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State changes counterterrorism unit to include online focus

U.S. Department of State

The State Department will take a new look at combatting terrorism by countering online extremism, working with tech firms, and engaging local partners, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Feb. 16.

The Bureau of Counterterrorism will be renamed the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, Blinken announced at a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"We are empowering independent, positive, local voices to counter extremist propaganda and recruitment," Blinken noted in his remarks.

Under this new framework, he added, online engagement will be a key tool of the Bureau, as it responds to online threats and recruitment from violent extremism groups.

Blinken took notice of the role the technology industry is playing, and the work the administration has been doing with Silicon Valley on this front. Earlier this year, the White House administration made an effort to connect with Silicon Valley to further discuss combatting terrorist groups' use of social media.

In February of this year, Twitter announced that it had deleted more than 125,000 accounts linked to terrorists in a little less than a year. At least 46,000 of Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters from October to November 2014, according to a Brookings report.

Under the new framework for the bureau, some of the initiatives revolve around partnerships with local partners across the world, better adoption of policies, and focusing on places (such as prisons) that can be used to de-radicalize people. Blinken said his agency was aiming for a "comprehensive approach."

According to Foreign Policy, the new bureau is expected to double the current $219 million that it manages in foreign assistance.  The State Department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications  has been the center for government-wide foreign communication activities that are specifically targeted against terrorism and violent extremism. 

About the Author

Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.


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