The report from the center indicated that there were approximately 650 "significant" international terrorist attacks in 2004, or about three times the number in 2003.
"This increase in the number of incidents being reported today does not necessarily mean that there has been a growth in actual terrorist incidents," claimed John Brennan, interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center, at a press conference this week. He pointed to improved data collection as a primary reason for the increased number of incidents and said the statistics from the current reports should not be compared to previous reports.
"To ensure a more comprehensive accounting of terrorist incidents, we in the NCTC significantly increased the level of effort from three part-time individuals to 10 full-time analysts, and we took a number of other steps to improve quality control and database management. This increased level of effort allowed a much deeper review of far more information and, along with Iraq, are the primary reasons for the significant growth in a number of terrorist incidents being reported."
A terrorist act, for the purpose of the report, is defined by the center as a violent act that involves non-combatants. It is premeditated, perpetrated by a sub-national or clandestine agent, and politically motivated. "International" is defined in the statute used by the center as "involving the citizens or territory of more than one country," which means that terrorist acts perpetrated by a person or group against a person or group from the same country were not counted. For example, on August 24, 2004, two Chechen suicide bombers blew up two Aeroflot flights. One flight contained all Russian citizens and under the statutory definition used by the center, does not constitute international terrorism. That flight isn't included in the statistics. The other flight had one passenger with Israeli citizenship and therefore, under the statutory definition, was an act of international terrorism and is reflected in statistics.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the State Department about the report, saying, essentially, that he thinks the methodology used to compile the statistics is flawed and that he thinks the report significantly underestimated the number of terrorist incidents.
"There appears to be a pattern in the administration's approach to terrorism data," said Waxman in the letter. "Favorable facts are revealed while unfavorable facts are suppressed."
He pointed to more than 100 terrorist attacks in Iraq that were not counted in the report because they did not meet the definition of "international" used to count the data.
"Terrorism remains a global threat from which no nation is immune," admitted Philip Zelikow, the counselor of the State Department at a press conference to announce the release of a report from the State Department, "Country Reports on Terrorism for 2004."
"Despite ongoing improvements in U.S. homeland security, our campaigns against insurgents and terrorists, and the deepening counterterrorism cooperation among the nations of the world, international terrorism continued to pose a significant threat to the United States and its partners in 2004."
Pointing to terrorist incidents at the Beslan school, in the commuter trains of Madrid, on a Philippines ferry and in a Sinai resort, Zelikow noted, "The struggle against terrorism is far from over."
He said some progress was being made, pointing to several examples where cooperation between countries and counterterrorism agencies revealed or distrupted terrorist plots:
- Close cooperation with British, French and other authorities, coordinated through the State Department and U.S. embassies in London, Paris and elsewhere, was pivotal to managing threats to airline security during the 2003-2004 New Year period. Information sharing with the United Kingdom and Pakistan led to the disclosure and disruption of al-Qaida attack planning against U.S. financial institutions.
- U.S. diplomatic and military assistance facilitated cooperation among Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Libya and Chad that led to the capture and return of wanted GSPC faction leader El Para to Algeria to stand trial.
- Law enforcement officers in Iraq, Colombia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others, applied U.S. specialized counterterrorism training to bring terrorists to justice.
- Working with a broad spectrum of domestic and international partners, the United States has identified and disrupted many sources of terrorist finance. And the United States used its G-8 Presidency in 2004 to advance new international transportation security measures and to coordinate international counterterrorism assistance among the G-8 and other donors.
"The United States will continue to broaden and deepen international cooperation to protect U.S. citizens," Zelikow stressed. "The trend away from centralized planning of terrorist activities and towards inspiration of local groups to commit acts of terror make it even more crucial to have deeper international cooperation to defeat the emerging violent extremist groups. The United States and its partners must intensify their efforts to bolster the political will and the intelligence, law enforcement, financial, and military capabilities of partner nations to combat terrorism, on their own or with us."