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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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 Google.com or YouTube.com 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.

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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 ForeignPolicy.com:

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.