Since 1996, the U.S. government has published an annual report on worldwide terrorism. In 2004, the responsibility for preparing the report was transferred from the State Department to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is a department of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. NCTC’s report containing terrorism data for the year 2006 was released on April 30 of this year (6 MB pdf). The bottom line? Five years into the Global War on Terror™, the level of terrorism is the highest it’s ever been.
The 2006 statistics:
Number of terrorist attacks worldwide: 14,352 (up 27% from 2005, which was a record-breaking year itself).
Number of terrorism-related deaths: 20,573 (up 41% from 2005).
Note that these numbers are higher than those released earlier this year by the RAND Corporation, which uses a different definition of terrorism. The percent increases observed in the two data sets are similar, however.
The release of NCTC’s latest terrorism report marks the first time since 2003 that the Bush administration has not blatantly fiddled with the terrorism numbers. In 2004, the State Department left data out of the Year 2003 report; in 2005, NCTC changed the methodology of counting terrorism drastically; and finally, in 2006, NCTC claimed to have changed the methodology again, although to a lesser extent. As I reported last year, after those last two reports came out, administration officials discounted the dramatic increases in terrorism that were revealed, arguing that the changes in methodology made comparisons with previous years impossible. In this year’s report, although they’ve run out of excuses, they’re still sounding awfully defensive:
“NCTC cautions against placing too much emphasis on any single set of incident data to gauge success or failure against the forces of terrorism. Further, NCTC does not believe that a simple comparison of the total number of incidents from year to year provides a meaningful measure.”
You can bet they’d be singing a different tune if the numbers were going the other way.
The graph at the top of this post shows global terrorism data released by the U.S. government during the Bush II presidency, with data from the RAND Corporation as a comparison. The break in 2004 is caused by the switch that was made that year from counting only “international” terrorism to counting the sum of “international” and “domestic” terrorism, with no attempt to distinguish between the two. In spite of that discontinuity, I think the graph is a pretty good visual representation of presidential aide Dan Bartlett’s valedictory take on the Bush administration:
“It’s been a roller coaster that seems always to go up.”