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State Department Acknowledges Higher Terrorism Figures - 2004-06-22


The U.S. State Department, in an embarrassing admission, said Tuesday that 625 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, more than twice what it initially reported in April. But senior officials said there had been no attempt to manipulate figures in the original report to make the Bush administration's record on terrorism look better.

The State Department released its original Patterns of Terrorism report on April 29 with considerable fanfare, citing a decline in terrorist attacks and casualties last year compared to 2002 and calling it evidence that the administration's war on terrorism was making gains.

But after the statistics in the document came under attack from academics and a key Democratic congressman, Henry Waxman, officials acknowledged numerous errors and re-wrote the report.

A set of revisions with significantly higher casualties was issued at a news conference opened by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said there had been no attempt to manipulate the figures and that the Bush administration realizes that the war on terrorism has not been won.

"We recognize that terrorism is a danger that is not going away soon," he said. "Even if you looked at the report that was issued on the 29th of April before we found there were data errors in it, that report made it clear that terrorism is alive, it is affecting the entire civilized world, it makes us more determined to go after the perpetrators of terrorism. And I don't think there is any question that this was the import of the original report."

The revised report said there were 208 significant events of terrorism in 2003, only ten more than first reported in April, and still a dramatic decline from the 423 attacks of 2002.

But casualties from last year's terrorist attacks were revised sharply upward. The new report says 625 people were killed by acts of terrorism, more than twice the 307 first reported. And the number of wounded was put at over 3,600, again, more than twice the figure cited two months ago.

Officials here said the problems resulted partly from differences between the State Department and the inter-agency Terrorist Threat Information Center on the definition of acts of terrorism and the time-frame of the report.

They said as a result, some major terrorist attacks near the end of the year were left out, including large-scale car-bombings in Turkey that killed more than 60 people and wounded more than 800.

State Department Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-terrorism Cofer Black, who hailed the original report as "good news," said he and his staff should have caught the errors before the first report was published:

"I want to be very clear," said Mr. Black. "We here in the counter-terrorism office, and I personally, should have caught any errors that marred the 'Patterns' draft before we published it. But I assure you and the American people that the errors in the 'Patterns' report were honest mistakes, and certainly not deliberate deceptions as some have speculated."

The elaborate event to correct the figures did not end criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the matter. Congressman Waxman, one of the first critics of the April document, said the administration had tried to take "self-serving political credit" for erroneous figures.

A spokesman for presumtive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said the revised report is another example of the administration "playing fast and loose with the truth" and that the White House had been caught trying to inflate its success on terrorism.