The Bush administration’s iron-clad spin is that it is winning the “war on terror”. Then comes a problem: the recently created (by a George W Bush executive order) National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) states there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985. So what does the State Department do? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice orders the “sanitation” of this year’s version of “Patterns of Global Terrorism”, a report regularly issued by the State Department.
The NCTC was created on a recommendation by the 9-11 Commission. Now it has the responsibility of analyzing and integrating all US intelligence on terrorism. By law, Congress and the Senate must receive “Patterns of Global Terrorism” by April 30 every year, detailing what Washington considers terrorism activity country by country. This year, there will be not be a complete “Patterns of Global Terrorism”, but a simple report without any data. The NCTC will be in charge of the details. According to US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, this data will be released, but no date has been set.
It would be naive to assume that Rice’s decision on the report was disclosed by US mainstream media. Once again the information had to be found on the Internet, through Larry C Johnson, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst writing for the online journal The Counterterrorism Blog.
According to Congressman Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, “This is the definitive report on the incidence of terrorism around the world. It should be unthinkable that there would be an effort to withhold it – or any of the key data – from the public. The Bush administration should stop playing politics with this critical report.”
It’s politics, stupid
Waxman seems to forget that the fiercely loyal Rice would never allow the disclosure of sensitive information bound to contradict her boss – thus the flood of denials from State Department officials, who blame the shelving on dubious NCTC “methodology”. The NCTC reported 624 “significant” terrorist attacks in 2004, compared with 175 in 2003 – the year of the Iraq invasion and the bombing of the United Nations building in Baghdad.
And the data did not even include attacks on the US occupying force in Iraq. According to the Bush administration’s own logic, Iraq is “a central front in the war on terror”. Considering the Sunni Arab Iraqi resistance had been able to mount as many as 70 attacks a day throughout 2004, this would mean – according to Bush’s own criteria – a terror mega-inflation.
Major embarrassment had already crept in in 2004, when the State Department was forced to revise upward the number of terrorist attacks included in the 2003 report. The previous numbers were doctored so they would not contradict the Bush re-election machine – which at the time was spinning the notion that the war in Iraq was a major blow against the enemy in the “war on terror”. The official explanation for the doctoring was “bureaucratic mistakes”.
It’s telling that all the members of the US intelligence community who volunteered to talk off the record about the shelving of the new report stressed the information is classified. Most of all they fear the wrath of the gods, ie the White House. Many agree that Rice decided to ax “Patterns of Global Terrorism” because the NCTC would not use an “alternative methodology” that would have decreased the number of terrorist attacks, ie doctored downward the impact of the Sunni Arab Iraqi resistance.
The NCTC is not exactly there to undermine the White House. On the contrary. It operates under the “direction and control” of the new director of central intelligence, Porter Goss, an extremely close Bush ally. Goss would have something to say about terrorism himself, as he was having breakfast on the morning of September 11, 2001, with Mahmud Ahmad, then director of the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence, and the author of a wire transfer to one of the September 11 masterminds.
The problem is, the NCTC has come up with figures that reflect reality on the ground – contrary to the fantasy world sold via a massive public relations campaign by the White House.
Even when one follows the powerful and influential neo-conservative rumor mill, all indications point to a terror inflation. The latest neo-con rumor is that the cipher Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – who may or may not be alive – is going nuclear, or is at least preparing a dirty bomb. “Classified reports” say that the alleged Zarqawi bomb is stored in – of all places – Afghanistan. Perhaps in a Taliban cave in Kunar province? This follows the story of a “correspondence” between Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden intercepted by US intelligence.
The European Union has a secret cell in Brussels tracking terrorism all over the world. One of its analysts has confirmed to Asia Times Online: 1) Terrorism is up, not down, centered in Iraq. 2) There’s no evidence that Zarqawi is planning a chemical-weapon attack in Europe. 3) If the Americans really had enough intelligence to intercept al-Qaeda correspondence, they could easily apprehend Zarqawi, bin Laden, or both.
Is it yes or no?
What is considered “terrorism” by the Bush administration is perceived as something completely different around the world. “Terrorism” is defined differently in the Middle East. A helpful guide is a February study on Middle Eastern public opinion – conducted in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine – and released by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.
For more than 85% of the population in four of these five countries polled (64% in Lebanon), the US war on Iraq was an act of terrorism. Ninety percent in all countries polled say that Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians is terrorism. Hamas and Hezbollah are not regarded as terrorist groups: they are regarded as legitimate resistance organizations. For a majority of Jordanians and Palestinians, even al-Qaeda’s fight is legitimate.
As for Rice, she had a very tense meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this Wednesday in Moscow. She said there would be more orange revolutions in Russia’s back yard, she told Putin not to try getting re-elected, and she stopped short of labeling Russia a terrorist state – according to Russian journalists from, among other sources, Kommersant and Pravda. Then she went for an interview at the popular radio Echo Moskvy. Rice – sold by the White House as a Russian expert and fluent Russian speaker, although she never lived in the country – couldn’t understand her interviewer “even when discussing the only non-political question”, according to Kommersant. She was asked whether she was going to run for US president in 2008. She answered da (yes) in Russian. Then a mental “ooops!” intervened, she realized she didn’t get it, and hastened to say nyet! (no) seven times. It’s possible as well that Rice may not have really understood what the NTCT is trying to say.
For the State Department’s briefing on this issue, click here.