Thursday, July 14, 2016

Statement of Richard A. Stengel

image (not from the below) from

JULY 13, 2016
10:00 AM

Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, distinguished committee
members - thank you for the opportunity to appear today to discuss the role
of public diplomacy in countering violent extremism and provide an
overview of how public diplomacy advances the strategic interests of the
United States.

This hearing comes at a critical time in our fight against ISIL. In just
the last few weeks, from Istanbul to Baghdad to Dhaka, we’ve seen again
the terrorists’ brutality and wanton disregard for the lives of innocent
people. Yet, at the same time, there are many signs of progress in our
efforts to counter ISIL’s message. The amount of anti-ISIL content on social
media platforms is increasing; ISIL’s flow of content is diminishing and
being interrupted. The revulsion to ISIL can be seen in the engagement of
mainstream Muslims around the world who reject what the terrorists stand
for. It can also be seen in the actions of the tech companies whose
platforms are being used to disseminate much of this noxious content.
They have ramped up their efforts to purge their platforms of this vile
material and the content is often removed in minutes, not hours or days.
We must continue to focus on being more coordinated, more nimble,
and more effective. My statement today will focus on messaging, but will
also outline how we are harnessing the full range of public diplomacy tools
to confront the challenge of violent extremism -- while recognizing the
significant hurdles that remain.

This past fall, after an intensive review of our counter messaging
strategy -- including consultation across the U.S. Government and with
technology, marketing and communications experts from the private sector
-- the White House and the Department of State announced that the Center
for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) would be replaced
by the Global Engagement Center (GEC), an interagency body housed at
the State Department, reporting to the Secretary of State through the Under
Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

The Global Engagement Center has a dual mission: to coordinate,
integrate, and synchronize government-wide communications directed at
foreign audiences aimed at countering the propaganda of ISIL and other
violent extremists; and to build the capacity of partners to develop content,
amplify credible local voices and disseminate positive alternative
narratives. Through these two lines of effort, the GEC seeks to disrupt and
drown out ISIL’s perverse narrative.

Our strategy is informed by a core insight: we are not always the best
messengers for the message we want to deliver. Public statements from
U.S. Government officials condemning ISIL can easily be used by the
enemy as a recruitment tool. Our efforts focus on amplifying credible voices
and lifting up those voices in a coordinated way – while assessing and
measuring the impact of these efforts. The new approach is centered on
“partner-driven messaging.” Instead of direct messaging to potential ISIL
sympathizers, much of our work focuses on supporting and empowering a
global network of partners—from NGOs to foreign governments to religious
leaders—who can act as more credible messengers to target audiences.
One example of our drive to build partnerships is the Sawab Center in
Abu Dhabi, a joint messaging center where Emiratis work alongside
Americans to counter ISIL online. Since July 2015, Sawab has launched
nine original social-media campaigns, ranging from voices of victims and
defectors, to affirming positive messages such as national pride. Each
campaign has averaged over 125 million views on social media, and
Sawab has consulted and shared its experience with 20 countries and
international organizations interested in similar efforts to counter violent
extremism online.

The establishment of Sawab has catalyzed U.S.-backed initiatives to
support the creation of messaging centers in Jordan, Nigeria and Malaysia,
where the Digital Strategic Communications Division is slated to open its
new messaging center in Kuala Lumpur this summer -- a major step
forward in US efforts to reach at-risk individuals in Southeast Asia.

To measure impact, the Global Engagement Center is using data
analytics tools developed by Silicon Valley. These measurements allow the
GEC to analyze foreign social media activity in near-real time and help our
partners do the same.

There are signs of progress in the messaging space. According to
recent RAND study, anti-ISIL content online outnumbers pro-ISIL content
approximately 6:1. A GEC analysis has shown pro-ISIL messaging is down
by 45% since June 2014.

We are pleased that many of the world’s biggest social media
companies, including Facebook and Twitter, have been proactively and
voluntarily working to eliminate ISIL content from their systems based on
their terms of service. In just the last year, we’ve seen marked
improvement in these companies’ reaction time and the volume of content
that they are removing. We have established a regular and active dialogue
with the technology companies to discuss our policy concerns.

What does success look like? The answer is something of a paradox.
In the long-term we would like to see a media landscape that does not
require U.S. government messaging at all, because NGOs, local
governments, partners and credible voices are effectively drowning out
ISIL’s message of hate. Short term, we look for concrete signs of success -
- which we are seeing – such as the reduction in the flow of foreign terrorist
fighters and decreased media and social media activity.

Secretary Kerry has recently announced the expansion of the
renamed Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism to
coordinate the Department’s CVE efforts and, along with USAID,
introduced a new joint strategy to guide our collective CVE efforts. These
changes reflect a larger reevaluation of how the State Department
communicates in the 21st century.

People around the world today have more information at their
fingertips every minute than their grandparents could discover in a lifetime.
But the proliferation of information has created a dangerous by-product, the

viral spread of disinformation by state and non-state actors. Countries like
Russia and China engage in sophisticated media campaigns to either
discredit credible news sources or create their own versions of reality. As
Pat Moynihan used to say, you're entitled to your own opinions, not your
own facts. But more and more in this age of disinformation, people and
governments feel entitled to their own "facts." Even though there is more
information than at any time in history, people seem increasingly unable to
distinguish between fact and fiction. And this is exactly what some
countries want. As journalist Peter Pomerantsev has said, “It’s not an
information war, it’s a war on information.”

The best defense in this information battle is the free flow of
information. We don’t defeat Russian propaganda by shouting louder than
they do, or by trying to battle propaganda with propaganda. This is about
the fundamentals of democratic society -- free speech and an independent
press. We have increased our support to the journalists and civil society
activists, empowering them to refute corrosive lies, highlight corruption, and
support democratic institutions. This strategy to combat disinformation is
part of our larger public diplomacy vision.

My two-and-a-half-year tenure as Under Secretary has convinced me
that public diplomacy is a growth industry. Across the State Department,
public diplomacy programs are now viewed as an indispensable part of our
crisis-response toolkit. Our programming supports our strategic goals on
issues ranging from countering ISIL to preserving peace, stability and
respect for international law in the South China Sea to containing the
spread of the Zika virus.

My team has expanded analytics, evaluation and research units that
will bring new data to inform our strategies on every public diplomacy
initiative. Our evaluation experts are focusing on the tools and programs
that are most suited to achieving those goals, drawing on research on
audiences, communication campaigns, behavioral science, and more. We
are using data and research from both USG and private sector sources to

help us enhance connections between foreign publics and the United

One of the U.S. government’s greatest assets remains our power to
convene. Last month, the President hosted the Global Entrepreneurship
Summit at Stanford University, one of the best US government events I’ve
participated in. Over three days 700 delegates from every region in the
world pitched their ideas to the best business minds in America.

Entrepreneurship, especially for women and youth, offers options to
combat violent extremism, improves education, builds economies and gives
hope to communities where it was previously lacking.

That power to convene is not limited by geography. Virtual town halls
on Facebook and Google hangouts can be the modern day equivalent of
the New England town hall. People around the world who want to engage
with us may not always like our policies, but they have already shown a
willingness to begin a dialogue with the United States.

A centerpiece of our public diplomacy strategy has been to cultivate
and invest in the next generation of global young leaders. Our Educational
and Cultural Affairs bureau has designed many critical exchange programs
over the years to do this. In this Administration we launched the Young
African Leaders Initiative and similar young-leader programs in Asia, Latin
America, and Europe, to ensure we are providing a deeper understanding
of the United States and our values. Our regional young leader initiatives
convene extraordinary talent from across the globe; build powerful
networks of thousands of youth influencers; scale businesses; expand skill
sets; and create partnerships to tackle shared challenges. These initiatives
also serve our strategic interests: the Young Southeast Asia Leaders
Initiative, for instance, has bolstered the Department’s push to strengthen
an ASEAN identity and foster regional cooperation.

We also continue to expand opportunities within our flagship Fulbright
Program, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Fulbright scholars, who
are more diverse than ever before, are some of the best public diplomats

our country has. Hundreds of Americans participating in Fulbright are
helping to support English instruction around the world, and in doing so, are
improving access to information and economic opportunity for hundreds of
thousands of students in key partner countries and communities. Teaching
English is a strategic investment that can pay huge dividends, which is why
we are working with the Peace Corps and other partners to ensure our
combined U.S. Government efforts in this space are attracting the best
candidates and are coordinated to have maximum impact.

The lesson from these exchange programs is clear – we are long
past the point where government communication can rely solely on reciting
talking points from a podium. The world has moved into two-way
conversations. Public diplomacy is a conversation. Our best partners in this
endeavor are the American people: students, faculty and professionals
welcoming visitors from abroad to study or do research – or conversely –
Americans going abroad to study or engage foreign audiences. Citizen
diplomats are more important than ever as we try to tell the story of who we
are and what we stand for as a people and a nation.

I’m pleased to say that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, BBG, is
adapting as well. In my role as the Secretary’s delegated representative to
the Broadcasting Board of Governors, I can attest to the impact a news
organization can have when the right leadership is put in place and the old
way of delivering information is reimagined. CEO John Lansing has done
an incredible job in his short time. He is focused on building a modern
media company that can use digital tools to deliver news across the BBG
networks. Chairman Royce, thank you for your continued work and
collaboration on improving the BBG.

With Congress and, specifically, this committee's support, public
diplomacy benefits from distinct funding and authorities. It has always been
my position that public diplomacy funding is linked to a comprehensive and
unified strategy. This means that my responsibility is to work closely with
Congress and this committee and staff to present unified budget requests
and closely link spending plans and program reports.
Let me close by coming back to the issue of violent extremism. While
the messaging battle against ISIL is showing signs of progress, we remain
cognizant of the spread of ISIL ideology to other parts of the world. The
work of public diplomacy is to build relationships in communities in every
corner of the world so that people know they have a partner and ally in the
United States. By being on the ground, by having our officers use their
skills and talents to bring together seemingly disparate groups, we can
begin to sow seeds of opportunity and resilience in places that would
otherwise be susceptible to terrorist recruiting. This is long-term work and it
will remain difficult. We know we will face setbacks, especially given the
media space in which we operate. But after nearly two and a half years in
this office, I am confident that we have the right strategy to accomplish our
mission. Thank you again for inviting me today and thank you for your
partnership in advancing the foreign policy goals of the United States. I look
forward to answering your questions.

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