statistics are an imperfect way of tracking a war's progress, but that doesn't
mean the data is useless. In fact, stats remain a key way to hold the
military accountable for events in faraway places like Afghanistan. So what
happens when the military decides to stop releasing certain statistics about
its wars? Well, we're about to find out.
In the last
two weeks alone, the military has scaled back its disclosure of war data in the
Following increased scrutiny of drone warfare in Congress and a
savvy investigation by the Air Force Times, the International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF) conceded on Saturday that it was
no longer providing specific data about drone strikes in Afghanistan in its
monthly reports. It also removed drone strike data from previous monthly
reports on its website. The reason? According to U.S. Central Command, those
reports were "disproportionately focused" on drone strike data. ISAF emphasized
that drones are predominantly used for surveillance and that "only about 3% of all
RPA sorties over Afghanistan invol[ve] kinetic events," which is another way of
saying: We don't like the way you're interpreting our information, so we're
going to give you less information.
The number of insurgent attacks was one of the most widely cited statistics in
the decade-long Afghan war, but it's no longer provided to the public as of
last week. The change in policy came about after the Associated Press forced
ISAF to concede that it incorrectly cited a 7 percent drop in
insurgent attacks in 2012. (In reality, the number of Taliban attacks had
remained the same.) After that embarrassment, ISAF acknowledged that its
reporting methods were flawed. Instead of fixing the problem, however, it decided to
stop publishing the data altogether.
have come to realize that a simple tally of (attacks) is not the most complete
measure of the campaign's progress," said ISAF spokesman Jamie Graybeal.
"At a time when more than 80 percent of the (attacks) are happening in
areas where less than 20 percent of Afghans live, this single facet of the
campaign is not particularly accurate in describing the complete effect of the
insurgency's violence on the people of Afghanistan."
At the time, Wired's Spencer
Ackerman put the policy change in vivid context. "This means ISAF is
denying you a major metric for assessing the durability and the lethality of
the insurgency, as well as, by inference, its freedom of movement," he said.
"When U.S. officials in the future claim that they're making progress, you will
not be able to access the data underlying their claims."
of Information Act Requests
Another method journalists rely on for obtaining military
records about the war is by filing Freedom of Information Act requests. But getting the government to acquiesce to these requests has been
increasingly difficult when they pertain to national security issues, an
Associated Press investigation today indicates:
government, led by the Pentagon and CIA, censored files that the public
requested last year under the Freedom of Information Act more often than at any
time since President Barack Obama took office, according to a new analysis by
The Associated Press. The government frequently cited national security as the
administration answered more overall requests last year than ever before, it
more often withheld information, citing national security provisions:
In a year of
intense public interest over deadly U.S. drones, the raid that killed Osama bin
Laden, terror threats and more, the government cited national security to
withhold information at least 5,223 times - a jump over 4,243 such cases in
2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama's first year in office. The secretive CIA last
year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files
were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a
federal agencies that invoked the national security exception included the
Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence, NASA, Office of Management and
Budget, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Communications
Commission and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland
Security, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.
considered, if the White House aims to make this the "most transparent
administration in history," March has been a lackluster month for its national