Thursday, July 21, 2005

On Objectivity

After what happened in London today, understanding terrorism is more important than ever.

The ever intelligent doctorvee made an interesting point in a though splurge a couple of days back.
I was against the war in Iraq for a variety of reasons, one of which was that I thought that it would increase the threat of terrorism. The thing about the London bombings is that it gave both sides of the increasingly tedious pro- / anti-war debate more ammunition. Those who were in favour of the Iraq invasion say, “Look, we told you so, terrorists are everywhere, so we need to go get ‘em!” Those who were against say, “We told you so, Iraq increased the threat of terrorism.”
I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now. I feel very strongly about the stupidity of the invasion of Iraq and I struggle to understand those who argue that it was useful in the "war" on terror. To me, it seems self evident that Iraq has been a huge mistake. I genuinely do not think this is a matter of opinion. I thought I'd attempt to examine, understand and explain why I feel this way. This is pretty long winded, but please try to bear with it.

So, if I'm going to "prove" that Iraq has increased the terrorist threat, the first thing I need are some salient facts. What facts do I need? As a starting point, I think I need the statistics for worldwide terrorist attacks before and after the invasion. This won't be a "proof" but it will be
a first step. More on that later. Lets try to collect some facts first.

OK, what's the first problem you face when counting terrorist attacks? Hopefully, regular readers already understand that the first problem is that it's very difficult to define terrorism.
Terrorism is a value judgement. It's ugly, it's frustrating, it's
counter-intuitive, but it's true nevertheless (please have the courtesy to read the linked post and attached comments if you'd like to comment on that. Thanks.) So, how can I get some objective facts on this? Well, I happened to remember that the CIA has been publishing statistics on worldwide terrorist attacks for many years. Let's use the CIA figures. The definition they use will be open to interpretation, but if it's been applied consistently it should provide a reasonable set of figures.

Here's where my travels took me when trying to track down these figures on the interweb. Some of this is yesterday's news so apologies any of it covers old ground.

First, let's see if we can find the CIA's "objective definition".
How do you define terrorism?
The Intelligence Community is guided by the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):
—The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.
"Guided by"? Well, that's hardly objective. We'll just have to make do and assume they're being consistent in their judgements.
On April 29th, 2004, the CIA published their figures for 2001, 2002 and 2003.
There were 190 acts of international terrorism in 2003, a slight decrease from the 198 attacks that occurred in 2002, and a drop of 45 percent from the level in 2001 of 346 attacks. The figure in 2003 represents the lowest annual total of international terrorist attacks since 1969.
The lowest annual total since 1969? That's interesting. These figures have a note attached.
Note: Most of the attacks that have occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom do not meet the longstanding US definition of international terrorism because they were directed at combatants, that is, US and Coalition forces on duty. Attacks against noncombatants, that is, civilians and military personnel who at the time of the incident were unarmed and/or not on duty, are judged as terrorist attacks.
You'll recall that there was a period after the "mission accomplished" declaration when there was relative stability in Iraq (there was looting, but not terrorism). This was followed by a rise in attacks on coalition soldiers. The targetting of civilians didn't begin in earnest until later.
Anyway, these figures were "updated" on 22nd June, 2004.
There were 208 acts of international terrorism in 2003...
It seems that 2003 is no longer the year with the lowest number of terrorist attacks since 1969. These, also have the same note attached as before.

Right, we have three figures.
2001: 346
2002: 198
2003: 190 208

What I really want now are the CIA figures for 2004. They should be available judging by the fact that the 2003 figures were published and then revised by June 2004.
Well, you'd think that but:
April 16th, 2005
The State Department has decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.
Seems that for the first time in 20 years, the CIA. Strange. I wonder why that is? Here's the stated reason in the next paragragh:
Several U.S. officials defended the abrupt decision, saying the methodology used by the National Counterterrorism Center may have been faulty, including incidents that might not have been terrorism.
So, there may be a problem with consistency. Of course, if "terrorism is not a value judgement" this is difficult to understand. Fortunately, I think we now understand that such a statement is total bolloc fails to accurately describe the concept of terrorism.
So, I'm stuck?

Well, not quite.
The 2004 figures from the National Counterterrorism Center are discussed in this transcript from a discusion on a New York radio station.
BOB GARFIELD: According to the statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center has provided, the 600-some number doesn't even count any of the insurgent attacks in Iraq, which the administration explicitly describes as terrorism.
JONATHAN LANDAY: That's absolutely true, and the other significant point of that is that almost 300 of those incidents are from the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir - terrorist attacks staged by Muslim extremist groups who are backed by Pakistan, which is supposedly a partner in the administration's war on terrorism. So it doesn't, to some people, look too kosher.
So, it looks like the figure is over 600. Approximately. That's not very satisfactory. And from one source only, and one I've never heard of until now. We can do better.
Let's try this from the Times, 7th July, 2005. (Just in case: Put your Tinfoil Hat away and don't be stupid. I'm not joking. Think about it.)
THERE were nearly 3,200 terrorist attacks worldwide last year, the Bush Administration said yesterday, using a broader definition that increased fivefold the number of incidents that Washington had previously tallied for 2004.
In figures published in April, the US State Department said that there were 651 significant international terror incidents, with more than 9,000 victims.
But under the newer, less-stringent definition of terrorism, which counts domestic attacks without an international element, the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) reported 3,192 attacks worldwide, with 28,433 people killed, wounded or kidnapped.
3,192 attack worldwide in 2004. Pardon me but fuck, that's a lot of attacks. How many were there in 2001 again? I'll save you a scroll back up, it was 346. Of course these figures are not strictly comparable, since a "broader definition" was used for the 2004 figures. Anyone still thinking about that Pollard statement? Here's a quote from the Times on that:
Asked how the NCTC distinguishes between freedom fighters and terrorists, Mr Brennan said that the centre’s database is not “black and white and perfect”.
Not "black and white"? Shades of great then. At least he admits it, unlike some poor misguided individuals.
Anyway, the best figures we've got are these.
2001: 346
2002: 198
2003: 190 208
2004: 3,192

Of course this doesn't prove anything. As this post is already rather long, I'm going to split it in two.
The next installment, "The IceCream Suicides", is coming soon!

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