WASHINGTON – The State Department (search) acknowledged Thursday it was wrong in reporting terrorism declined worldwide last year.
Instead, both the number of incidents and the toll in victims increased sharply, the department said. Statements by senior administration officials claiming success were based "on the facts as we had them at the time. The facts that we had were wrong," department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The April report said attacks had declined last year to 190, down from 198 in 2002 and 346 in 2001. The 2003 figure would have been the lowest level in 34 years and a 45 percent drop since 2001, Bush's first year as president. The department is now working to determine the correct figures.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (search), who had challenged the findings, said he was pleased that officials "have now recognized that they have a report that has been inaccurate, and based on the inaccurate information they tried to take self-serving political credit for the results that were wrong."
Among the mistakes, Boucher said, was that only part of 2003 was taken into account.
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Thursday the errors were partly the result of new data collection procedures. "I can assure you it had nothing to do with putting out anything but the most honest, accurate information we can," he said.
"Errors crept in that frankly we did not catch here," Powell said. The report showed both a drop in the number of attacks worldwide in 2003 and the virtual disappearance of attacks in which no one died.
Waxman said this week the administration had refused to address his contention that the findings were manipulated for political purposes. Waxman asked Powell for an explanation.
On Thursday, Powell called Waxman, D-Calif., who said he accepted the secretary's explanation that the mistakes were unintentional.
"He says it wasn't politically motivated so I will accept that," Waxman said. Still, he said, "We are still left with the fact that this report is useless until it is corrected."
Boucher said the errors began to become apparent in early May. "We got phone calls from people who were going through our report and who said to themselves, as we should have said to ourselves: 'This doesn't feel right. This doesn't look right.' And who started asking us questions," he said.
One of Bush's major foreign policy claims is that his post-Sept. 11 strategy to counter terror was showing success.
Ken Mehlman, the president's campaign manager, said in April, "Ultimately the most important thing that people want to see on the war on terror is, what is your vision for dealing with it and what is your record."
"Obviously one of the most important issues in this election is the question of how do we continue to fight and win the war on terror so we keep our homeland safe," Mehlman said.
At the same time, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) and Mehlman have questioned whether Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was qualified to conduct a war against terrorism.
When the annual report was issued April 29, senior administration officials used it as evidence the war was being won under Bush.
J. Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, cited the existence of only 190 acts of terrorism in 2003 as "good news" and predicted the trend would continue this year.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said at the time, "Indeed, you will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight."
His office did not respond Thursday to a request for a statement in light of disclosures some of the findings in "Patterns of Global Terrorism" were inaccurate and understated.