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Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

Public Diplomacy as an Instrument of Counterterrorism: A Progress Report

In this recent speech, the founding Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications traces the origins of the organization, its main initial activities, and the challenges it faced.  Among his recommendations is development of specialized communications teams with skill levels equaling SEAL teams to counter terrorist propaganda and reduce the flow of new recruits to terror.

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Event: Rethinking the Future International Security Environment

The Johns Hopkins University / Applied Physics Laboratory announced the 7th year of its Rethinking Seminar Series. This year’s theme is Rethinking the Future International Security Environment and the objective is the “exploration of possible future international environments including potential adversaries and threats to US National Security.” Topics to be covered include:

  • Regional areas of concern (i.e., the Middle East, China, Russia, and N. Korea)
  • Economics and National Security through examinations of potential economic threats to the US and her allies including:
    • The use of sovereign wealth funds to manipulate markets and currencies
    • Nation state economic collapse, sovereign default, and nation state instability
    • US and Allies’ budgets, deficits and their ability/inability to fund robust national security infrastructures
  • Resource Competition and Scarcity including issues of energy, water, agriculture and strategic minerals competition

The free events will occur about every month near the Pentagon. Video, audio, and usually the presentation and even notes are posted to the web about one week after each meeting.

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Event: Influence and Propaganda Conference

imageThe Information Operations Institute, in partnership with the MountainRunner Institute, invites you to attend the Influence and Fighting Propaganda Conference.

Identifying and countering propaganda and misinformation through dissemination that avoids the label of propaganda will be the key themes of the event. Discussions will explore who, how and why can people or groups be influenced, and difference between engagement from the lowest to the highest levels of leadership.

Russ Rochte, retired US Army Colonel and now faculty member at the National Defense Intelligence College, and I will co-moderate a panel on the media exploring the tension between "Media as an instrument of War" and the journalist’s traditional obligations to the truth, objectivity, informing the public, and verification. What is the impact on the media’s relationship with itself, its readers, and its sources as the media struggles for mind-share and relevance in a highly competitive environment of diminished resources, intensified news cycles, and direct audience engagement by news makers, and pressure to de-emphasize journalistic ethics. What constitutes the media and how does an organization like Wikileaks change the environment? How does this show in the natural conflict between the government and the media and how is it exploited by America’s adversaries?

This will be a two-hour panel, October 14, 10a-12p, with:

  • Wally Dean, Director of Training, Committee of Concerned Journalists (confirmed)
  • Jamie McIntyre, Host: "Line of Departure", Military.com (confirmed)
  • Dana Priest, Washington Post investigative reporter (invited)
  • Bill Gertz, reporter for The Washington Times (confirmed)

The agenda for the conference is below.

Event website is here
Date: October 13-15 (2.5 days)
Location: Turning Stone Resort, Verona, New York (map)
Registration Fee: Students/Faculty: free; Government: $50; Military: $25; Corporate/Industry: $200
Registration: online or PDF

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Al-Shabaab receiving support from U.S. citizens and others in the U.S.

In a press conference today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department unsealed four separate indictments charging 14 individuals in Minnesota, California, and Alabama with terrorism violations, including providing money, personnel, and services to the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. An indictment in Minnesota charged 10 men for leaving the U.S. to join al-Shabaab, an organization with ties to al-Qaeda, as foreign fighters. In Minnesota alone, 19 have been charged with material support of al-Shabaab. Two women, naturalized U.S. citizens and residents of Minnesota, were charged with raising money to support al-Shabaab through door-to-door solicitations and teleconferences in the Somali communities in Minneapolis, Rochester, and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.

Holder noted that members of the American Muslim community “have been – and continue to – strong partners in fighting this emerging threat” through denouncing terrorist acts and those who carry them out, as well as helping law enforcement disrupt plots and radicalization.

As laudable as these efforts are, they happen too late in the process of radicalization. Facts about Somalia, al-Shabaab, and the region are too often ignored by the mainstream media and largely unavailable to these communities, even those actively engaged online.

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Establishing the Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus

By Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX)

On September 11th, 2001, America changed.  Since then the United States has been at war with violent Islamic extremists who plot and plan against us every day.  We have sent American troops to Afghanistan and Iraq to defeat them in combat.  Our intelligence and special operations forces have fanned out across the globe to disrupt terrorist networks and deny them safe havens.  And we have cooperated with friends and allies to reinforce existing counterterrorism resources and build new coordinated capabilities.  While these actions are necessary to defeat the jihadist threat against the United States, they are not sufficient to do so.

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News: Somali-American pleads guilty to helping Al-Shabaab

From NPR news, by Dina Temple-Raston:

Another Minneapolis man has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with a broader case looking into the disappearance of more than two dozen young Somali-Americans from Minnesota over the past two years.

Kamal Said Hassan pleaded guilty in a Minneapolis court Wednesday. The unsealed indictment in his case shows that he was one of a handful of young men who traveled to Somalia to fight for a militia there called al-Shabab. When Hassan returned to the U.S., he apparently lied to the FBI about where he had been. He is in now U.S. custody.

This is the third indictment in the case so far, as federal investigators close in on suspects they believe have recruited the young men to fight with al-Shabab. The State Department put al-Shabab on its list of terrorist organizations last year. U.S. intelligence officials say its top leadership has ties to al-Qaida, though they are quick to add that al-Qaida’s sway over al-Shabab’s actions is limited. …

Recruiters appear to have played on the young men’s ties to their homeland — and their sense of adventure — to get them to go. At the time the first recruits are thought to have left, Ethiopian troops had invaded Somalia to crush the Islamic Courts Union. The group’s pitch to the young men was that they had to save their homeland from invaders.

See also:

Al-Qaeda is not the only threat

John Sullivan, the co-founder of the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning group and lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, focusing on emerging threats, reminds us that Al-Qaeda is not the only threat. As such, public diplomacy and strategic communication planning that focuses only on Al-Qaeda is too limiting.

From Danger Room:

While the public and media are occupied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential conflict with Iran, the downward spiral in Pakistan, and a global economic meltdown, a new, rapidly-evolving danger — narco-cartels and gangs — has been developing in Mexico and Latin America. And it has the potential to trump global terrorism as a threat to the United States.

Read the rest at Danger Room and a longer article on Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency at Defense and the National Interest.

Event: New America Foundation conference on Al Qaeda 3.0 – with live webcast

The pace of “what’s next” conference is picking up. From the New America Foundation:

Al Qaeda 3.0
The ‘War on Terror’ After the Bush Administration
At Al Qaeda 3.0, leading policy makers, law enforcement officials, scholars and journalists from around the world will assess the current threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates to the United States, Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. The conference speakers will also explore what steps the next administration should take in combating al Qaeda and its affiliates both at home and abroad.

The event is tomorrow, Friday, October 10, 2008. Start: 8:45a ET, Finish: 5p ET.

The conference has an impressive list of panelists (bios): Frances Fragos Townsend, Bruce Hoffman, Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Lawrence Wright, Daniel Kimmage, Nir Rosen, Brian Fishman, Mohammed Hafex, Thomas Hegghammer, Marc Sageman (no, Bruce and Marc are not on the same panel), and others.

Register here.

American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: the Pentagon’s $300 million to “engage and inspire”

Our national security, which includes our economic security, depends on the ability to effectively counter misinformation, create understanding of our policies, and develop partnerships. We are nearly a decade into the Second Great War of Ideas and the Pentagon remains the America’s unwitting public diplomat engaging the world’s audiences. American public diplomacy will continue to wear combat boots until the top leadership at the Department of State realizes that it must fully and aggressively commit to engaging and challenging non-state actors from individuals to armed groups.