Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Quotable: Michael Lumpkin on fighting terrorism online

Tuesday, June 28th 2016

Lumpkin image from

"The Obama administration is ramping up its efforts to fight terrorism online as extremist Islamic groups seek to motivate homegrown attackers,” reported Kristina Wong in a June 25, 2016, article, “How the US is working to defeat ISIS online,” in The Hill.  Wong interviewed Michael Lumpkin, Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) at the Department of State.  Some key paragraphs:

  • . . . the goal is to get the infrastructure in place to effectively counter terrorists' messaging beyond the Obama administration.  

  • . . . the GEC is an interagency body that pulls from all across government, including the intelligence community, versus just the State Department.  "We bring all the best and the brightest from the interagency coming together in a single place," he said.  

  • The president has also given Lumpkin hiring authority that allows him to hire directly from outside the government -- "people who know the technology better than we may in social media," he said.  

  • The office is also growing from 68 people earlier this year to about 150 now.  

  • Its budget has grown from $5.6 million in 2015, to more than $15 million this year. The administration has requested $21.5 million for 2017.  

  • The amount, which comes out of the State Department's budget, equals less than two days worth of military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, at approximately $11.7 million a day. 

  • That's despite agreement across government that stopping terrorist propaganda online is as important as operations on the battlefield.  

  • "ISIS’s online dominance is just as critical to the organization as the large amounts of territory it controls in Iraq and Syria," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) at a hearing on ISIS's "virtual caliphate" on Thursday.  

  • Another major difference from the previous effort is how the U.S. government is going about countering the message. 

  • Whereas the previous effort distributed U.S. government-branded messaging, Lumpkin says the GEC is applying a lesson honed by special operators during more than 15 years of war against terrorists around the world: 

  • "We recognize that it takes a network to defeat a network, so we're building a network of partners because we believe we have a very good message, we're not always just the most credible entity to convey that message," he said. 

  • "So we have partners that have a tremendous amount of credibility that we're working with to make sure they have the tools and capabilities to get out the word that Daesh is indeed a vicious awful organization that is rife with hypocrisy and everything else," he said, using a derogatory Arabic term for ISIS.  

  • So far, highlighting that hypocrisy is what's been shown to be most effective, particularly using defectors, Lumpkin said.  

  • "There's two ways to influence people, one is through, you know, logic, and then there's emotion," he said. "I think most of our efforts have been focused on having defectors tell their story."  

  • "What we're trying to do is build an innovative, agile organization, and while we're making significant inroads, it is just difficult based on the security constraints of IT networks and things of that nature," he said.  

  • Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) recently noted during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the State Department currently needs 14 levels of review before sending out a Tweet.  

  • Those who receive State Department funding also have to meet a bar, albeit a lower one, of six levels of review, he added. By contrast, he said, "If you're a volunteer, you do a tweet." 

No comments: