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Democrat requests probe of changes in terrorism report

WASHINGTON—A senior Democratic lawmaker on Thursday asked the State Department inspector general to investigate a decision to replace a 19-year-old annual terrorism report with one stripped of statistics that show an upsurge in major terrorist attacks in 2004.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's decision "denies the public access to important information about the incidence of terrorism," charged Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in a letter to State Department Inspector General Cameron R. Hume.

Waxman, the senior Democratic member of the House Committee on Government Reform, noted that the Pentagon last week touted statistics that it claimed showed a drop in terrorist attacks in Iraq since the Jan. 30 elections for an interim national assembly.

Rice's decision to withhold statistics reporting a major increase in terrorist attacks in 2004 over the previous year suggested "a pattern in the administration's approach to terrorism data: Favorable facts are revealed while unfavorable facts are suppressed," Waxman wrote.

Waxman asked Hume to "determine whether political considerations played a role in Secretary Rice's" order for "Patterns of Global Terrorism," a country-by-country breakdown of terrorist attacks that's been published by the State Department since 1986, to be replaced with a report containing no statistics. Waxman's office released a copy of the letter.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday that Rice believed that the job of producing terrorism statistics belonged to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the government's top counterterrorism agency, which was created last year to collect and analyze all intelligence on terrorism.

"There's no politics in this," he said. He said a report on global terrorism in 2004 would be provided to Congress as required by law by April 30.

Several U.S. intelligence officials last week said Rice's office was leery of the methodology the NCTC used to produce the data, including the inclusion of incidents that may not have been terrorist-related.

However, several current and former U.S. officials told Knight Ridder last week that the decision to eliminate the statistics was made after the NCTC presented the State Department with data reporting 655 significant terrorist attacks in 2004. That compared with 172 such strikes in 2003.

Several current and former U.S. officials privy to the 2004 statistics said Rice's office didn't want to release the statistics because they raised embarrassing questions about the Bush administration's claim that it's winning the war on terrorism.

"State didn't like the final figures," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center, a predecessor of the NCTC. "Even thought the intensity of the attacks (in 2004) is smaller, when you count up the individual incidents and distribute them geographically, it's very clear that the quantity of terrorism attacks resulting in fatalities has increased."

Rice's office first asked the NCTC to adopt a different methodology that would produce a smaller number of significant terrorist attacks, said the intelligence officials, who requested anonymity because of fear of retribution and because the matter remains classified. NCTC officials refused, the officials said, in part because adopting a different measure would make it impossible to make year-to-year comparisons and track trends.

"If you start screwing around with the methodology, you put in doubt the statistics going back to 1985," said Cannistraro, who was once involved in producing data for "Patterns of Global Terrorism."

The methodology was "pretty straightforward" and left little room for dispute, he said. Only non-combatants were counted as victims of terrorism, he said. "The only squishy area is if you are in uniform, but you are off duty," he said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Henry Waxman, Condoleezza Rice

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