August 5, 2016 | Mike Williams
I spent this summer working in the newly established, Global Engagement Center (GEC – “The Center”) housed at the U.S. Department of State. The GEC is an interagency entity with the mission to coordinate, integrate, and synchronize Government-wide communications activities directed at foreign audiences in order to counter the messaging and diminish the influence of international terrorist organizations. The Center serves an increasing key role in U.S. government strategies to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al Qaeda messaging as well as other international terrorist organizations.
On March 14, 2016, President Obama signed Executive Order 13721 establishing the GEC as a replacement for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC). The Center is led by Special Envoy and Coordinator Michael Lumpkin, a former Navy SEAL with over 20 years of active duty military service and who served previously as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.
Created to be an agile and innovative organization, the revamped effort brings new cutting-edge technology, talent, and tools from the private sector and across the U.S. government. For example, the GEC leverages private-sector technology to characterize extremist groups’ propaganda, radicalization and recruitment efforts in social media and traditional media, and to develop new narrative frames based on this emerging data. Using this technology, the GEC was able to assess a 45% decline in pro-ISIL postings on Twitter since June 2014, thanks to a combination of stronger anti-ISIL voices online and accounts suspensions.
The Center focuses on four core areas including building and empowering foreign partnerships, acquiring and using data analytics, developing, procuring, and distributing unbranded content, and building a network of U.S. Government interagency actors involved in the counterterrorism/countering violent extremism information space. The Center develops and empowers a global network of credible voices from foreign governments, NGO’s, and civil society organizations to effectively counter violent extremist messages in their local communities.
I served in a variety of roles at the GEC this summer including creating and editing strategic documents, preparing leadership for Congressional testimony, and liaising with senior U.S. government officials across agencies and departments for GEC operations and campaigns. Working in the GEC provided an exceptional opportunity to learn about the challenges associated with countering violent extremist messaging and the efforts the U.S. government is making with partners around the world in support of broader counterterrorism strategies.