US state department fights al-Qaeda in cyberspace

The state department posts banner ads and messages on internet in a bid to dissuade viewers from being influenced by al-Qaeda.

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    The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications is a relatively new interagency effort inside the US State Department to mine the internet for al-Qaeda messages and quickly post reactions to try to dissuade viewers from being influenced by al-Qaeda.

    Earlier this month, State Department officials said a banner ad posted on various websites by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula showed coffins draped with US flags with the message that their fight was against the United States.

    Within days, the CSCC posted an ad on those same websites showing coffins draped in Yemeni flags with the message that AQAP’s victims are Yemeni citizens.

    The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications is a relatively new interagency effort inside the US State Department to mine the internet for al-Qaeda messages and quickly post reactions to try to dissuade viewers from being influenced by al-Qaeda.

    Earlier this month, State Department officials said a banner ad posted on various websites by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula showed coffins draped with US flags with the message that their fight was against the United States.

    Within days, the CSCC posted an ad on those same websites showing coffins draped in Yemeni flags with the message that AQAP’s victims are Yemeni citizens. State department spokesperson Victoria Neuland called the banner ad a “counter-spoof.”

    A senior state department official said, “We have to engage in the battle of ideas, the war of words, in not allowing them free space to say whatever they want but confront them when they say things that aren’t true.”

    Al-Qaeda has used internet and video messaging for more than a decade. The CSCC has only been operational since last September. Officials insist their efforts are not cyberwarfare, and they always identify the messaging as sponsored by the US state department, and they don’t hack websites. They post banner ads and messages on various websites, Facebook, and videos on You Tube. In some cases, they pay user fees, but most of their messaging is posted without cost.

    Forty people work at the CSCC in Arabic, Urdu, and Somali. The senior official said, “Every day we look at their videos, their statements, we say what we can use to point out their internal contradictions.”

    Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, said on Wednesday, “We can tell our efforts are starting to have an impact because extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the internet.”

    The senior official said they judge their effectiveness by the number of views and comments their postings receive and what al-Qaeda has said about what their office is doing. But he admitted it’s hard to determine how effective their campaign has been because it’s impossible to measure how many people don’t join groups like al-Qaeda after seeing the US messaging.


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