborated with al-Qaida on attacks against the United States.
The State Department report doesn't include the frequent attacks against on-duty U.S. combat personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan in its definition of terrorism.

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