Saturday, July 16, 2016

State Dept. says U.S. not losing online war with the Islamic State

Jacqueline Klimas,, July 13

Stengel image from

The State Department on Wednesday touted its successes in combating Islamic State messaging online, but lawmakers said government efforts to destroy the terrorist group's "virtual caliphate" have "struggled."

Richard Stengel, the State Department's under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that anti-Islamic State content online is up and the group's own content is down.

"This narrative that we are losing the information war with ISIL is wrong," he said at the hearing.

But Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and chairman of the committee, said the government needs to be looking at how the government can better deliver its message and whether federal bureaucracy it making it impossible for the government to move quickly enough on the effort, which could be outsourced to technology companies.

"Unfortunately, the State Department efforts to respond to extremist content online have struggled. Its Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications was designed to identify and respond to extremist content online. Yet because its communications were 'branded' with the official State Department seal, nobody listened," Royce said, pointing to past failures of the department's arm to combat terrorists online, which has been rebranded as the Global Engagement Center.

As the Islamic State loses land in its geographic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the group is increasingly taking to the Internet to encourage its followers to plan attacks against the West at home, rather than traveling to the Middle East.

President Obama requested $21.5 million in his fiscal 2017 budget for the effort to combat that messaging, which largely targets disaffected young Muslims, who sometimes suffer from mental illness. Rep. Elliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he thinks the U.S. should be investing "a lot more money" in the effort.

Asked if he had sufficient resources, Stengel, who used to work as the managing editor of Time magazine, said that while the effort is on the right track, it "could use more money."

"I had a lot more resources running Time than I have running the GEC," he said.

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