State Dep’t Renames Its Counterterrorism Bureau to Include Focus on ‘Countering Violent Extremism’

Patrick Goodenough | February 17, 2016 | 4:56am EST
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Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Photo: Brookings Institution, File)

( – The State Department’s counterterrorism bureau has been renamed the “bureau of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism,” reflecting a “more proactive and integrated approach” to the effort to counter and prevent radicalization, including online, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.

Making the announcement during a speech at the Brookings Institution, Blinken said the renamed bureau, equipped with increased personnel and resources, will lead the effort to embed into the core of U.S. foreign policy the priority of preventing and countering “violent extremism.”

The move comes a year after President Obama hosted a White House summit on “countering violent extremism,” or CVE.  Violent extremism is the administration’s preferred term for Islamist terrorism.

Blinken said that since the summit, there has been a growing movement of national leaders, local officials, businesspeople, clerics, parents and young people, “united by their commitment to fight the ideologies of hate, to defeat agents of terror, to destroy networks of financiers, propagandists, and recruiters, to strengthen our own ability not only to counter – but to prevent – radicalization in the first place.”

He said the departmental changes are critical if the U.S. is effectively to confront the “shifting threat landscape we face.”

“That’s why we have also asked Congress for expanded resources in the president’s budget request,” he said. “But I want to emphasize that these resources will be additive to our existing counterterrorism efforts.”

A big part of the renamed bureau’s work will involve the digital domain, an arena used effectively by al-Qaeda affiliates and especially by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

“Every day, in state-of-the-art propaganda videos, in glossy magazines, in a relentless flood of tweets and posts, Da’esh [ISIS] and its supporters warp ideology, traffic in lies, glorify violence,” Blinken said.

“We are fighting back hard in this space, in the press, in social media – pointing out the reality of what these terrorists are doing to their fellow Muslims and anyone else who stands in their way.”

The administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for State and Foreign Operations includes a $2 million request to establish a CVE office “within” the counterterrorism bureau, with six staff positions.

Also requested is $18.1 million to sustain and expand a new Global Engagement Center, whose aim is to counter and undermine terrorists’ online communications.

According to the administration’s budget justification the funds will help to increase the department’s “capacity to expand counterterrorism messaging in key languages for the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.”

The department announced the launch of a new Global Engagement Center last month, saying tasks would include planning social media campaigns to provide factual information and counter terrorist disinformation.

The counterpropaganda center is a restructuring of the erstwhile Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), which was established by executive order in 2011.

The CSCC, which sometimes raised eyebrows by getting into direct Twitter spats with radicals, was shelved after reportedly coming under criticism last year from a panel of outside experts, including social media company veterans.

The CSCC’s replacement evidently will have a bigger focus on supporting voices in the Muslim world to contest the digital space.

According to the budget justification, it is “designed to strengthen the ability of our international partners to counter violent extremist groups.”

In his Brookings speech, Blinken said through the new Global Engagement Center, along with digital communications hubs in the Islamic world, the department was “helping to tackle propaganda and recruitment efforts head-on by empowering independent, positive voices from the region – voices that represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world.”

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