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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Related post: 

Anything Can Be Sold Campaign: Try ‘Afghanistan, Always An Adventure’ — The Pomegranate Peace (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:32 am EDT
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rashmeeRashmee Roshan Lall started with The Times of India newspaper in Delhi, made a brief foray into publishing as editor of Rupa and HarperCollins India, and then took up broadcasting with the BBC World Service in London. She presented ‘The World Today’, BBC World Service’s flagship news and current affairs program. She was subsequently The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe. Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India. A Foreign Service spouse, she previously spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section. She also spent six months in Washington, D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election.  Visit her website at www.rashmee.com.

The Pomegranate Peace is a work of fiction.  The author of that dark dramedy on Iraq clearly see this book as art imitating life.  Five million dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, handed over to an Afghani-Canadian contractor resident in Vancouver to grow pomegranates instead of poppy? Check.  Peter Van Buren  writes that “one could retitle Pomegranate Peace as We Meant Well, Too and not be too far off the mark.”   And we have to agree.  The excerpt below is Chapter 11 of the book; we imagine this is how you brand a country — with a PR flak, lots of money and a small shot glass topped with magic and imagination.  Read more via Amazon, HuffPo, the Good Book Corner.  Thanks to Rashmee, Piers  and Arcadia Books for permission to share the following excerpt with our readers.

pomegranate peace cover

Reprinted from The Pomegranate Peace by Rashmee Roshan Lall by arrangement with Arcadia Books Limited. Copyright © 2013 Rashmee Roshan Lall. Available as an ebook from any ebook platform.

* * *

Mr Khayber Ahmad, veteran of regime change, was not the only one thinking ahead to yet another transition. Over at the embassy, we were obsessed with plans for departure. Our president had set a date, or at least the year: 2014. We had 700 days to shape up and ship out. I was on the Transition Planning Team (Small), otherwise known as TPTS, or Tippets if you wanted to run everything together because you had run out of time, or patience, or the desire to be accurate.

Tippets was born of Tipple, the Transition Planning Team (Large) or TPL. The smaller group had a hundred people; the large was twice as big. Tippets was supposed to think, plan, do (TPD). That is how ‘Campaign Afghanistan’ began. Out of two acronyms and a string of alphabets. I was there. I saw it come into existence. I watched it take shape and I was present when it was launched.

It took a little while for Campaign Afghanistan to become the new standard for management courses taught at American universities. But it happened because of Sam Starkowsky’s excellent and highly readable book, The Donkey in the Dark. The book became a bestseller and Little Sam was anointed the world’s favourite management guru. But at the time, no one could have imagined that Little Sam would turn the 30-million-dollar ‘Campaign’ into the American version of Rumi’s 700-year-old story ‘The Elephant in the Dark’. And a solid business theory to boot, one which is routinely cited as the essential philosophy of creative problem-solving.

Everyone now knows the way in which Professor Starkowsky reprised Rumi. The original had a group of men touching an elephant in a dark room and offering wildly differing reports on the creature. The one who touched the trunk said it had to be a hosepipe; the man who felt the beast’s ear thought it was surely a fan; the third ran his hand over the animal’s leg and pronounced it a pillar and the fourth caressed the elephant’s wide back and decided it was a throne. Just as Rumi used the story to illustrate the limits of individual perception, Little Sam’s modern fable about a dozen Americans and a donkey underlined the importance of seeing the whole, not just parts of a problem. I have to hand it to Little Sam. I never knew he had it in him. He seems to have been the only one at a Tippets meeting to see the big picture.

It seemed such a good idea at the start even though the memo that set it off was the usual bureaucratese:

Agenda for TPTS:

TPD for APA – Sustainability. Selling Afghanistan to tourists, businessmen, the world.

To decode, this meant that the Transition Planning Team (Small)’s Think, Plan, Do strategy for Afghanistan-Post-America was all about selling the country as a brand.

As a former journalist, I was on the Tippets Working Group, which was smaller – just 25 people. We spent a whole day talking ‘Afghanistan, the idea’. Much of the time we debated the images that come to mind when the name Afghanistan is said out loud. Mountains, brave men, weapons, war, beautiful but benighted women. What, if any of that, to sell? Could it be sold at all?

Opinion on the working group was mixed. Little Sam thought that anything could be sold. Anecdotally, even refrigerators to Eskimos.

‘And in the real world, plots of land on the moon are sold,’ he said gravely. ‘And what about the promise of hundreds of thousands of dollars if you send a check for a mere ten bucks to a certain address? Dreams can be sold,’ he added persuasively, ‘though sometimes they might be dud.’

 

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