WASHINGTON -- The State Department acknowledged yesterday it was wrong to report that terrorism declined worldwide last year, a finding that was used to boost one of President Bush's top foreign policy claims, success in countering terror.
Instead, both the number of incidents and the toll in victims increased sharply, the department said. Statements by senior administration officials asserting 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 report, issued in April, said attacks had declined last year to 190, the lowest level in 34 years, and dropped 45 percent since 2001, Bush's first year as president. The State Department is now working to determine the correct figures.
Among the mistakes, Boucher said, was that only part of 2003 was taken into account.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday 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 of the report, which showed a falloff in the number of attacks worldwide in 2003 and the virtual disappearance of incidents in which no one died.
Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, said this week the administration had refused to address his contention that the findings were manipulated for political purposes. Waxman had written Powell asking for an explanation.
Boucher said a reply to Waxman was in preparation. "We wanted to make sure that we give the congressman the best and most accurate picture of what we know and what's going on as we can," he said.
He 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,' " he said.
When the annual report was issued April 29, senior administration officials used it as evidence the war was being won under Bush.