CSCC: Think Again. Or #StepAwayFromTheTweets Sez El Snarkistani (Updated)

Posted: 1:44 am EDT
Updated: Dec 16, 1:31 am EDT
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Update:

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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.
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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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Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications and Bureaucratic Bang! Bang!

Posted: 1:18 am EDT
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“The fate of the CSCC just underscores the difficulty of experimentation in government — there is zero tolerance for risk and no willingness to let a program evolve. […] “It’s easier to do the same stuff over and over and wring your hands instead of investing resources and having patience.”

Daniel Benjamin
Former State Department CounterTerrorism Chief
Source: WaPo in In a propaganda war against ISIS, the U.S. tried to play by the enemy’s rules | May 8, 2015

 

Video clip via WaPo:

[protected-iframe id=”2d7f4220cde1a21b2f31e844bc9d49d5-31973045-31356973″ info=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/posttv/c/embed/531f2ae4-f502-11e4-bca5-21b51bbdf93e” width=”450″ height=”350″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”]

State Department Announces Two New Special Envoys: Stratcom and Colombia Peace Process

Posted: 01:02 EST
Updated: 14:47  PST
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Last week, the State Department announced two new special envoy appointments. The first one announced on February 18 was the appointment of Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Since 2010, Special Envoy Hussain has served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In 2009, Mr. Hussain worked with the National Security Council in developing and pursuing the New Beginning that President Obama outlined in his address in Cairo, Egypt. Before joining the White House, Mr. Hussain was a member of the legal staff for the Presidential Transition Team.

Special Envoy Hussain will lead a staff drawn from a number of U.S. departments and agencies to expand international engagement and partnerships to counter violent extremism and to develop strategic counterterrorism communications around the world.  As part of this role, Special Envoy Hussain will also serve as Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which was established at the direction of the President and former Secretary of State Clinton in 2010 and codified by President Obama’s Executive Order 13584 to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide strategic communications focused on violent extremists and terrorist organizations.
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Mr. Hussain received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Upon graduation, he served as a Law Clerk to Damon J. Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Mr. Hussain also earned his Master’s degrees in Public Administration (Kennedy School of Government) and Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His academic writings have focused on national security, constitutional law, and civil liberties.

It looks like Special Envoy Hussain would will replace Ambassador Alberto M. Fernandez who assumed the position of Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) in 2012. The center was established in September 2010 to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide public communications activities directed at audiences abroad and targeted against violent extremists and terrorist organizations, especially al-Qaida, its affiliates, and its adherents. We understand that Ambassador Fernandez is heading to retirement.

On February 20, Secretary Kerry also announced the appointment of Bernie Aronson as the United States special envoy for the Colombian peace process:

Now Bernie’s experience in this region is significant. It’s extensive. In addition to being a former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, his well-recognized hard work in helping to resolve the conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua is really a lasting achievement in American diplomacy, and it earned him the State Department’s Distinguished Service Medal and the admiration of all those who followed those talks and who have worked in the region since.
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These negotiations are not easy, and we know that. Negotiations like this never are. They’re reasons that this has gone on for years and years. If it was easy, it would have been done already. The Colombian Government and the FARC have been fighting for longer than most Colombians have been alive. And after so many years of violence, emotions always run strong, and that’s understandable.

But with courage, with determination, with a just and lasting commitment to peace, we think that the courage shown by President Santos and the people of Colombia in pursuing these talks could actually find a resolution. With the help of Special Envoy Aronson, the United States is going to continue to stand by Colombians’ side in this journey, and we hope that 2015 could possibly take a step forward in helping to bring Colombia the security, the prosperity and, most importantly, the peace that it deserves.

These latest appointments join almost 30 other special envoys/special representatives currently encumbering filling in various portfolios in Foggy Bottom ranging from Af/Pak and climate change to commercial/business affairs, and religion and foreign policy. Special envoy/special representative appointments do not require Senate confirmations.

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Related items:

-02/20/15  Remarks Announcing the New Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process Bernie Aronson;  Secretary of State John Kerry; Treaty Room; Washington, DC

-02/18/15  Appointment of Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC