Woodward's 'secret' chart wasn't

Terry Jeffrey
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Posted: Oct 04, 2006 12:01 AM
Woodward's 'secret' chart wasn't

Bob Woodward's "State of Denial" got scooped on what was presented on national TV as the book's most sensational revelation -- that enemy attacks in Iraq have been escalating.

The Government Accountability Office and the Department of Defense beat Woodward to reporting this information, and reported it in greater detail.

The government's open reporting on the increasing number of enemy attacks also refutes the charge Woodward made in collaboration with Mike Wallace on CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday that the administration kept this "trend" secret to deceive people about how bad the war is going.

Woodward writes about a May 24, 2006, Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence assessment that was classified "Secret." It included two charts indicating enemy attacks in Iraq were escalating. A bar graph (reproduced on page 472 of the book) indicated that between January and May of this year, average attacks per day had increased from 72 to 113. A line graph (reproduced on page 473) indicated attacks per month had risen from less than 500 in May 2003 to more than 3,500 in May 2006.

On page 476, Woodward concedes that two days after the "Secret" JCS intelligence assessment was circulated in May, DOD published its quarterly report to Congress on the Iraq war and included a similar chart on the attack trend. "Though there was a chart buried in the middle of the 65-page document showing that average weekly attacks were up to over 600," wrote Woodward, "the document put the most positive spin on stability and security."

In fact, where Woodward's "Secret" graph showed only the trend in the average daily attacks from January to May of this year, DOD's public graph showed the trend in average weekly attacks for six different periods of the war. The latest was February-May of this year, which DOD called the "Government Transition" period, when attacks were more than 600 per week. The report stated plainly, "Overall, average weekly attacks during this 'Government Transition' period were higher than any of the previous periods."

Yet, on "60 Minutes," Woodward's second chart from the "Secret" JCS intelligence assessment was presented as evidence the administration had tried to cover up this trend.

"When you say the Bush administration has not told the truth about Iraq, what do you mean?" Wallace asked Woodward.

"I think probably the prominent, most prominent example is the level of violence," said Woodward.

"Not just the growing sectarian violence, Sunnis against Shias that gets reported everyday ... but attacks on U.S., Iraqi and allied forces," Wallace said in a voiceover as the "Secret" chart flashed on the screen. "Woodward says that's the most important measure of violence in Iraq, and he unearthed this graph, classified secret, that shows those attacks have increased dramatically over the last three years."

In another voiceover, Wallace says, "Woodward says the government had kept this trend secret for years before finally declassifying the graph just three weeks ago."

In fact, over the past 18 months, GAO has published written congressional testimony on at least six occasions that presented a progressively updated graph illustrating the same attack trend in Woodward's "Secret" graph. These include testimony released on March 14, 2005; Oct. 18, 2005; February 8, 2006; April 26, 2006; July 11, 2006; and Sept. 11, 2006.

The GAO's bar graphs of the attack trend, readily available on the Internet, are superior to the "Secret" line graph Woodward reproduces in his book because the bars in the GAO's graphs are coded with shading to indicate the percentage of each month's attacks directed at different targets (i.e., coalition forces, Iraqi security forces, civilians, Iraqi government officials and infrastructure).

For example, on April 25, one month before the JCS circulated the "Secret" intelligence assessment cited by Woodward, GAO published testimony prepared by Comptroller General David Walker that features a bar graph headlined: "Enemy-Initiated Attacks Against the Coalition and its Partners, June 2003 through February." GAO sourced the information to the Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Like Woodward's graph from the May 2006 intelligence assessment, GAO's April 2006 graph shows overall attacks rising from less than 500 in 2003 to about 2,500 in February 2006. Unlike Woodward's graph, GAO adds the detail that about 1,500 of these February attacks were aimed at coalition forces, while virtually all the rest were aimed at civilians or Iraqi forces.

GAO did not downplay this disturbing trend.

In a section with the subheadline, "Insurgency Has Intensified and Sectarian Tensions Increased," GAO said: "Over the past three years, significant increases in attacks against the coalition and coalition partners, as well as recent increases in sectarian violence, have made it difficult for the United States to achieve its political and security goals in Iraq. The insurgency in Iraq intensified from June 2003 through October 2005, and has remained strong and resilient."

GAO testimony released July 11 updated the attack-trend chart to include data through April, when attacks numbered about 3,300. GAO testimony released Sept. 11 updated the chart through July, when attacks numbered about 4,500 -- or about 1,000 more than the maximum reported by Woodward, whose chart stopped in May, when JCS circulated the "Secret" intelligence assessment that featured it.

Before and after the "Secret" chart reported by Woodward, GAO took the same information and posted it on the Internet.