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Engel Remarks on Countering ISIS Online

ENGEL REMARKS ON COUNTERING ISIS ONLINE

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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on countering ISIS online at a full Committee hearing:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for calling this hearing.

“Under Secretary Stengel, welcome to the Committee.  I used to be a big fan of Casey Stengel, I don’t know if he’s related. 

“I know the Director of the Global Engagement Center Michael Lumpkin’s briefed our staff a couple of times, and it’s great, it’s great to have you with us today.  Thank you.

“The development of information technology during our lives has dramatically changed the way people around the world communicate, share information, and conduct business.  We’re connected on a global scale like never before, and so much good can come of that.

“But we know it cuts both ways.  This incredible tool can also be used for incredible harm.  And there’s no better example of that than the way ISIS has harnessed technology to spread its hateful message and recruit more fighters into its ranks. 

“With the click of a button, ISIS can broadcast its shocking violence to virtually anyone with a laptop or a smartphone.  And with social media, ISIS works to radicalize people around the world, urging so-called lone wolves to attack targets in their communities, urging terrorists to take full advantage of lax gun laws that make buying a weapon of war as easy as buying a secondhand baseball card.

“Though we cannot spot it on a map, our efforts to confront ISIS’s virtual violence is another major front in our counter-terror campaign.  In fact, this online battlefield may be ISIS’s last stand.  It was reported today that even ISIS terrorists realize their days are numbered when it comes to controlling large swaths of territory. That’s why the group has shifted tactics, lashing out around the world.  So as the coalition continues to reverse ISIS gains in Iraq, we also need to focus on taking away this recruitment and propaganda tool.

“The Obama Administration began focusing on this problem years ago with the creation of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, what we call the CSCC, at the State Department.  Diplomats and national-security professionals were given the job of taking online space back from violent groups that had filled it with propaganda.  The model followed our traditional approach to public diplomacy: speaking on behalf of the U.S. government.

“But an evaluation of these efforts after a few years showed us some areas that needed improvement.  First of all, we needed better coordination with outside partners.  Secondly, we needed to provide information from sources that the target audience would consider credible.  And lastly, we needed to find a better way to determine whether our efforts actually helped prevent radicalization.

“These are our real challenges, particularly the last one: it’s virtually impossible to count the number of people who mayhave joined a terrorist group, but then decided not to.

“To deal with these concerns, the Administration created a new organization at the State Department called the Global Engagement Center, which is designed to coordinate and integrate all of our counter-messaging efforts.  It has moved away from direct U.S. Government messaging to a partner-driven approach, tapping a global network of NGOs, foreign governments, and individuals who can better deliver our message to the right audience.  It aims to encourage ordinary people in at-risk communities to launch grass-roots messaging campaigns of their own.  And it places a premium on cutting-edge technology and top talent from the private sector.

“So, I firmly support this approach and I’m glad my friends on the other side of the aisle do as well: the counter-messaging provisions of the Speaker's new national-security action plan echo the Administration’s strategy almost word for word.  Both plans explicitly focus on empowering locally credible voices and employing new tools to effectively measure results.  

“And we’re starting to see some good outcomes.  It was reported yesterday that ISIS’s Twitter traffic has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the last two years.  So we’re on the right track.

“The question now is: how do we see this agenda through?  How do we continue to refine our strategy, identify credible actors, improve our ability to measure results, and keep up with ISIS as its online campaign continues to evolve?

“I personally think we should be investing a lot more money into this effort.  Since 2013, the budget has jumped from less than $5 million to a 2017 request for $21.5 million.  That’s a good increase, but in my opinion we should go even farther.

“I’m curious to hear from our witness about what other steps the Administration is taking to implement the current plan and keep building on it.  I look forward to your testimony.

“I thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And I yield back.”