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Clinton's Failed Online Counterterrorism Program

- December 3, 2015

Today, The White House Conceded Clinton’s Online Counterterrorism Program Was Doomed From The Start

In A Testy Exchange, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest Explained To Reporters Why Clinton’s Online Counterterrorism Program Was Doomed From The Start, Calling It A “Matter Of Commonsense.” SIMENDINGER: “You know there is a report today that the State Department has determined that its social media effort is unsuccessful, should not be continued, because it is not considered a trusted origination of a message. So my question related to what Laura is asking is, you just described the vulnerabilities and the President’s frustration, you know if you abandon a US government effort on social media, what fills that gap?” EARNEST: “Again Alexis, we’ve acknowledged for some time, we approach this from the standpoint of understanding just as a matter of commonsense, that trying to counter messages from ISIL, who are attempting to radicalize for example vulnerable members of the Muslim population that the United States government may not be the most effective voice in countering that strategy. What we need to do is look for other voices that can be lifted up; that can be engaged in this effort. Leaders across the country, in some cases maybe their faith leaders and in some cases their political leaders. But in any event they are people who can be effective in countering or at least providing an alternative vision and that’s important work. It’s hard to get your arms around it but it’s critically important to our efforts and as I just acknowledged to Mara, there is important work that’s being done and important progress that’s being made but there surely room for improvement.” (Josh Earnest, White House Press Briefing, Washington, D.C., 12/3/15)

  • Earnest: “The United States Government May Not Be The Most Effective Voice In Countering That Strategy.” EARNEST: “Again Alexis, we’ve acknowledged for some time, we approach this from the standpoint of understanding just as a matter of commonsense, that trying to counter messages from ISIL, who are attempting to radicalize for example vulnerable members of the Muslim population that the United States government may not be the most effective voice in countering that strategy. What we need to do is look for other voices that can be lifted up; that can be engaged in this effort. Leaders across the country, in some cases maybe their faith leaders and in some cases their political leaders. But in any event they are people who can be effective in countering or at least providing an alternative vision and that’s important work. It’s hard to get your arms around it but it’s critically important to our efforts and as I just acknowledged to Mara, there is important work that’s being done and important progress that’s being made but there surely room for improvement.” (Josh Earnest, White House Press Briefing, Washington, D.C., 12/3/15)

Click To Watch

The State Department Is Considering "Scaling Back" Its Online Efforts To Discredit ISIS Following A Review That Cast Doubt On Its Ability To Fight ISIS Propaganda

The State Department "Is Considering Scaling Back" Its Efforts To Discredit ISIS Online After A Review "Cast New Doubt" On The U.S. Ability To Fight ISIS Propaganda. "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." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

  • The Washington Post Headline: "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS" (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

The Administration's Efforts To Combat ISIS' Online Messaging Have Long Been In "Turmoil"

"The Developments Are The Latest Indication Of Continued Turmoil In The Obama Administration's Effort To Erode The Online Appeal Of A Terrorist Group…" "The developments are the latest indication of continued turmoil in the Obama administration's effort to erode the online appeal of a terrorist group that has used a massive presence on social media to attract recruits, radicalize followers and incite attacks against the West." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

Recent ISIS Threats Have "Added To The Urgency Surrounding A State Department Team That Was Set Up To Serve As An Information War Room Against Terrorist Networks." "The terrorist assaults that killed more than 130 people in Paris last month were seen by counterterrorism officials as a demonstration of the Islamic State's expanding reach. …The threats added to the urgency surrounding a State Department team that was set up to serve as an information war room against terrorist networks. Over the past two years, the unit has mounted campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and other social-media platforms to sow doubt among those who may be enticed to join the Islamic State." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

  • "Over The Past Two Years, The Unit Has Mounted Campaigns On Twitter, Facebook And Other Social-Media Platforms To Sow Doubt Among Those Who May Be Enticed To Join The Islamic State." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

There Is "Scant Evidence" The State Department's Program Has Been Effective In Preventing The Flow Of Recruits

According To A U.S. Official, The Review Team "Had Serious Questions About Whether The U.S. Government Should Be Involved In Overt Messaging At All." "But the team 'had serious questions about whether the U.S. government should be involved in overt messaging at all,' said a U.S. official briefed on the group's findings. The group's skepticism reflected concern about U.S. credibility with Muslim audiences overseas as well as the scant evidence that the State program has diminished the flow of recruits to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

There Is "Scant Evidence That The State Program Has Diminished The Flow Of Recruits To The Islamic State." "But the team 'had serious questions about whether the U.S. government should be involved in overt messaging at all,' said a U.S. official briefed on the group's findings. The group's skepticism reflected concern about U.S. credibility with Muslim audiences overseas as well as the scant evidence that the State program has diminished the flow of recruits to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

  • "The U.S. Counter-Messaging Operation 'Is In Disarray,' Said Will McCants, An Expert On The Islamic State At The Brookings Institution And A Former Adviser To The State Department." "The U.S. counter-messaging operation 'is in disarray,' said Will McCants, an expert on the Islamic State at the Brookings Institution and a former adviser to the State Department. Among those involved in messaging efforts, McCants said, 'morale is low, and they're not getting any clarity from the top about what they're supposed to be doing.'" (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

"State Department Officials Acknowledged That Aspects Of The Program's Strategy Are Again Being Reevaluated…" "State Department officials acknowledged that aspects of the program's strategy are again being reevaluated, and that the number of positions devoted to producing content and posting items on Twitter and other platforms could be scaled back. But officials cited what they described as major progress on other fronts over the past year, including the addition of foreign partners to an expanding network of messaging centers overseas." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

At Her November 2015 Foreign Policy Address, Clinton Touted Her Failed State Department Program To Combat Extremists Online

Clinton, November 2015: "I Built Up A Unit Of Communications Specialists Fluent In Urdu, Arabic, Somali, And Other Languages To Battle With Extremists Online." CLINTON: "Radicalization and recruitment also is happening online. There's no doubt we have to do a better job contesting online space, including websites and chat rooms, where jihadists communicate with followers. We must deny them virtual territory just as we deny them actual territory. At the State Department, I built up a unit of communications specialists fluent in Urdu, Arabic, Somali, and other languages to battle with extremists online. We need more of that, including from the private sector. Social media companies can also do their part by swiftly shutting down terrorist accounts so they're not used to plan, provoke, or celebrate violence." (Hillary Clinton, Remarks, New York, NY, 11/19/15)

  • Clinton: "We Need More Of That." CLINTON: "We need more of that, including from the private sector. Social media companies can also do their part by swiftly shutting down terrorist accounts so they're not used to plan, provoke, or celebrate violence." (Hillary Clinton, Remarks, New York, NY, 11/19/15)

Click To Watch

The State Department's Center For Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) Was Established In 2011 At Clinton's And Obama's Direction

In September 2011, The State Department's Center For Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) Was Established At The Direction Of Clinton And Obama. "The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) was established at the direction of the President and the Secretary of State to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism, particularly al-Qaida and its affiliates and adherents. Executive Order 13584, signed by President Obama on September 9, 2011, provides policy background and assigns interagency responsibilities to CSCC." ("Center For Strategic Counterterrorism Communications," U.S. Department Of State, Accessed 12/3/15)

  • The CSCC Was Established To "Coordinate, Orient, And Inform Government-Wide Foreign Communications Activities Targeted Against Terrorism And Violent Extremism, Particularly Al-Qaida And Its Affiliates And Adherents." "The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) was established at the direction of the President and the Secretary of State to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism, particularly al-Qaida and its affiliates and adherents. Executive Order 13584, signed by President Obama on September 9, 2011, provides policy background and assigns interagency responsibilities to CSCC." ("Center For Strategic Counterterrorism Communications," U.S. Department Of State, Accessed 12/3/15)

The Center "Became A Priority For Then-Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton." "It also became a priority for then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote in a memo that the unit should be modeled on a campaign 'war room,' equipped to monitor every utterance by the adversary and respond rapidly." (Greg Miller and Scott Higham, "In A Propaganda War Against ISIS, The U.S. Tried To Play By The Enemy's Rules," The Washington Post , 5/8/15)

The CSCC Was "Vastly Outnumbered" And Had A "Miniscule Budget"

The CSCC "Was Always Vastly Outnumbered By Its Online Adversaries" And Had A "Miniscule Budget By Washington Standards." "It was always vastly outnumbered by its online adversaries, had a minuscule budget by Washington standards, and was saddled with what some regard as the insurmountable burden of having to affix the U.S. government label to messages aimed at a skeptical Muslim audience." (Greg Miller and Scott Higham, "In A Propaganda War Against ISIS, The U.S. Tried To Play By The Enemy's Rules," The Washington Post , 5/8/15)

As Of December 2015, The Program Had Lost Its Second Director In Less Than A Year. "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." (Greg Miller, "Panel Casts Doubt On U.S. Propaganda Efforts Against ISIS," The Washington Post , 12/2/15)

The CSCC Has Been "Denounced" As Ineffective, "Embarrassing" And "Helpful To The Enemy"

"Experts Denounced The Group's Efforts As 'Embarrassing' And Even Helpful To The Enemy." (Greg Miller and Scott Higham, "In A Propaganda War Against ISIS, The U.S. Tried To Play By The Enemy's Rules," The Washington Post , 5/8/15)

  • Even The "Center's Defenders" Could Not Determine If It Was "Discouraging Would-Be Militants From Traveling To Syria." "Critics at the State Department and White House saw the use of graphic images as a disturbing embrace of the adversary's playbook. And for all the viral success of 'ISIS Land,' even the center's defenders could never determine whether it had accomplished its main objective: discouraging would-be militants from traveling to Syria." (Greg Miller and Scott Higham, "In A Propaganda War Against ISIS, The U.S. Tried To Play By The Enemy's Rules," The Washington Post , 5/8/15)

The CSCC Does Not Have "Fanboys," Virtual Supporters Who "Disseminate The Group's Online Propaganda." "ISIS has a vast network of 'fanboys,' as its virtual supporters are widely and derisively known, who disseminate the group's online propaganda. (ISIS ennobles them with the title 'knights of the uploading.') They are dedicated, self-sufficient, and even, Fernandez said, occasionally funny. And they are everywhere on Twitter, despite the social-media network's efforts to ban them. Fernandez described the group's embrace of social media as 'a stroke of genius on their part.' The CSCC doesn't have fanboys." (Simon Cottee, "Why It's So Hard to Stop ISIS Propaganda,"The Atlantic , 3/2/15)

The CSCC Does Not Have "A Narrative-Not One, At Any Rate, Remotely Comparable In Emotional Affect And Resonance To That Of ISIS." "The CSCC doesn't have a narrative-not one, at any rate, remotely comparable in emotional affect and resonance to that of ISIS. No one is more sharply aware of this than Fernandez himself. 'ISIS's message,' he said, 'is that Muslims are being killed and that they're the solution. ... There is an appeal to violence, obviously, but there is also an appeal to the best in people, to people's aspirations, hopes and dreams, to their deepest yearnings for identity, faith, and self-actualization. We don't have a counter-narrative that speaks to that. What we have is half a message: 'Don't do this.' But we lack the 'dothis instead.' That's not very exciting. The positive narrative is always more powerful, especially if it involves dressing in black like a ninja, having a cool flag, being on television, and fighting for your people." (Simon Cottee, "Why It's So Hard to Stop ISIS Propaganda,"The Atlantic , 3/2/15)

  • According To The Former CSCC Head, Alberto Fernandez, The CSCC Only Has "Half A Message." "The CSCC doesn't have a narrative-not one, at any rate, remotely comparable in emotional affect and resonance to that of ISIS. No one is more sharply aware of this than Fernandez himself. 'ISIS's message,' he said, 'is that Muslims are being killed and that they're the solution. ... There is an appeal to violence, obviously, but there is also an appeal to the best in people, to people's aspirations, hopes and dreams, to their deepest yearnings for identity, faith, and self-actualization. We don't have a counter-narrative that speaks to that. What we have is half a message: 'Don't do this.' But we lack the 'dothis instead.' That's not very exciting. The positive narrative is always more powerful, especially if it involves dressing in black like a ninja, having a cool flag, being on television, and fighting for your people." (Simon Cottee, "Why It's So Hard to Stop ISIS Propaganda,"The Atlantic , 3/2/15)

The CSCC "Appears To Be Losing" And ISIS Is "Far More Sophisticated" Than The State Department's Messaging

According To One Expert, CSCC "Appears To Be Losing - At Least When It Comes To Showing The Quick Thinking And Verbal Dexterity That So Characterizes The Big Winners In The Social-Media Universe." "In practice, this means that the center, with its $5 million budget, verbally jousts with jihadists on social media all day long. Not a bad idea, according to experts like McCants. The problem is that it appears to be losing-at least when it comes to showing the quick thinking and verbal dexterity that so characterizes the big winners in the social-media universe. In an arena in which people are largely inured to the frequent intrusions of advertising, the center is conducting itself like it's the only propaganda operation in town." (Jacob Silverman, "The State Department's Twitter Jihad," Politico, 7/22/14)

  • "But State's Messages Usually Arrive With All The Grace Of Someone's Dad Showing Up At A College Party." (Jacob Silverman, "The State Department's Twitter Jihad," Politico, 7/22/14)

"And Because The Government's Tweeting Is So Flat And Self-Serious, Few People-Even Those Most Sympathetic To Its Messaging-Are Motivated To Share The CSCC's Posts." (Jacob Silverman, "The State Department's Twitter Jihad," Politico, 7/22/14)

  • "The Plain Fact Is That, For Now, Groups Like ISIL Are Far More Sophisticated Than The State Department In Their Messaging." (Jacob Silverman, "The State Department's Twitter Jihad," Politico, 7/22/14)

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