Another Coordinator Gone, What’s Next For the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications?

Posted: 2:11 am EDT
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This past August,  the State Department told us that the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R), and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  Following the departure of Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, the State Department appointed Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications in February 2015. Mr. Hussain previously served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Less than a year into his tenure as CSCC coordinator, Mr. Hussain had joined the Department of Justice reportedly as “a senior official in the department’s national security branch, where he is in charge of an expanding effort to combat violent extremism as well as the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts in the United States.”  The move, according to WaPo had reportedly been “planned for months.”

Excerpt:

The State Department is considering scaling back its direct involvement in online campaigns to discredit the Islamic State after a review by outside experts cast new doubt on the U.S. government’s ability to serve as a credible voice against the terrorist group’s propaganda, current and former U.S. officials said.

The findings by the six-member panel, which included marketing experts from Silicon Valley and New York, have added to the uncertainty surrounding a State Department program that also faces another management shake-up with the departure of its second director in less than a year.
[…]
State Department officials declined to release the review group’s findings, which were laid out in a 100-page collection of slides shortly before Thanksgiving. Officials also declined to identify participants in the study but said the panel included marketing experts and data scientists from California, Texas and New York.

The “sprint team” spent three weeks reviewing U.S. messaging operations, including the work of the CSCC. The project was commissioned by the White House, but the panel’s credentials were questioned by some at State. None of the participants spoke Arabic, were knowledgeable about terrorist groups or had security clearances that would enable them to evaluate classified work.

“They were largely on the marketing and branding side — looking at ISIL and the U.S. governments as brands,” said a U.S. official familiar with the review. One of their main conclusions was that “it’s not the U.S. government that’s going to break the [Islamic State] brand,” the official said. “It’s going to be third parties.”

Read in full here.

Meanwhile DOD just got a go-ahead to counter Islamic State messaging. Below via Secrecy News: The FY2016 defense authorization bill was signed into law by President Obama on November 25. It includes the following:

“The Secretary of Defense should develop creative and agile concepts, technologies, and strategies across all available media to most effectively reach target audiences, to counter and degrade the ability of adversaries and potential adversaries to persuade, inspire, and recruit inside areas of hostilities or in other areas in direct support of the objectives of commanders.”

That statement was incorporated in Section 1056 of the 2016 Defense Authorization Act, which also directed DOD to perform a series of technology demonstrations to advance its ability “to shape the informational environment.”

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