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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Cartel Info Ops: Power and Counter-power in Mexico’s Drug War

By John P. Sullivan

Mexico’s cartels are increasingly using refined information operations (info ops) to wage their war against each other and the Mexican state, as noted in a recent post “Mexican narcos step up their information war” here at MountainRunner. These info ops include the calculated use of instrumental and symbolic violence to shape the conflict environment.  The result: attacks on media outlets, and kidnappings and assassinations of journalists by narco-cartels to obscure operations and silence critics.  Editors and journalists turn to self-censorship to protect themselves; others have become virtual mouthpieces for the gangs and cartels, only publishing materials the cartels approve.  Cartels are now beginning to issue press releases to control the information space–through censorship and cartel co-option of reportage. Finally, the public, government and even cartels are increasingly using new media (horizontal means of mass self-communication) to influence and understand the raging criminal insurgencies.

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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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State of the Media: Adversarial Exploitation of the Digital World

We have long recognized the importance of information to shape attitudes and create action. The online environment is no different, but do you think you know what non-English speaking users of or see? You probably don’t. My friends at the White Canvas Group do and they provide fascinating insight into the online world of adversarial exploitation of online products. Our adversaries understand the utility of the online world as a medium that seamlessly blends with “old media” to influence global audiences.

A lot of funding that the brothers are getting is coming because of the videos. imagine how many have gone after seeing the videos. Imagine how many have become martyrs.

Check out this promo video from White Canvas Group and remember that Al Qaeda no longer needs to send its audio or video products to Al Jazeera for distribution. 

If you’re interested in more, WCG is putting on a one-day workshop that delves into this world of adversarial media. This will be a superset of the presentation WCG has provided to students of my training seminars and the public diplomacy class I teach at USC.

Underwear bomber predicted on The Daily Show back in June 2006

Surely I’m not the only guy remembering these things, but back in June of 2006, The Daily Show had a prediction of an ‘underwear bomber’. Calvin Trillin suggested there was a person in AQ named Khalid the Droll who convinced us to remove our shoes at the airport. To get to the point, jump to the 4min mark on the below video.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Calvin Trillin
Daily Show
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Guest Post: A Global Call to Arms in the Virtual Century

Carl Jung once warned during the Cold War that: “Everywhere in the West [World] there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent, mentally stable stratum of the population. One should not, however, overestimate the thickness of this stratum.” (C.G. Jung, “The Undiscovered Self,” 4).

If Carl Jung were still living, we may find him to be rather (appropriately) proud of a modest, rational banker who resides in Nigeria. On December 25th, 2009, the Free World was given a great gift that mirrors the one Jung sought to impart more than 50 years ago.  While the media will mark the day as another attempted 9/11, they miss the mark.  The most profound and courageous feature of this attempted attack has nothing to do with the terrorist himself, but with his father.  A father, who, upon sensing his son was falling into the orbit of radical ideologies, took it upon himself to use this information to protect our global commons by letting authorities know they should be watching his son.  Certainly we can all understand what a grueling and emotionally fracturing experience it must have been for this brave man.  We would all do well to spend a few moments this New Year viewing the world from this man’s shoes.

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Event: Homeland Security’s Wicked Problems

Homeland Security’s Wicked Problems: Developing a Research Agenda for Homeland Security” is a two-day event co-hosted by The Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies, The U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, and The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

The location is The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Auditorium and the dates are November 12, Thursday, 9a-4p and November 13, Friday, 9a-12:30p. RSVP to attend.

I will be on the first panel Friday morning at 9:30a: Communications During Crisis: Roles, Responsibilities, and Capabilities. On the panel will be Jonathan Thompson, Executive Vice President, Systems Media Group, and former Director for External Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency; Kimberly Dozier, CBS News Correspondent; and Matt Armstrong, Armstrong Strategic Insights Group, LLC. Moderating is Professor Dennis Murphy, Professor of Information in Warfare, United States Army War College, Center for Strategic Leadership.

Al Shabab, Minneapolis in the news again

US Special Forces killed Salah Ali Nabhan, the man Somali-Americans who traveled to fight for the Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization identified as one of their trainers. The coverage of this ‘made for the movies’ attack should draw attention to the not-neutral territory of Minneapolis where Al Shabab has shown significant success in recruiting.

This is as a good a time as any to reread my Censoring VOA article at

Earlier this year, a community radio station in Minneapolis asked Voice of America (VOA) for permission to retransmit its news coverage on the increasingly volatile situation in Somalia. The VOA audio files it requested were freely available online without copyright or any licensing requirements. The radio station’s intentions were simple enough: Producers hoped to offer an informative, Somali-language alternative to the terrorist propaganda that is streaming into Minneapolis, where the United States’ largest Somali community resides. Over the last year or more, al-Shabab, an al Qaeda linked Somali militia, has successfully recruited two dozen or more Somali-Americans to return home and fight. The radio station was grasping for a remedy. …

Read the rest here.

Interesting readings on Swarm Warfare

Postcard from Mumbai: Modern Urban Siege by John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus

According to many television news reports, the Mumbai terrorist attacks were a “siege.” But there were no catapults, cannons, or breaching ladders. Instead, a dozen men with guns paralyzed one of the world’s largest cities, killing 173 with barely concealed glee. Sadly, Mumbai heralds a new chapter in the bloody story of war in cities—the siege of the city from within. The polis is fast becoming a war zone where criminals, terrorists, and heavily armed paramilitary forces battle—and all can be targeted. All the while, gardens of steel spring up, constricting popular movement and giving way to an evolving architecture of fear. The “feral city” and the military colony battle each other for dominance in the urban siege.

Defending against the urban siege requires bridging the gap between police and military, building a layered defense, and fighting to preserve the right to the city. Despite the terrifying nature of the threat, the ultimate advantage lies with the vibrant modern city and the police, soldiers, and civilians tasked to defend it. The key to success lies in the construction of resilient physical and moral infrastructure.

The Coming Swarm by John Arquilla

With three Afghan government ministries in Kabul hit by simultaneous suicide attacks this week, by a total of just eight terrorists, it seems that a new “Mumbai model” of swarming, smaller-scale terrorist violence is emerging. …

For the defense of American cities against terrorist swarms, the key would be to use local police officers as the first line of defense instead of relying on the military. The first step would be to create lots of small counterterrorism posts throughout urban areas instead of keeping police officers in large, centralized precinct houses. This is consistent with existing notions of community-based policing, and could even include an element of outreach to residents similar to that undertaken in the Sunni areas of Iraq — even if it were to mean taking the paradoxical turn of negotiating with gangs about security.

Readings on Future Threats

National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2025

"Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World" is the fourth unclassified report prepared by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in recent years that takes a long-term view of the future. It offers a fresh look at how key global trends might develop over the next 15 years to influence world events. Our report is not meant to be an exercise in prediction or crystal ball-gazing. Mindful that there are many possible "futures," we offer a range of possibilities and potential discontinuities, as a way of opening our minds to developments we might otherwise miss.

Some of our preliminary assessments are highlighted below:

  • The whole international system—as constructed following WWII—will be revolutionized. Not only will new players—Brazil, Russia, India and China— have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game.
  • The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.
  • Unprecedented economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.
  • The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the greater Middle East.

Related: BBC’s Key Points, Enterprise Resilience Management’s key points, Jonathan Landay’s comments at Nukes and Spooks, and Tom Barnett’s disappointment.

See also: 55 Trends Now Shaping the Future of Terrorism (March 2008) and 55 Trends Now Shaping the Future (April 2008)

Richard Barrett’s Al-Qaida’s Strengths and Vulnerabilities

As the United States concludes the seventh year of what has been described as a Global War on Terror and the Long War, too many are still too far from understanding the true nature of the adversaries strengths and sources of power. The overdrawn focus on a tactic, terrorism, has ignored the basic attractiveness to the adversaries cause, whether Al Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah.

Success will be measured not in dissuasion in the use of a tactic, but in the principles of the act the tactic symbolizes. The general aggregation of the many adversaries does not serve the purpose of effective engagement but potentially blinds us to the required solutions that, to put it in political term, will separate the adversary from their base. In the short term, success is not a binary condition of win or lose, but a constantly evolving struggle as the adversary adapts to survive and compete.

This has been packaged as a “War of Ideas.” In his first speech as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Jim Glassman described this “War” central to our national security whose purpose to “use the tools of ideological engagement — words, deeds, and images — to create an environment hostile to violent extremism.” Many people, he noted, do not like this term, especially the practitioners. (My suggestion is the time tested “struggle for minds and wills”, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as “War of Ideas” even if it’s more appropriate.)

The term is one thing, the concepts it represents is another. Richard Barrett’s concise report Seven Years After 9/11: Al-Qaida’s Strengths and Vulnerabilities (PDF, 15pp) describes the primary target of the War of Ideas. Exploring the strengths and vulnerabilities, Barrett arrives at a containment and strangulation solution based not on kinetic engagement supported by information, but informational engagement supported by smart kinetics.

Where Al-Qaida succeeds is in providing a framework for individuals to express their opposition to whatever it is they oppose, even if the roots of their anger lie in issues completely unknown and uninteresting to the Al-Qaida leadership. Al-Qaida manages to offer its supporters a sense of belonging and importance by taking personal or local grievances and setting them in a global context. … Its opponents should therefore avoid intentionally or unintentionally saying or doing anything that appears to support its claims, from the use of terms to describe Al-Qaida to the introduction of policies that would appear to confirm its argument that the Muslim world is under attack.

Recognising the self-destructive nature of the movement, the international community should help Al-Qaida suffer from its internal contradictions and lack of coherence; it is not well-organised, nor particularly effective, and depends greatly on its ability to exploit events through effective propaganda. That propaganda relies greatly on media that are available to all sides. A free debate, whether on the Internet or elsewhere, is likely to weaken Al-Qaida, particularly as its skill lies more in spreading propaganda in set piece films,
videos or audio tapes, rather than in the interactive, consumer led form that has come to dominate the web.

Most importantly, the international community must continue to prevent by all means possible the opportunity for Al-Qaida leaders to connect in person with their supporters. The best ways to prevent this is to keep the leaders concerned about their own security and to keep them pinned down in the remote areas of the Afghan/Pakistan border and allow them to suffer the fate of all other outsiders who have attempted to establish themselves in the region.

As Under Secretary Jim Glassman noted, the Al Qaeda ideology contains the seeds of its destruction. It’s time we nurtured those seeds.

See also:

Recommended Reading

Heads down on a project but here are several significant items of interest to bring to your attention, submitted below with minimal comment:

 It’s Time to Stop Selling Ambassadorships by Barbara Bodine, Politico. (Related: From the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: no one in PD conducts PD overseas. )

 Preliminary report from the Project on National Security Reform Cites Need for Restructuring of U.S. National Security System (report as PDF)

 Gates Sees Terrorism Remaining Enemy No. 1 – Josh White, Washington Post

New National Defense Strategy issued, 4mb PDF here.

 VOA Russian is now Internet-only

Worth Reading

Too much on the plate, but some links worth your time to read Wednesday morning (or whenever)

For background to both of the above, you should know about Abu Yahya al-Libi, the AQ wannabe leader who authored the points on slide 10 Marc highlights.  So, for more recommended reading:

And related to that, we have a lexicon shift finally happening in the U.S. 

Changing topics, back to the Hidden Hand story:

I’m surprised nobody commented on Effects-Based Public Affairs (possibly related) or that IO begins when Law/Policy prevents PA from engaging

Forthcoming: a review of Chris Paul’s book.

That’s it for now.

Waterboarding is Torture… Period

While the new AG won’t admit waterboarding is torture, a man I respect and have talked with in the past disagrees. Read Malcolm Nance over at Small Wars Journal’s Blog:

If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives. The Small Wars Council had a spirited discussion about this earlier in the year, especially when former Marine Generals Krulak and Hoar rejected all arguments for torture.