For more than 25 years, the State Department has been required to list all state sponsors of terrorism because such a designation precludes the US from providing foreign aid and exporting arms. Here’s the latest list:

Country and Designation Date

Cuba, March 1, 1982
Iran, January 19, 1984
Libya, December 29, 1979
North Korea, January 20, 1988
Sudan, August 12, 1993
Syria, December 29, 1979

On October 20, 2004, Iraq was formally removed from this list. Since May 2003, the President had made terror-related sanctions inapplicable to Iraq, under authority granted by Congress.

Iraq, of course, was previously removed from this list in February 1982, when the Reagan administration wanted to provide aid and trade credits during its war with Iraq, and was re-designated only after its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. During that period, experts say that Iraq continued to sponsor terrorism.

In 2005, the State Department stopped publishing its annual report Patterns of Global Terrorism, claiming that the new National Counterterrorism Center will be publishing most of the same data. The NCTC’s first report, however, is simply a chronology of 2004 incidents of terrorism.

After a bit of digging, I found the latest information about state-sponsorship of terrorism on the State Department’s webpage. On April 27, 2005, Philip Zelikow, Counselor of the Department, and John Brennan, interim Director of NCTC, briefed the assembled media “on the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, and the statistical reports…prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center.”

Country Reports on Terrorism is apparently the new State document that will replace the old Patterns annual report. The new report has a section on State Sponsors:

These countries provide a critical foundation for terrorist groups. Without state sponsors, terrorist groups would have a much more difficult time obtaining the funds, weapons, materials, and secure areas they require to plan and conduct operations. Most worrisome is that these countries also have the capabilities to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and other destabilizing technologies that could fall into the hands of terrorists.

We’ve heard all that before. US grievances about state sponsorship apparently haven’t changed much.

However, State is claiming some US victories in the “war on terror.” This is from Zelikow in the April briefing:

2004 was also marked by progress in decreasing the threat from states that sponsor terrorism – state-sponsored terrorism. Iraq’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism was formally rescinded in October 2004. Though they are still on the list, Libya and Sudan took significant steps to cooperate in the global war on terrorism.

Libya cooperated in the elimination of its WMD programs and resolved some old terror attacks by turning over suspects and paying reparations. Syria has taken some anti-al Qaeda measures, worked to close its open border with Iraq, and, oh by the way, “has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986.”

Before getting too excited by that last sentence, keep in mind that the 2000 report, released in April 2001 (about 20 weeks before the 9/11 attacks), concluded that “The [Iraqi] regime has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since its failed plot to assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait.” Within two years, the US invaded Iraq, citing its sponsorship of terrorism.

Iran is now the state of greatest concern:

Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2004. Its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security were involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups to use terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Iran continued to be unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida members it detained in 2003. Iran has refused to identify publicly these senior members in its custody on “security grounds.” Iran has also resisted numerous calls to transfer custody of its al-Qa’ida detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for interrogation and/or trial.

The cited examples of state sponsorship all involve Iranian support for anti-Israeli terrorists, though the document references “reports” that Iraq may be sponsoring insurgent activity in Iraq.

On the bright side, NCTC’s Brennan recognizes that focusing on state sponsorship of terror is a dated approach. The statute requiring the gathering of all this information references “international terrorism,” but that’s a misleading phrase as Brennan explained in the April briefing:

These criteria dated to a period of focus on state-sponsored terrorism in the early 1980s and not the transnational phenomena we confront now….”International” is also defined in the statute as “involving the citizens or territory of more than one country.” And as I’ll show you on the next chart, this definition, while appropriate for state-sponsored terrorism, is simply not as useful for the current trans-national threat we now face.

Maybe Brennan will be able to convince the Bush administration!

Cross-posted on my blog.

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