@StateDept to Join @White House’s #BigBlockOfCheeseDay — Have Your Policy Qs and Bad Cheese Puns Ready!

Posted: 1:44 am EDT
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This is the third year in a row that the White House is hosting the Big Block of Cheese Day. The Obama Administration has adopted the story of Big Block of Cheese Day from the popular political drama, The West Wing. Inspired by President Andrew Jackson’s 1837 open house featuring a 1,400 pound block of cheese, see the WH’s video from last year below.  As in the other BBCD, dozens of White House officials will take to social media for a day long ‘open house’ answering questions in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout.  Check out these cheese puns to go!

 

 

See the list of those participating on January 13.  Think your questions Caerphilly and use the #BigBlockOfCheeseDay hashtag. We hope you’ll have a Gouda time!

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@StateDept Gears Up For Counterterrorism Messaging in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa

Posted: 12:45 am EDT
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Last year, 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 (CSCC) 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 left State to join the Department of Justice (see Another Coordinator Gone, What’s Next For the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications?).

Last week, the State Department announced the revamping of its counter-violent-extremist communications efforts (see @StateDept Announces Michael D. Lumpkin as Head of New Global Engagement Center).

A section of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes the following items on countering foreign fighters and violent extremist organizations. It provides 1) funding to counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate including partnership with governments and multilateral organizations; and 2) reduction of public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization through engagement and public messaging campaigns.

SEC . 7073.
(a) COUNTERING  FOREIGN  FIGHTERS AND  VIOLENT EXTREMIST  ORGANIZATIONS .—Funds appropriated under titles III and IV of this Act shall be made available for programs to—

(1) counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate, including those entities designated as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Public Law 82–814), including through programs with partner governments and multilateral organizations to—

(A) counter recruitment campaigns by such entities;
(B) detect and disrupt foreign fighter travel, particularly at points of origin;
(C) implement antiterrorism programs;
(D) secure borders, including points of infiltration and exfiltration by such entities;
(E) implement and establish criminal laws and policies to counter foreign fighters; and
(F) arrest, investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate terrorist suspects, facilitators, and financiers; and

(2) reduce public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations, including FTOs, by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization, including through such activities as—

(A) public messaging campaigns to damage their appeal;
(B) programs to engage communities and populations at risk of violent extremist radicalization and recruitment;
(C) counter-radicalization and de-radicalization activities for potential and former violent extremists and returning foreign fighters, including in prisons;
(D) law enforcement training programs; and
(E) capacity building for civil society organizations to combat radicalization in local communities.

Below is the State Department’s FY2016 request (PDF) which includes an Overseas Contingency Operations Request for International Information Programs (IIP) for $6 million. Here is part of the request and justification:

The Department faces unprecedented and unanticipated Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program requirements, including countering the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The FY 2016 OCO Request for IIP activities supports increased organizational capacity to expand counterterrorism messaging in the key languages of Arabic, Urdu, Somali and English during hours of peak activity in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

  • Dedicated ISIL Content Group ($700,000): The request includes $700,000 for editorial content to produce and translate content specifically addressing ISIL. Resources will support production and translation of new content for Anti-ISIL efforts without sacrificing production on other enduring priorities.
  • U.S. Speakers Office ($400,000): The request includes $400,000 to dispatch U.S. speakers on short notice to engage key foreign audiences in specific target countries on emergent issues. IIP would partner closely with the relevant regional or functional bureau(s) to identify both the target countries and key audiences for each issue. In addition, IIP would leverage the expertise of these speakers through other types of programs, particularly virtual interactive discussions.
  • Digital “special forces” platform development team ($600,000): The request includes $600,000 to support formation of a team that has the capacity and ability to rapidly execute time-sensitive projects. This team of five, including one designer, two front-end developers, one back-end developer/engineer, and one production manager, would have the capacity to handle three to four concurrent projects.
  • Outreach Program ($750,000): The request includes $750,000 for outreach programs targeting non-governmental international partners in order to extend the reach of the Anti-ISIL campaign with a broader range of messages and messengers. Some of these would reach new audiences; others might have greater credibility with existing audiences. The Department currently lacks the capacity to perform the outreach necessary for such an effort. Funding would also support training to staff at posts in order to boost their capacity to conduct counter-messaging and outreach to foreign partners and contacts.
  • Digital Products ($1 million): The Department has several in-house audiovisual producers, but lacks the technical resources to produce original footage, complex animation, or mobile- phone/tablet applications. Extremist adversaries, including ISIL, exploit all of these techniques to garner recruits and support their operations. The request of $1.0 million supports augmentation of existing in-house production of mash-up videos and stand-alone banners with original films, animated clips and mobile apps. Because each of these genres would require significant up-front investment in production facilities and professional expertise, the funding will support commissioned products from proven leaders in the field.
  • Social Media Analytics ($650,000): Social media analytics can inform and shape content to make it relevant and engaging to target audiences. This new and evolving business practice can make the Department’s public diplomacy materials more effective and improve the Department’s ability to create policy content that is informed by data. The Department currently has access to only the most minimal tools for surveying and analyzing the social media environment. The Request includes $650,000 for a competitive suite of tools that would add value across the various platforms where the Department is active.
  • Liaisons ($600,000): The Department coordinates broadly across the interagency and with international partners. The request includes $600,000 for 3 dedicated positions (FTEs or equivalent), possibly in the form of reimbursable detailees, with the sole purpose of synchronizing and optimizing operations for maximum effect against the adversary.
  • Integrated Analysis ($1.3 million): The Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Integrated Analysis section (CSCC/IA) is currently minimally staffed by two Intelligence Community officers and two Department of State civil servants. The request includes $1.3 million to ensure CSCC work is informed by intelligence and coordinated with the work of the rest of the Interagency; measuring effectiveness; and managing research into emerging counter-radicalization and messaging trends and best practices. CSCC’s increased operational tempo related to the President’s 3-year plan against ISIL and the effort against violent extremism in general, necessitates additional personnel and resources. Three reimbursable detailee billets are needed to be filled by intelligence analysts from National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and Defense of National Intelligence Open Source Center, to ensure the highest-quality all-source intelligence support to CSCC planners and Digital Outreach Team operations. Additional funds are needed to research operations-applicable best practices and emerging technologies in the areas of counter-radicalization and target audience messaging.

 

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Snapshot: Number of “T” Visa Applications, FY2005-2014

Posted: 12:24 am EDT
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Via DHS/OIG:

Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) of 2000 (Pub. L. 106-386). Among other provisions, the Act created the T nonimmigrant status (T visa) to provide temporary immigration benefits to foreign nationals and aliens who are victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons.  To be eligible for a T visa, victims must (a) be in the United States on account of trafficking; (b) face extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed; and (c) with two exceptions, comply with reasonable requests for assistance from law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the acts of trafficking.

USCIS data on trafficking victims were limited to foreign national victims who had applied for T or U nonimmigrant status. This included individuals who had entered the United States legally as visitors, temporary workers, or others without lawful status.8 According to USCIS data, fewer than 1,000 foreign national victims applied for T visas each year from 2005 to 2014. Figure 3 shows a steady increase in T visa applications for this timeframe. However, this number remains small in comparison with the estimated hundreds of thousands of human trafficking victims in the United States, and is far below the 5,000 T visas that Congress sets aside for human trafficking victims every year.

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As depicted in table 1, our analysis of USCIS data from October 1, 2005, through September 2, 2014, showed that 3 percent of T visa applicants were minors while 61 percent were between 30 and 49 years old. T visa applicants were evenly divided by marital status and almost equally divided in terms of gender. Further, 41 percent of T visa applicants were from three Asian countries. The Philippines had the highest number of applicants (20 percent), followed by Mexico with 16 percent. Most T visa applicants did not report the method by which they entered the United States, although 10 percent self- reported they had no lawful status at the time of application. While the information pertains only to those victims who applied for T visa status, it does shed some light on the characteristics of foreign national victims and their origins, and could be useful in identifying human trafficking activity.