Monday, April 18, 2005

Terrorism is on the Decline, Trust Us

The Seattle Times reported this last weekend that the US State Department has elected to stop publication of the annual report on international terrorism, after preliminary results suggest that 2004 was the worst year for terrorist attacks since the report's initial publication in 1985. The State Department defends their decision to eliminate the Patterns of Global Terrorism report, saying that the methodology used to collect the data was flawed. Critics have stated that the elimination of the report, which suggests 2004 was the worst year for terrorist attacks on record, was a scheme to hide the fact that the Bush Administration's war on terrorism has been unsuccessful abroad.

I wanted to see what the Administration and the State Department had to say about eliminating the report. The only justification offered in the article is that the methodology for determining what constituted a terrorist attack was flawed, but it didn't specifically state if the methodology was different than in previous years or what, specifically made the statistics so inaccurate.

I went to The White House website and looked under their most recent press briefings from White House Press Secretary Scott "Don't Call Me Ari Fleischer" McClellan. In the last two weeks, when the announcement about eliminating the report was made, the White House had no comment.

I went to The US State Department website for Counterterrorism to see if they had commented on how the methodology for 2004 was flawed. While you can read previous years' reports, the 2004 report and any mention of flawed methodology was no where to be found. If you're more successful than I am in finding something, send it along. That would be interesting to discuss.

Based on the lack of evidence provided by the Administration and the State Department, it leaves one to wonder why the report was eliminated. If the methodology was the same used in previous years, which we have every indication to believe that it was, the State Department would certainly be comparing apples to apples from year to year.

Any changes in methodology would also be unlikely to cause the report to be eliminated all together. If the methodology of a scientific study, for example, is flawed, most of the time you don't eliminate the research. You discuss the findings of your research in light of any methodological problems you encountered. This can be useful in guiding future inquiries into similar problems (i.e. don't try it this way) or even allowing limited interpretation of the data (i.e. we may have overestimated the actual number of attacks by including men who terrorized people by pressing their genitalia against car windows). Either way, completely ending the report on what is essentially the KEY national security issue is completely suspicious.

Until the State Department or the White House explains why things were different in 2004, we find ourselves without a way to quantify how we're making gains against terrorism worldwide, since they certainly aren't offering anything in replacement. If you were successful in fighting terror, why wouldn't you want an annual report to highlight the progress your policies and actions were making in curbing terrorism. Sadly, this is just another example of the Bush Administration limiting public access to information that shows what an abysmal failure Bush's anti-terrorism policies are.

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