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Exclusive: State Dept. official refutes unnamed leaks and Russia favoritism, says anti-terror programs are full speed ahead

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (US Department of State/Flickr)
August 03, 2017
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U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has recently been the target of unnamed leaks for reportedly not utilizing up to $80 million in funds that would help fight terrorism and propaganda against the United States. These funds would be used by the Global Engagement Center within the State Department.

The Global Engagement Center is an interagency entity, housed at the State Department, which is charged with coordinating U.S. counterterrorism and U.S. counter-propaganda messaging to foreign audiences.

Tillerson’s game plan has apparently aggravated some State Department officials, according to a recent Politico report, who say the department is dragging its feet to use the funds – in part because fighting back against propaganda from Russia, for example, would upset Moscow.

However, saying that the State Department is not using the funds in order to appease Moscow is “not accurate,” a State Department official told American Military News this week. “The anti-terror and anti-propaganda programs are full speed ahead.”

This State Department official counters the anonymous former senior State Department official who told Politico that R.C. Hammond, an aide to Tillerson, “suggested the money is unwelcome because any extra funding for programs to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow.”

Currently, there is $60 million in funding that is earmarked for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center from the Pentagon, and an additional $19.8 million in State Department funds that have not been utilized for fighting terrorism and propaganda.

According to Politico, the $60 million would “expire” on Sept. 30 if it is not transferred to the U.S. State Department from the Pentagon by then.

“Over the last five to 10 years, there’s been a tsunami of disinformation and anti-American propaganda around the world,” said Rick Stengel, who used to oversee the center, Politico reported. “The Global Engagement Center is one of the few, if only, areas in the U.S. government that could be tasked with countering and rebutting disinformation against America.”

“The Global Engagement Center continues to execute its mission,” the State Department official told American Military News. “There is a process underway to ensure that any future funding or programs account for the most appropriate tactics and strategy – especially in countering propaganda from countries such as Russia that have minimal protection for free speech or the media.”

“The supplemental request for the Global Engagement Center is in addition to the existing public diplomacy programs,” the official added.

The Global Engagement Center was established pursuant to Executive Order 13721, signed on on March 14, 2016, which states that the Center “shall lead the coordination, integration and synchronization of Government-wide communications activities directed at foreign audiences abroad in order to counter the messaging and diminish the influence of international terrorist organizations” such as ISIL and other terror, nation or non-nation state programs.

The Center plays a key role in countering ISIL’s messaging and other type of foreign propaganda. Designed to be an agile, innovative organization, the Center uses modern, cutting-edge technology and takes advantage of the best talent and tools throughout the private sector and government.

The Global Engagement Center’s website talks more about the organization and goals of the Center:

Organization

The work of the Center is focused around four core areas:

  • Partnerships: We are empowering and building the capacity of a global network of positive messengers against violent extremism. Operating at a local level, our partners use credible voices to deliver messages that resonate with at-risk populations. Our partners include NGOs, schools, young people, social and civil society leaders, religious leaders, governments, and others. We support them through a variety of means including funding, technical assistance, capacity building, and conceiving and implementing joint projects.
  • Data Analytics: The Center is becoming an analytics-based organization and is using data analytics systems from both the public and private sectors to better understand radicalization dynamics online, to guide and inform our messaging efforts, and to measure our effectiveness. To better understand and target susceptible audiences, we are using a layered approach. In addition to data analytics systems, we are also drawing from proven polling operations, target audience studies, and academic research.
  • Content: The Center is pursuing collaborative, thematic campaigns in coordination with counter-ISIL coalition nations and other global partners. We also develop and procure unbranded content and make it available to our global network of partners. Our direct engagement with violent extremists has been reduced in favor of partner-driven messaging and enhancing the content capabilities of our partners.
  • Interagency Engagement: The Center liaises daily with the interagency to coordinate day to day operations and campaign efforts among the many U.S. national security agencies that operate in the information space. The Center is staffed by detailees from several U.S. agencies, allowing the Center to effectively coordinate, integrate, and synchronize efforts across the interagency.

Goals of the Global Engagement Center

The Center’s overarching goal is to expose ISIL’s true nature—and that of other violent extremist organizations—thereby diminishing their influence and decreasing these organizations’ allure in the eyes of potential recruits and sympathizers.

Additionally, the Center strives to:

  • Enhance the capacities and empower third party, positive messengers, whether they are governments, NGOs or other entities.
  • Develop a global network of credible voices who can effectively counter violent extremist messages.
  • Use cutting edge technology and data analytics systems to better understand ISIL’s recruitment successes online and seek to address those causes with potential recruits to prevent radicalization.
  • Leverage the entirety of the U.S. Government to confront ISIL and other extremists in the information space and bring coordination and synchronization to those efforts.
  • Build a forward-looking entity within U.S. Government that is agile, innovative, and embraces technological advancement.

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