Each spring, the State Department issues "Patterns of Global Terrorism," its major report on the problem it defines as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."
It's always been a highly politicized document, reflecting the Washington debate and diplomatic imperatives, but this year it has veered into unreliability and even falsehood. It's a dangerous document likely to harm the war on terrorism.
Its problems include:
* Methodology: The State Department uses methods which create the misleading impression that the Middle East is marginal to terrorism.
It does this by counting damage to property the same as damage to people: So of the 346 terrorist incidents logged in 2001, 178 (slightly over half) involved attacks on a multinational oil pipeline in Colombia, suggesting that South America is the overwhelming source of terrorism.
But as the Middle East Quarterly's Martin Kramer puts it, "Obviously, Latin America is not the world's terrorism epicenter, and it is not why you have to take off your shoes at airport departure gates."
It also logs incidents by location, not perpetrator. Thus, Sept. 11 counts as North American terrorism, not Middle Eastern. By this reckoning, a mere 29 incidents took place in the Middle East, compared to 33 in Africa, 68 in Asia, and a whopping 194 in Latin America (remember that pipeline). Of 3,547 deaths last year, a mere 60 lost their lives in the Middle East, compared to 90 in Africa, 180 in Asia, and 3,235 in North America.
* Denial: The overwhelmingly most important sources of terrorism are militant Islam and Palestinian nationalism. (It's noteworthy that in addition to the 3,235 people killed on 9/11, all but one of the other eight Americans who lost their lives in terrorist incidents in the course of 2001 - one each in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, five in Israel - were murdered by adherents of militant Islam.)
But the report's only allusions to militant Islam are to deny its importance: "The war on terrorism is not a war against Islam." "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."
And it includes this quote from a Muslim figure: "Our tolerant Islamic religion highly prizes the sanctity of human life." End of discussion.
* Falsehoods: It is flatly untrue that "Pakistan sealed its border with Afghanistan to help prevent the escape of fugitives." To the contrary, that border was left basically open.
Or this howler: "In the aftermath of 11 September, the United Nations promptly intensified its focus on terrorism, taking steps to provide a mandate for strengthened international engagement in the fight against terrorism." One of those steps, in October 2001, was to elect the Syrian Arab Republic - which the State Department itself considers a terrorist-sponsoring state - to ultra-prestigious membership in the Security Council.
* Whitewashing Palestinian violence: Ever intent on enhancing Yasser Arafat's reputation, State hides his responsibility for terrorism. President Bush may have has accused Arafat of "enhancing terrorism" but State's bureaucrats suppress every piece of the voluminous evidence pointing to this connection.
State pretends the vast majority of Palestinian terrorist incidents simply did not happen.
Worse, State pretends the vast majority of Palestinian terrorist incidents simply did not happen. It defines "significant international terrorist incidents" as ones involving major property damage, abduction or kidnapping, loss of life or serious injury, or the foiled attempt at any of these, and in 2001 it found 123 incidents worldwide that meet this criteria. Of those, a mere 11 concerned violence against Israelis.
But when the Independent Media Review and Analysis applied State's criteria to anti-Israel violence, its scrupulous research found 97 attacks on Israel that fit this definition.
The U.S. government asserts that Palestinian atrocities against Israel made up just 9 percent of the world's serious terrorist incidents in 2001, but in fact they constituted 46 percent of them.
In all, this document reflects a mentality in Washington of reluctance to confront unpleasant realities. The danger is clear: He who fools himself about his enemy in time of war is likely to lose that war.
This article originally appeared in the New York Post