The Daily Demarche
Sunday, May 01, 2005
Government Reports Do Not Fight Terrorism
The Department of State prepares an annual report formerly known as “Patterns of Global Terrorism", now called the “Country Reports on Terrorism” which is aimed at tracking incidences of terrorism around the world. The report has existed for nearly twenty years, but in the post 9-11 world it has taken on an increased importance. Last year’s report gained notoriety when the Department revealed that the number of attacks disclosed had been greatly undervalued- some 18 acts of terrorism had been omitted and the number of people killed was re-listed to 625 from 307.

This year the Department has decided that the report will not include numbers; instead the numbers will come from the new National Counterterrorism Center. It is estimated that the numbers will be up sharply this year- 651 attacks that left 1,907 dead. The numbers, taken without context do not bode well for the effort to defeat terrorists, and it has been alleged that it is for this very reason that State does not want to include the numbers in the report.

Opinions vary over this point- the President has claimed that taking the battle to the terrorists has resulted in more activity on their part, some claim that changes in the methodologies used to gather the data have resulted in a more inclusive data set, and still others argue that the report never had any real value to begin with:

Dennis Pluchinsky, a former State Department terrorism analyst, agreed that the numbers are far less useful than they might seem in assessing efforts to combat terrorism. "They talk about the war on terror and the increase of international incidents taking place, but they don't weigh the statistics -- 9/11 and someone throwing a Molotov cocktail is treated as the same thing," he said.

That to me is the most pertinent question- does this report serve any purpose what so ever? The 2003 report offers the following definition of terrorism:

No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:

The term terrorism means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.

The term international terrorism means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country.

The term terrorist group means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.

This is a fairly straight forward definition- and also incredibly wide open. As Pluchinsky noted above, it leaves no possibility to differentiate between one terrorist and another. Chechen “freedom fighters” who murder school children in Russia are rightly counted as terrorists- but we are not engaged in battle with them. Our enemy is not terrorism writ large. It is al Qaeda, and the groups that support it. We are engaged in a battle against men and women who seek the very end of America- and the death of you, me and everyone we know. Meanwhile politicians and editorialists argue over what should be counted and what should be omitted- i.e. the downing of an airplane with two Israeli passengers is terrorism and another with only Russian passengers is not- and our premier report on terrorism includes the following passage:

Adverse mention in this report of individual members of any political, social, ethnic, religious, or national group is not meant to imply that all members of that group are terrorists. Indeed, terrorists represent a small minority of dedicated, often fanatical, individuals in most such groups. It is those small groups -- and their actions -- that are the subject of this report.

I fail to see how this report which attempts to track every terrorist event around the world and panders to the PC elements of society is making us safer in any way. This report might as well have been drafted by the UN. Let me state that whatever the numbers are for the time period covered by this report, they should be released. If sampling methods changed and caused an apparent spike in attacks that should be clarified. Then we need to know what the numbers mean in terms of the safety of Americans at home and abroad. That is really all it boils down to.

I don’t really care if the Basque are acting up, or if someone in Quebec is fomenting Francophone Canadian secession. I want to know that our counter terrorism efforts are reducing threats against my family and friends. Is that callous? It may well be- and once we can rest assured that we have done our best to protect ourselves I’ll gladly look to help an ally.

In the meantime, as the President said over the weekend- we are taking the fight to our enemy. We are causing real damage and have kept them from striking America- for the time being. All of those caught up in this report and trying to decide what political games are being played (as well as those who are playing them) need focus only on one thing:

If the number of attacks is more than zero, and the number of dead and wounded is more than zero, than it is too many.

That’s it, really. We must focus our precious resources on that simple fact. We’ve produced this report for nearly 20 years. It does not seem to be deterring the enemy.

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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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